An under-the-belly photo of a dog wearing a red bandana around its neck, leaning down to eat something in the grasses.

You are at the park with your pet and are just about to give them a hug and kiss, when you notice they just gobbled down something. Oh no! Poop! This gross habit that some pets develop may be ghastly to us, but to them it is a perfectly natural thing to do. 

Some dogs are more prone to eating excrement, though, and there are a number of reasons why they do it. Huntington Veterinary Hospital wants to help you understand this gross but common issue of why some dogs eat poop. 

Why this Feast of Feces? It’s Instinct!

Coprophagia is the fancy name for this most unpleasant habit. Eating their own feces or the feces of other animals is a behavioral habit that occurs in many dogs, and sometimes in cats. While we wish our pets didn’t do it, in most cases it doesn’t cause any problems. This is, of course, when it occurs on occasion rather than something that happens frequently.

So, why do they do it?

Dogs are omnivores and true scavengers. Their wild ancestors survived by eating many types of things, including feces. If a dog has a litter of pups, you may have witnessed them eat the poop. In fact, this is a way to ensure the “den” stays clean. This is a great instinct in keeping bacteria and parasites at bay and lessen the chances of their pups getting sick.

A puppy may learn to eat poop to mimic their mother. By doing this, they reduce the likelihood of attracting predators who may be drawn to the smell. Ultimately, this gross instinct serves as a protection for the young puppies that carries over into adulthood.

When Adult Dogs Eat Poop

In our domestic dogs, we hope some of these instincts don’t come up, but when they do, it may not signal a problem. This is because coprophagia can be a sign of malnutrition. Malnutrition happens for several reasons, and it may not be obvious to the pet owner.

  1. Parasites. Tapeworm and other parasitic worms may be preventing nutritional absorption from your pet when they are severe. Worms can also cause anemia in pets, so it is important to have your pet screened for these parasites annually.
  2. Not eating enough. If a pet isn’t getting enough food or being fed regularly, they will resort to eating feces and other organic matter. This happens a lot in stray animals or those in dire circumstances when they cannot access food.
  3. Enzyme deficiencies. If your pet has an illness or condition that causes enzyme or vitamin deficiencies, this can also prompt them to seek other sources of nutrients.
  4. Disease. Various types of disease can cause malnutrition, such as Cushing’s disease, thyroid conditions, and diabetes.

In any of these cases, your veterinarian can help rule them out with simple diagnostic testing. Schedule an appointment if your pet has been gobbling up the gunk. 

Behavioral Issues

If your pet has been given a clean bill of health, coprophagia can be caused by behavioral issues, such as boredom or stress. Spending more time with your pet can help, but if it is a continuing problem, please consult with us to address any behavioral issues that can affect your pet’s health.

Your team at Huntington Veterinary Hospital is here to answer any questions. Please call us!