Coprophagia is usually more common among puppies than in adult dogs. One of the reasons behind a puppy eating poop is that it’s just curious. Like most puppies, it loves to explore the world around it.
What can you do about your question? Why is my dog eating poop all of a sudden?
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not talking about dogs annoying me or anything (though that’s certainly one part of it). I’m talking about very odd behavior that we, as dog owners, just can’t seem to explain. And if any of my readers have missed the title (for whatever reason), let me repeat the question from it right here. Why is my dog eating poop all of a sudden?
Yeah, bizarre, isn’t it? An intelligent animal like a dog eating poop. It’s downright strange, especially if it’s a puppy. But it does happen. And it happens more frequently than people think. That’s why there are many think-pieces and articles about this topic in online pet circles. Of course, I wouldn’t be talking about this topic if my dogs didn’t exhibit this behavior.
Why IS My Dog Eating Poop All of a Sudden?
I will tackle the subject of “why” very shortly. First, we must focus on the “what,” or the poop-eating itself.
Coprophagia in general
Coprophagia is the act of consuming feces. When it comes to animals, we usually see this behavior in insects and certain mammals.
Of course, humans don’t have any biological need to consume feces. However, there are still cases of people doing it. Doctors usually link coprophagia to conditions such as pica and schizophrenia.
Coprophagia and Insects
The most common insects to engage in coprophagia are flies (multiple species) and dung beetles. Dung beetles, in particular, consume liquid mammal feces components with many microorganisms. In addition, the females use the fibrous matter of the dung to lay their eggs.
Flies usually consume the feces of herbivore mammals, such as cows. Herbivores don’t always digest their food thoroughly, so their dung is rich in the material that flies need to survive. A few species of butterflies also tend to do this.
Termites, on the other hand, eat each other’s feces. They do this so that they can get protists in their hindgut. Most protists have a symbiotic relationship with termites, helping them digest certain materials more efficiently. There are even bacterial symbionts that live inside of these protists, which form a three-way symbiosis with one species of termites.
Coprophagia and Mammals
Most mammals that eat their feces (or other animals) do it for similar reasons. Usually, they need certain bacteria or vitamins to help them with digestion. For example, Lagomorpha species produce two types of feces, i.e., rabbits, hares, and pikas. One of these is called a cecotrope. It’s softer than regular dung and contains added nutrients that the lagomorph needs. After it excretes, the mammal eats it again, digested in a special section of its stomach. It can remain there for up to six hours.
Larger mammals can also eat feces. For example, hippos, elephants, koalas, and giant pandas consume the dung of their parents when they’re young. They do this because their intestines are sterile. The waste of adult mammals from the group above contains bacteria that help them digest the plants they eat. In other words, the young mammal must eat its parents’ dung to “kickstart” the intestines properly.
Small mammals like naked mole rats, hedgehogs, chinchillas, guinea pigs, and hamsters eat their dung to get vitamins K and B. Their gut bacteria create these vitamins, making coprophagia the easiest way to get them back in their bodies.
Domestic animals don’t usually consume their waste or the waste of others. However, cattle ranchers feed their cows chicken litter in the US. The FDA regulates this practice heavily, while it’s outright banned in Canada.
Finally, there are apes. Gorillas don’t usually consume their excrement. The ones that do either want to eat the undigested seeds in the feces or just want warm food. Furthermore, some scientists even speculate that they do it out of boredom.
Coprophagia and Plants
As bizarre as it sounds, even some plants “consume” feces. And no, I’m not talking about fertilizer. I am referring to plants “eating” the feces.
Within the plant kingdom, there are a few species that eat insects. We call these carnivorous plants. One particular genus of these plants is the Nepenthes. Plants of this genus are typically called tropical pitchers, mainly because they look like pitchers of juice. The juices within these pitchers attract insects and small animals (sometimes even mice and snakes) and digest them since the animal can’t get out.
Some animals have a commensal relationship with pitcher plants. For example, some tree shrews and bats feed off the plant’s nectar. While the plants allow them to provide and go unharmed, they collect their dung and consume their nutrients. This process is also familiar with larger pitcher plants than shrews or bats.
Coprophagia and Dogs
As I stated earlier, coprophagia is far more common in insects and mammals than in humans. They can eat their dung, species’ dung or other animals’ excrement. Unlike them, we don’t feel the need to consume feces to get the nutrients our body needs. That’s why it’s pretty standard for an average human to feel disgusted when they see their pet eating their waste. The number one reason behind the question, “Why is my dog eating poop suddenly?”
Still, the answer to that is not very simple. There are many reasons behind my dog eating poop, so I’ll need a few categories to classify them correctly.
Health Reasons Behind My Dog Eating Poop
1. Lack of Parasites
A few mammals I listed earlier consume poop because they need parasitic bacteria to break down a particular food. Of course, dogs do that as well. If my puppy can’t absorb the nutrients from his regular food, it’ll go for the poop.
2. Poor Feeding Habits
This hasn’t happened to me personally, but I’ve heard of such cases too many times before. Sure, dog owners simply don’t feed their pets properly. They either skip meals, underfeed them, or just give them something the dog can’t or won’t eat. When that happens, the dog will start looking for food elsewhere. Sadly, that includes eating its waste. To anyone wondering why they suddenly see their dog eating poop, I suggest changing the diet or feeding the pup more.
There are times my dog might catch an illness. Some illnesses cause significant problems in eating, specifically poor absorption of necessary nutrients. A dog eating poop might be doing so because it needs those nutrients, and it will go for any poop out there, even from a cat.
If this happens, I urge the owners to take their dogs to the vet. There might just be a problem that’s preventing them from getting the nutrients their body needs.
4. Appetite-Increasing Conditions
Dogs, like humans, can get diabetes or tapeworms. They can also have thyroid problems. Either one of these conditions can make the dog hungrier. Of course, they can get so greedy in their hunger that they start eating feces. Just like malabsorption, this issue is something that needs medical attention.
EPI is short for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. This condition prevents the dog from creating digestive enzymes. As its name suggests, these enzymes are made in the pancreas.
Once the dog gets this condition, it will slowly “starve” to death, as the food it consumes won’t be digested properly. It will start losing weight and even vomiting. Of course, coprophagia is another symptom since the dog wants to destroy the nutrients it needs so badly that it will resort to poop eating.
And speaking of enzymes…
6. Enzyme Deficiency
The enzymes I spoke of a little earlier help the dog digest the food. Dogs in the wild usually consume the whole prey when they hunt. Their prey’s intestines contain many enzymes, which help the dog properly digest the food. The dogs also produce these enzymes, but not enough to help them digest. That’s why they hunt.
But our domestic dogs don’t hunt. We usually feed them processed food. And more often than not, this food doesn’t contain these necessary enzymes. That can lead to deficiency, and the dog will begin to lose weight and feel ill. After a while, we can spot our dog eating poop just to reclaim some of the necessary enzymes.
7. Other Deficiencies
Aside from enzymes, dogs can also suffer deficiencies in hydrochloric acid and trace minerals. The acid helps with breaking down protein during digestion. Older or malnourished dogs lack this acid, so they often turn to poop eating. A mineral deficiency can also lead to dogs eating plastic and other substances.
Behavioral Reasons Behind My Dog Eating Poop
1. Puppy Curiosity
Some of it we will find cute, like tripping onto itself, sniffing grass or bugs, licking the hands of tiny babies, etc. But there will be times when the pup is curious enough to taste its dung. While this is also a part of the pup discovering the world, it’s nowhere near as cute.
However, there is an excellent side to this. Puppies don’t continue to exhibit this type of behavior as they grow older. They usually stop pretty early on.
2. Keeping the Litter Clean
Female dogs that give birth to a litter of puppies must keep them clean. Naturally, they do so by licking, which will inevitably include the loss of puppy feces. Sometimes this instinct for cleanliness moves beyond the litter, and the dog continues to consume poop even when there’s no real need to do so.
A dog can get stressed, like any other mammal. Sometimes, when my dog feels stressed, it curls up into a ball and whines for a while. However, some dogs resort to eating their stool when they’re under a lot of stress. This usually happens in poorly kept dog kennels and puppy mills.
On the subject of those…
4. Puppy Mills and Public Kennels
Sometimes a professional puppy mill isn’t so “professional.” I’ve seen instances where the owner of a public kennel or a mill doesn’t feed their dogs correctly. At times, they’re even held in crates for longer than necessary. Because of this, dogs develop the habit of eating poop. Stress, which I covered above, also plays a massive role here.
If there’s one thing both cats and dogs have in common, it’s scavenging. A dog will naturally want to scavenge when it’s outside. Its potent smell will eventually sniff out some dung and even try it. In some sense, this habit is essentially a part of the evolution of puppy curiosity.
6. Seeking Attention
As strange as this may sound, our dogs can eat poop to get our attention. Let’s just say that, for whatever reason, I decide to ignore my dog. However, it wants me to pay attention to it, so it’ll probably willingly get into trouble so that I can notice it. Therefore, it might poop right there and then eat it.
I’ve never had this happen to me before, but it’s not impossible. Dogs are friendly, and ignoring them is not something an owner wants to do. Otherwise, they will have the displeasure of seeing their dog eating poop.
7. Nose-Rubbing Punishment
This one is a bit longer, so bear with me. Sure, owners can’t potty-train their dogs correctly. Once the dog excretes on the floor, it will rub its nose into the dung and sternly shout “no.” Before I go on, I will outright state that this is wrong and that future dog owners mustn’t do this.
Dogs want to please their pack leaders. They will try to hide the evidence terrible they feel they’ve done something wrong, much like humans. So, if a dog defecates on the floor, it will eat the poop and avoid the owner yelling at it.
But it’s not just shame that makes these dogs eat their poop. If an owner rubs their nose into it, they might see this as an indicator that they SHOULD eat poop. That’s why never do this to a pet dog is essential.
8. Pleasing the Pack Leader
Sometimes a dog will eat poop to please the pack leader. However, the excrement they eat this time comes from the leaders themselves.
Usually, this coprophagia will only happen in houses with several dogs. If, for example, one of my dogs is larger and more dominant than the others, the others will eat the waste the leader produces. That way, they signal to the leader that they respect them and know their place in the food chain.
Yes, this is an actual reason behind a dog eating poop. Dogs with nothing to do around the house can get “creative” in their free time. Some trash the place, while others howl at the neighbors. However, more than a few will defecate on the floor and eat the result.
10. Owner Neglect
This one is probably the most serious, unlike the rest of these reasons. Bad owners who frequently abuse or neglect their dogs can seriously damage the animal in more ways than one. If the animal is malnourished, beaten, and ignored, it will eat its waste to stay alive.
11. Learned Behavior
A puppy might not eat poop, but it can likely learn to do it from an older dog. Like children, puppies mimic the actions of fully grown dogs. And if one of the fully grown dogs likes the taste of excrement, the puppy will give it a try as well.
12. Other Instincts
Dogs have been in the wild for centuries before we humans domesticated them. They often smear themselves in excrement to cover their scent as part of their survival skills. This action is essential for the dog to make a “den” for itself. Naturally, this might have led to the habit of coprophagia at some point in the evolutionary cycle.
Is My Dog Eating Poop of Other Animals?
Yes, this happens too. As I stated, dogs are natural scavengers. They like to rummage through refuse, grass, and other areas. But more importantly, they want to gnaw and chew on anything they run into.
Our media has an old, somewhat true stereotype that dogs like to chew on boots and shoes. Any dog owner will say this isn’t that far from the truth. That’s why squeaky toys are so popular.
Dogs need to chew; it sharpens and cleans their teeth, keeping them healthy. Unfortunately, sometimes the dog can run into a lump of dung made by a different animal. Usually, they’re attracted to cat poop, as it has a distinctive, powerful odor. But dogs have also been known to go after the excrement of other animals.
Can a Dog Eating Poop Catch Any Diseases?
Unfortunately, yes, quite a few of them.
Worms are the most common disease a dog can get from eating poop. These include tapeworms, roundworms, and hookworms. The eggs of these worms can be found in the feces of different animals, and if the dog eats them, they begin to spread within its body.
Another primary disease is parvovirus. This disease affects the intestines and blood vessels. Most puppies don’t live past the initial infection, and it’s highly contagious. Even adult dog survivors of parvovirus are rare, and they don’t come out of it without massive scarring.
Then there are heartworms. Unlike other types of worms, these infect the heart. Dogs infected with heartworms are weak and suffer a tremendous amount of pain. Usually, vets can remove these worms with a suitable compound. However, a dog weakened by heartworms is highly likely to die during the healing process.
Other diseases dogs can catch from eating poop are campylobacteriosis and infectious canine hepatitis.
How Can I Prevent My Dog From Eating Poop?
There are many ways to solve the coprophagia issue. Each covers a different aspect of canine coprophagia, and it’s best to try them all out in moderation.
Dogs that live in dirty environments get used to the smell. That’s why I constantly clean up after my pet. Whenever we’re out for a walk, I scoop its poop up and throw it away. Back home, I keep the yard and the house dung-free. If my dog doesn’t get the chance to smell the dung, it won’t be tempted to eat it.
The same goes for all other pets. The same rules apply to everyone if a pet owner has several dogs or a mix of dogs and cats. That means constantly cleaning litter boxes, maintaining a dung-free yard, and scooping up street poop during walks.
2. Check for Illnesses
If my dog starts to eat poop, I take it to the vet. Before I do anything proactively, I have to consult an expert. If the dog has a specific disease, there might be a way to treat it. Once it’s treated, it will likely stop eating poop.
3. Regular Stool Checks
Even healthy dogs need check-ups. Of course, I don’t do this every time my pet defecates, but I maintain a schedule. At least once a week, or once every two weeks, I check my dog’s stool for abnormalities. If I spot anything that looks like eggs, worms, or undigested food, I take it to the vet and move on.
4. Raw, Healthy Food
Of course, it’s easier to buy processed dog food. It saves time and money, plus the dogs seem to love it. However, I always try to feed my buddy raw food containing the enzymes it needs for digestion. Even when it comes to cooked food, I always add a natural enzyme-rich product, like green tripe.
There is also the issue of adding some minerals and hydrochloric acid to my dog’s diet. Of course, I don’t feed it raw acid or minerals, but I add some vinegar and kelp when necessary.
5. Stuff to Avoid
Rubbing my dog’s nose in excrement isn’t just wrong — it’s also not helpful. After, However, research has found that positive reinforcement doesn’t help either, nor does food specifically made to keep the dogs from eating feces. Therefore, I avoid all three of these techniques.
Dogs are friendly and active, so keeping them busy and entertained is essential. Every chance I get, I take my dog out for a game of fetch or a good run. Moreover, I buy it enough chew toys to keep it busy. It has a lot of fun munching on them, but it’s not thinking about chewing on anything else, like shoes or poop.
7. Maintaining Order in the Pack
Multiple pet owners can catch a dog eating poop, so keeping order is best. It’s also essential to go through the previous six steps for every dog owner. After all, a healthy dog can chew on the dung of an unhealthy one just because it has “something extra” in it.
A Quick Summary
We know the many different answers to the question, “why is my dog eating poop all of a sudden.” Whether it’s related to health, stress, boredom, or instincts, it’s still a habit we want to root out.
My dog eating poop is just one of the issues I have to deal with as a pet owner. For that reason, I’ve worked on a comprehensive guide to dog care, which my readers can get a hold of here. It contains many tips and tricks on keeping dogs healthy and happy and avoiding common and uncommon issues. And yes, a dog eating poop is one of them. You can find more info on the book and other dog-related topics on my official website.