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Why do dogs eat poo?

February 25, 2022

The habit of eating poo (known as coprophagia), is an unpleasant behaviour. Veterinary surgeon, William Peel BVSc MRCVS explains why dogs eat poo and what you can do to break the habit. 

Apart from being a nasty habit, bacteria, viruses and parasites can be spread in poo, so if your dog eats their faeces it could make them ill. Some of these pathogens can even be passed to humans so you may want to think twice before letting them lick your face! 

In some circumstances this behaviour is normal; a new mum removing puppy poo from the den to keep it clean, or young puppies chewing faeces as part of exploratory behaviour for example. 

It’s important to remember not to punish this behaviour as it can increase anxiety levels and lead to behavioural problems associated with going to the toilet developing later in life. 

What causes a dog to eat poo?

Coprophagia is often a symptom of wider behavioural issues which can develop in any dog at any time of life. However, dogs that are naturally greedy are more likely to develop the habit. Coprophagia may occur in some dogs simply because they enjoy the taste(!), particularly if they have had access to cat poo which is considered particularly yummy to some dogs (because of its high protein content). 

Other behavioural causes that may lead to coprophagia include:

  • Incorrect toilet training: When puppies are learning where they should poo, it is important to reward them for going to the toilet where you want them to and avoid punishing them when they make mistakes. If your dog receives punishment every time they are in the vicinity of faeces, they may form negative associations with going to the toilet. This can result in them quickly consuming their poo in order to hide the evidence to avoid further punishment, which may become an ingrained habit as they grow up.
  • Chronic anxiety or stress: Sadly, many dogs struggle to adjust to aspects of daily human life, as they are forced to adapt to fit in around us rather than the other way round. Separation anxiety and noise phobia are just two common examples of problems that continually heighten a dog’s stress levels. this in turn can lead to coprophagia which the dog uses as an outlet to help them cope. 
  • Boredom or attention-seeking behaviour: Lack of environmental stimulation, inadequate exercise or inappropriate training are all things that can lead to coprophagic behaviour.  
  • In some rare cases, coprophagia can also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition that may be causing deficiencies in your dog’s nutrient and vitamin uptake, so it is always worth getting your dog checked out by a vet if they start eating poo.

How to break the habit?

For coprophagia which is a behavioural problem, there are a number of strategies you can implement to help break the habit:

  1. Don’t punish your dog if they do eat poo as punishment can make the problem worse!
  2. Avoid temptation. It’s hard to give something up if there are constant reminders, so keep the garden faeces free and make sure your dog is kept on a short lead on walks. Toilet train your dog properly and from a young age and make sure your dog doesn’t have access to cat litter trays.
  3. Behaviour training is vital to resolve the behavioural pattern in the long term and strategies include redirection training which involves ‘recall’ and ‘leave it’ cue trainng to divert your dog’s attention away from poo; and training.
  4. Address any underlying behavioural concerns. Coprophagia might be part of a wider behavioural issue. Speak to a veterinary surgeon or veterinary behaviourist for advice on how to deal with any issues. Here’s how to find a properly qualified dog behaviourist
  5. Use COPRO-NIL, a faecal taste modifier to break the pattern of behaviour.

Download our toolkit

For tips on how to teach your puppy the basics, including recall, check out our Puppy Training Toolkit, available to download for just £2.79.

Coprophagia, like any habit, cannot be broken overnight. It can take several weeks or even months to resolve. It’s important to remember the 3Ps: praise, patience and practice! Using a product like COPRO-NIL, alongside appropriate training methods where necessary, can help to banish the dirty coprophagia habit for good, so you and your dog can spend more time enjoying each other’s company.

William Peel (BVSc MRCVS) trained at Liverpool, qualified in 2009 and since then has worked in a variety of clinical roles, including teaching students at the Royal Veterinary College for most of his career. He is now based at TVM Animal Health.