Why Puppies Eat Their Poop (& How to Stop It)

Learn what makes some dogs eat fecal matter, and how you can help prevent this yucky behavior.

Published December 30, 2022
Cute Jack Russell Terrier dog puppy pooping

If your puppy eats poop, it can be pretty gross. But the truth is, puppies eating their own poop is actually quite common. It's called coprophagia, and it's a behavior that has been observed in many species, from dogs and cats to horses and even giraffes. Puppies eat their poop because they're hungry, because they're bored, or because they think it tastes good.

Causes of Puppies Eating Poop

If you've ever seen a puppy eating their own poop, you might wonder what's going on. Are They just hungry? Do they have worms? Or is this just some weird canine behavior that we've never fully understood? The answer isn't as simple as "puppies eat poop because they're hungry," but there are many reasons why dogs might resort to dining on fecal matter.

Their Mother Did It, So Your Puppy Does Too

If you've ever been around a mother dog, you know that she'll regularly eat her puppies' poop. They do this to keep the den clean, which is super gross, but also a good thing!

It's not just dogs, either: many animals will eat their own or other species' feces to maintain sanitation in their nests and dens. In fact, there are some birds and reptiles that even regurgitate food for their offspring, so they have something clean to eat it with. Gross, right? But again, it's still a good thing.

Mother dogs instinctually know that eating poop is an important part of keeping the den clean, and they pass down this behavior when raising puppies. The dam's puppies see her eating their poop, and copy the behavior. Not all puppies do this, but some do, and this may be the cause of the behavior overall.

Dogs can be trained not to eat their own poop or anyone else's if you teach them from birth that doing so is unacceptable behavior. This isn't only useful for keeping your home tidy, but also makes sure no harmful bacteria get into your dog's digestive system through contaminated feces, which could cause diseases such as salmonella poisoning or E. coli infections if ingested.

Look for Poor-quality Diet

Dogs are not just scavengers, but super opportunists who will do whatever it takes to get food. If a dog is hungry enough or if it looks appealing, they will eat poop. Dogs are omnivores, which means that they can eat both meat and plants. They need protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals to stay healthy.

So why do puppies eat their poop? It's because it's a good source of nutrients, and puppies don't know any better. Though it may be unappealing, it is likely your puppy will outgrow the behavior, especially if you change their diet to address any deficiencies.

Dogs will eat the feces of other animals because it contains nutrients that are not found in their own food. In nature, dogs often eat the feces of herbivores, animals that eat plant matter, or omnivores, animals that eat both plants and meat. This gives them extra protein, which they may not be getting enough of if their diet is poor or doesn't have enough variety.

The Taste is Appealing

Some dogs enjoy the taste of their own feces and will even eat it as a snack. This is especially true for puppies, who are still learning about proper bathroom habits. While we might find this gross and disgusting, dogs have a very different sense of taste and smell than humans do. In fact, dog taste buds and sense of smell are much more sensitive than ours. This means that, although we smell a pile of disgusting fecal matter, they can smell what the poop contains, which could be something they enjoy.

Stress and Punishment

If your dog is stressed or anxious, this could lead them to eat their own poop. This is especially true when there are major stressors, such as moving to a new home or welcoming a new furry member to the family. They can also become overly stressed if they are punished for eating their feces. Punishment could lead to them wanting to hide what they are doing and eating even more fecal matter to avoid punishment.

Interesting Facts About Coprophagia

There are some interesting facts about coprophagia that may surprise you, including:

  • Coprophagia is more common in households with multiple dogs
  • Female dogs are more likely to eat their own poop
  • Intact males are least likely to eat their own poop
  • Most dogs who eat poop will only eat it if it's fresh
  • Most dogs won't eat their own poop, but will eat the poop of other dogs
  • Dogs who aren't getting sufficient exercise more frequently eat fecal matter

Rule Out Medical Causes

It's important to rule out a health condition before you try any solutions. If your puppy has a digestive issue, they may not be able to digest their food properly, which means it will pass through their system without providing all the nutritional benefits. This can lead to constipation or diarrhea, and make them feel even worse than they already do.

If your puppy has parasites like worms, they may also eat their own poop because the parasites hurt their stomach and make them want to keep eating to feel better. Worms also rob puppies of some the nutrients in their food, leaving your pup feeling hungry. Other symptoms of a puppy with worms include diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and dehydration. The puppy may also have anemia from bleeding in the intestines caused by parasite damage.

Allergies are another possible cause of coprophagia. If your puppy is allergic to something in their diet, like chicken or beef, they may have an aversion toward that ingredient and will eat their own poop (or someone else's) as an alternative source of protein. Nutritional deficiencies aren't common with puppies, but it's still worth checking into if none of the above seem likely causes for your pup's behavior.

Remedies to Try at Home

First, do not punish a puppy for eating their poop. This is never a good idea. The old idea that you need to rub your pup's nose in their mess, or otherwise punish them to get them to stop this habit, is wrong. Punishment may actually make the situation worse. Instead, focus on positive alternatives, and address the underlying causes of this behavior.

Redirect the Behavior

When you see your puppy sniffing around, acting like they're going to eat some poop, get their attention and distract them from eating their feces. Take them to another area and engage them in some light training or some puppy play. Don't let them hang around their poop unattended. Stay positive, and get them thinking of something else.

Clean Up the Poop Immediately

As soon as you see your puppy defecating, clean up the poop right away. Don't leave it on the ground. This removes the temptation, and eliminates the chance your puppy will eat their own poop.

Changing Your Puppy's Diet

If your dog is eating their feces or the feces of another animal because the food hasn't been processed well in their system, offering a more digestible food could fix the issue. Ask your veterinarian what they recommend for your individual puppy. While transitioning to the recommended foods, remember to combine old and new foods, gradually increasing the amount of new food to avoid stomach upset.

Supplementing with a Multivitamin

If your dog doesn't have a high-quality diet, they may begin eating their waste to make up for what they're missing. If the behavior is caused by a vitamin deficiency, adding a multivitamin to their daily regimen could be helpful. Scientists think this could potentially be primarily due to a vitamin B deficiency, but other deficiencies are also suspected. Other signs of vitamin deficiency include lethargic behavior, dry skin, dull coat, and loss of appetite.

Reduce Their Stress Levels

Puppies sometimes eat poop because they are stressed. So, try to keep them calm. Give them a safe, clean space to rest in, and pay attention to their body language. Reduce noises and environmental sources of stress. If they're acting anxious, redirect the behavior and keep it positive. Removing stressors can help keep your puppy from eating poop.

Get Out and Exercise

A bored puppy is one who might be on the prowl for their own poop. Sometimes, puppies eat poop because they're bored, so don't allow them to be under-stimulated. Exercise can help remedy poop-eating behavior. Take your puppy out for a walk on-leash, get them playing in a poop-free yard, and run out some of their energy. Games and physical activity can greatly reduce the chances your puppy eats their own poop.

Consult a Professional

With a little bit of knowledge, you can keep your puppy from eating their own poop. Remember that puppies are teething and tend to get distracted easily. If you think your pet is eating poop because they have worms or another health condition, then it's best to consult with a veterinarian about how to treat it. You should also visit a veterinarian if your puppy does this on a continuous basis as it could lead to health conditions, such as worms, or more serious conditions like parvo. Finally, if all else fails, try consulting a behavior specialist to help elimiate the behavior.

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Why Puppies Eat Their Poop (& How to Stop It)