It’s disgusting, and I am worried that it will make her sick. Should I call my vet? What can I do to correct this behavior? Signed, Jack
You have to understand this. Dogs don’t know the concept of disgusting. They drink from toilets, lick their private parts, roll in dead smelly stuff, or try to kiss us with cat litter on their mouths—and then are totally surprised when we groan and push them away from us or get out the hose and shampoo.
There’s a scientific name for this habit—coprophagia. It’s important to understand that it’s a “habit.” Not a disease. There are both behavioral and physiologic reasons why some dogs eat poop.
First of all, it’s not really all that bad from a canine point of view. Dogs evolved as scavengers, eating whatever they found on the ground or in the trash heap. Food is food for a dog. In fact, eating poop is natural behavior at some canine life stages. Mother dogs will lick their puppies to urge them to eliminate, and clean their feces, for about the first three weeks. Puppies will also naturally engage in this behavior, eating their own poop is harmless, and in most cases, this behavior will fade by the time the puppy is about nine months old. When it occurs in puppies, coprophagia is generally considered part of the process of exploring the world around them.
For adult dogs like Lolita, you should consult with your vet first to rule out such health problems as parasites, diets deficient in nutrients, diabetes, Cushing’s, thyroid disease, and other conditions that might cause an increase in appetite.
But in many cases, dogs start to eat their own poop because of some kind of environmental stress or behavioral triggers. These can include restrictive confinement. Spending too much time confined in a small space can cause the problem. It’s not unusual to see coprophagia in dogs rescued from puppy mills. So that may well be the case with Lolita.
Isolation is another problem. Dogs who are kept alone in kennels or basements or outside in a pen are more likely to eat poop than those dogs who live close to their people.
And then some dogs will do almost anything for attention, even if it’s just negative attention. Those dogs eat their own poop to get a reaction from their humans, which they inevitably will. So, if you see your Lolita doing this, don’t overreact. One trick you can try with her is to have treats with you on your walks, and every time she goes, give her a treaty right away to distract her. In essence, you are rewarding her for not eating poop.
You will see lots of products on the market to make poop theoretically unpalatable to dogs—but of course you have to run around sprinkling it on poop. Talk about a bad habit!
In our experience, the best way to stop the problem is through training and environmental management methods. You should keep the Lolita’s living area clean, including the yard, so there will be no poops for her to pick up. If you have cats, be scrupulous about keeping the litter box clean or out of her reach. Supervise Lolita carefully on walks. Pick up after her immediately.
Finally, work hard on the commands “leave it” and “come.” Those are the commands you will use most often to keep Lolita safe and not too disgusting in all sorts of situations. Good luck. It’s a solvable problem.
### About Oswego County Humane Society
We provide services to promote and strengthen the human-animal bond through fostering-to-adoption programs, spay/neuter clinics, and humane education. The Oswego County Humane Society is designated under IRS code 501(c)3 as a charitable organization: 161586001 and registered with the New York State Charities Bureau: 06-70-81. Our registration number with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets is RR239.