Why Do Puppies Eat Their Poop
When I was younger, I recall seeing a comedian doing a skit called, "why do puppies eat their poop?" In his attempts to get the answer from vets and dog trainers, his only conclusion to why his dog continued to eat poop was simple, “It’s because I don’t feed him poop in the house.” It was funny and poignant all at once.
While it can be a funny and odd concept to think about, most dog owners really don't like the idea of getting puppy kisses from a poop eating canine pal. Why do puppies eat their poop? There are a lot of possible reasons for your dog eating poop, his own or other feces such as cat, deer, or bird poop. The most common reasons are boredom, seeking attention, health issues, or even to avoid punishment.
Why Dogs Eat Poop
Identify the underlying reasons as to why puppies eat their poop to determine the best course of action to stop it and break the habit. Most of the remedies involve dog training or diet changes. Regardless of why a dog eats poop, there is usually a very logical how to stop dogs eating poop.
The Term for Poop Eating: Coprophagia
Coprophagia or coprophagy is the term used to describe the act of eating feces. It isn't a condition based on underlying medical issues, although that may be the case. Often, coprophagia starts as a behavioral trait that isn’t deterred through early training. It is always wise for dog owners to discuss any behavioral issues with a veterinarian to rule out medical issues.
Poo Eating Starts in The Litter
Many puppies begin to eat stool when in the litter. In fact, it is a natural instinct for canine moms to eat her puppies' stool in order to help keep the den clean and to prevent predators from smelling the feces and hunting her pups. Puppies will mimic mom and will also eat stool out of boredom or hunger when mom isn’t around to provide food. Mother dogs continue to eat their puppies' stool until they are weaned and more active and independent.
This is considered a behavioral issue that most dogs will outgrow as they are weaned and begin to eat solid dog food. However, some puppies continue to eat stool as a result of poor dog owner practices of not cleaning up quickly, leaving curious noses and mouths to investigate and eat the feces.
Nutritional Deficiency Leads to Puppy Stool Eating
This has more to do with puppies entering adult dog year and still eating poop or just starting to eat it when it previously wasn’t a problem. A condition called tomalabsorption of nutrients refers to the inability of some dogs to absorb the nutrients from food. They are not getting what they need from their diet and seek it from the stool.
Medical conditions such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and thyroid issues often lead to this condition where ill dogs have a problem with the absorption of nutrients and vitamins. Steroid use is one of the reasons for an increase in stool eating by many dogs as well as the dietary restrictions placed on them that reduce the overall vitamin and nutrient absorption for dogs.
Curiosity and Boredom
Puppies are ready to explore the world and have more energy than imaginable, at least when they aren’t taking naps. But, don’t let them wake from their slumber without being ready to clean up the area. They are poo eating machines along with anything else including dirty socks and trash.
Your veterinarian can help you determine the best feeding schedule for your puppy, which will often be two to three times a day. Even with the right schedule, curious or bored pups will find things to get into, poop being one of them. Keep areas where the puppy roams clean and free of dog feces and other items your dog might just find irresistible to put into his mouth.
Intestinal Parasites and Worms
Puppies that have intestinal parasites and worms will be fighting for nutrients all day long. They show increased signs of hunger as the intestinal parasites leach vitamins and nutrients from the dog’s system. The puppy will then seek out anything to satisfy his hunger and increase his nutritional content. If you think your puppy is fighting parasites or worms, talk to your veterinarian about the best course of action to get him healthy again. Once the health issue is resolved, your puppy shouldn’t be seeking out stool anymore.
Stressed Out Puppies
Your puppy has a lot going on that can stress him out. The whole world is new and he may be taken pretty early from the litter away from his mom and siblings. He has to deal with a pecking order and may not always be the top dog. Even puppies need a nice little massage every once in a while.
Stress is the foundation of many dog behavioral issues including stool eating. When a puppy is in a new home or being potty trained, overactive dog owners can increase the puppy’s anxiety by a bit too angry and yelling. The result is a puppy who will eat his own stool to avoid punishment for accidents. Essentially he is learning to hide the evidence. Give your puppy many opportunities to go to the bathroom and do his business, clean areas of stool and try not to overreact when an accident does happen.
Puppies and Other Poo Eating
If you have cats or other animals around, your puppy may find his way in the litter box or other areas where poop is located. Chicken coops or outdoor areas where wild animals such as deer can be very enticing to puppies. The first rule here is to not let them have easy access to poop. Intriguing smells, curiosity, and boredom will lead to your puppy developing a habit of seeking poop out and eating it.
Your reaction could be just the attention he was looking for, albeit a negative one, that reinforces that “Mom will come running out when I do this. Yeah!” Dog owners may think that running out, screaming and yelling not to do it is the right reaction. Your puppy sees a game of chase starting and is in play heaven.
Eating Poop Just Because It’s There
The idea that puppies eat poop just because it is there reinforces the fact that puppies are curious and easily intrigued. If you aren’t cleaning up the stool in their area or outside very quickly, puppies will start to play with it and eat it. This reason has nothing to do with dog diet, health, or other behavior. The solution here is training dog owners to be responsible to prevent bad habits from developing early on by removing the temptation of poop lying around.
That’s right, dog owner habits are just as important in dog training (if not more) than dog behavior. Consistency is the key to preventing “just because” habits such as eating poop from being a normal behavior and bad habit.
What to Do To Stop Dog Stool Eating
Once you know why your puppy is doing this, you can implement a strategy to stop those poop eating dogs from forcing you to yank, shake and grab poop from their mouths. Return the poop bags their intended use of picking up poop off the ground and not out of the drooling jaws of your puppy.
Here are the most effective ways for dog owners to get dogs to stop eating feces:
Regular Veterinarian Checkups
Visit the veterinarian frequently to make sure your puppy has all his vaccinations, is properly dewormed, and is in good health. Remember that all the other remedies will not be as effective in stopping feces eating in dogs if your dog isn’t healthy in the first place. Keep a keen eye on puppy behavior and look for any signs that he might not be feeling well.
Remember that even puppies getting all their normal vaccinations and deworming remedies may develop issues by being exposed to feces while on walks or other dogs. Protect puppies from exposure to potentially harmful feces that could result in parasites and an increase in the poop eating problem.
Healthy Diets for Puppies
Healthy puppies and healthy diets mean puppies will get the vitamins and nutrients their growing bodies need. Keep momma dog healthy with vitamin-rich food while she is nursing her pups and make sure the puppies are getting good quality food designed for them. A puppy’s metabolism is much higher than adult dogs as they build bones and muscles. Don’t think that adult dog food will satisfy their nutritional needs; they need more.
If your puppy seems to get constipated, is not growing at a normal rate, or has stool with undigested food in it, talk to your veterinarian and consider your dog’s diet. A diet change may be just what is needed to get him back on track, full of energy, and not seeking out poop to eat.
Regular Feed Times
Puppies will eat fecal matter if they are hungry and nothing else is around. Those high metabolic rates of puppies mean they need to eat more frequently than adult dogs. Puppies eat twice a day, if not three to four times regularly. A puppy’s tummy knows his feeding schedule and he will seek out a snack if his meal isn’t readily available.
Plan your day to make sure you accommodate regular feeding schedules. Making sure a puppy’s hunger pangs are satiated will reduce his desire to incorporate poop eating into his daily dog diet. A dog’s behavior is almost always reflective of the dog owner’s consistency. Know the schedule and if you can’t be there to make sure the food dish is full, make arrangements to do so. The more consistent dog owners are, the fewer problems they have with puppies in general.
Eliminate Puppy Boredom
Boredom leads to all sorts of mischievous behaviors such as chewing, barking, digging, and, of course, poop eating. Keep your puppy busy and get him tired to prevent him from wandering off to find his own methods of entertainment. Routines usually work best with puppies and can be easily incorporated with training programs.
When a puppy wakes up, get him outside to do their business and run around. While they are running around, clean up quickly so there isn’t anything left for them to get into. Make sure while they are outside, they get ample exercise with games of fetch, agility training, and brain games. Puppies often need more than one play session per day to truly get all those puppy frenzies out of their system.
Learn what makes your puppy tick to help develop activities that cater to their natural instincts. Beagles love to sniff and will excel with scent training to keep their mind and body active. Border Collies love to herd and will create their own little pack at the dog park. Golden Retrievers like to retrieve, so a game of fetch anywhere will make them happy and content and keep them away from eating dog poop.
Be a Tidy Dog Owner
It can’t be said enough, but if you don’t clean dog poop immediately, you are practically encouraging the behavior. Dogs generally follow routines and will do poo regularly, often naps or meals. Be prepared to clean the poop as it happens. Don’t assume that you’ll get it in the morning when you wake up and take them out in the yard.
It’s easy to forget where they pooped; at least you’ll forget while they will make a straight line for it every single time. Whether you use poop bags or a scooper, have it handy when you take them out. Even running back in the house can be enough time for a curious puppy to find his way to his own or another puppy’s poop.
Also, pay attention to any outdoor cats that may poop in the yard. It may not be easy for you to know exactly when and where a cat has gone, but many dogs will sniff that out quickly. Ideally, the more the dogs are out and about in the area, the less likely a cat will want to enter their territory.
That being said, cats do believe they rule the earth and often do what they want because they know your puppies are harmless. We love cats, but they will take over your backyard if you let them. Eliminate areas where they are likely to go such as loose dirt or mulch areas. You can also plant lavender and thyme to deter them away naturally.
Walk Puppies on a Leash
It’s the law in most places to walk a dog on a leash. This is for their safety and the safety of others. While it can be cute to have your puppy trotting just a few feet away from you off-leash, it’s not the right thing to do. Plus, you are increasing the chances of him finding feces or trash left by another dog. Not all dog owners have the courtesy to clean up after their pets.
Using a leash when walking your new puppy is great to help with socialization, proper walking, and poop eating prevention. When walking your puppy, pay attention to when they suddenly become stubbornly interested in something you might not even see under a bush or in the plants. Gently pull them away and redirect them to something else. Just preventing the behavior in these scenarios is often enough to stop them from continuing the action.
Don’t forget the positive reinforcement they get when they follow your command or lead.
Properly Potty Train Puppies
An old rule of thumb says that dogs won’t pee or poop where they sleep. This is why crate training your puppy is so powerful when potty training. You can even get special crates that have a divider so your puppy has a separate poop room to poop in if they can’t wait. Other new trends are using a litter box for dogs as well as cats.
Regardless of how you decide to potty train your puppy, remember that they need to go frequently and you need to be cleaning up frequently. Even puppies that aren’t having accidents might find that poop room intriguing if left alone for too long.
Supplements to Stop Dogs Eating Feces
Many people that feel dogs eat poop because they have trouble absorbing all nutrients in food look to supplements to give dogs an edge in digestion. Some recommend meat tenderizer or pineapple for dogs to help add the enzymes back into the digestive system to properly digest and absorb food nutrients.
Pineapple, in particular, is high in fiber, helping dogs eliminate constipation and has many vitamins that are just good for dogs. However, pineapple is high in sugar. This can create other problems such as obesity and issues with diabetes in dogs.
Always check with your veterinarian before adding any new supplement or foods to your puppy’s diet.
Behavior Training Always Helps
Remember that most negative behaviors that your dogs do are alleviates with simple and consistent dog training. The sooner you start a training program, the more likely you will avert negative behaviors before they become problems.
Kimberlee Leonard is a certified pet first aid and CPR instructor. Her company, Safer Family Pets helps families prepared for worst-case scenarios including evacuations during natural disasters. She enjoys time with her beagle mix, Arky who enjoys “sit-walks” where he sits more than walks, enjoying the fresh mountain air.