There comes a time in every dog owner’s life when poop dominates the conversation. Welcome to one of the not-so-nice aspects of dog ownership. Sometimes a dog will eat poop, a condition called coprophagia.
“Unfortunately this is a topic that is brought up quite often,” says Dr. Arhonda Johnson, owner of The Ark Animal Hospital in Atlanta. In most cases, this problem is behavioral and stems from curious hounds exploring the environment and all it has to offer. (Dogs don’t exactly have discriminating taste.)
Pet stores and online retailers are flooded with products such as Dis-Taste and For-Bid or other supplements that make a dog’s poop “unpalatable” — now that's an oxymoron. Customer reviews tend to vary, and many of the products require continued use to reap the benefits. Also, these supplements fail to address the core problem, which Johnson notes could be an underlying health issue.
If your pet suffers from coprophagia, here are a few common causes to consider:
Nutritional deficiency: “You are feeding her the same amount of food, but are you feeding her the same type of food?” Johnson asks. “If so, she might have intestinal parasites that are robbing her of the nutrition she is consuming. Tapeworms, which are transmitted by fleas, are big nutrition robbers.” A visit with the vet will help determine whether parasites are behind your dog’s unfortunate pastime.
Boredom: Idle minds breed mischief. Johnson says that a dog may be acting out of sheer boredom. If that’s the case, it may be time to monitor her outdoor privileges.
Curiosity: It’s new, it’s different and it smells interesting. What’s not to like? Dogs, particularly puppies, are prone to coprophagia. Use a gentle hand to steer them in a different direction.
It’s there: Be sure to clean the area thoroughly after your pet’s potty time. It also may be time to invest in a good pooper scooper. “The best prevention is cleanup,” Johnson says.
What kind of dogs eat poop?
A 2018 study published in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, researchers from the University of California-Davis used two online surveys to try to pinpoint the characteristics of canine poop eaters.
The studies asked thousands of dog owners about their pets and whether they had an affinity for dining on feces. They found that there was little difference in age, sex, diet or house-training status between dogs that did and didn't eat poop.
What they did find, however, was that dogs that were greedy eaters tended to be more likely to eat poop. Dogs from multi-dog households also are more likely to do it, maybe because they learn it from each other.
The researchers also looked at 11 commercial products and how effective owners rated them. They found a mere success rate of 0 to 2 percent.
They acknowledge in the study that it's not an easy situation for dog owners to live with.
"While the coprophagic syndrome seems to be medically harmless, it is very disturbing for many dog owners. One publication discussing this syndrome notes that some people find it so disgusting that the bond with their dog is irreparably damaged."
You may not like all your four-legged roommate's habits, but sometimes, you just have to accept weird habits and move on.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was published in April 2011.