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There are many things dogs do that we don’t understand. For example, eating feces, whether their own or another animal’s. From a human perspective, this sounds like a senseless, disgusting, and even possibly dangerous habit that doesn’t seem beneficial to the dog in any way.
It’s gross, sure, but pet owners also wonder whether eating feces is dangerous for their dog. Is there any reasoning behind this off-putting behavior?
The good news is that this is a relatively common occurrence. While dogs eating their own poop can be an indicator of other underlying issues, it’s also simply a common instinct dating back to the days of dogs’ lives in the wild.
The Technical Term is Coprophagia
Vets label this habit as Coprophagia. Coprophagia comes from the Greek copro meaning “dung” and phaga, which means “eating,” which roughly translates to what people call the habit colloquially: poop-eating.
It’s quite likely that this displeasing habit stems from an adaptive behavior inherited from ancestral wolves. This action was an attempt to dispel parasites that were possibly infecting the stools of fellow wolves in the pack. The goal was to prevent these parasites from reaching adulthood, so wolves would be in the habit of consuming the feces as, ultimately, an act of care and protection.
Eating Feces Isn’t Unhealthy for the Dog
As strange as it may seem, dogs eating their own poop doesn’t usually cause them harm. Dogs will do this because of their ingrained instincts and because it is pleasant for them. While humans find this disturbing, something is satisfying about it for dogs.
It’s less of an issue if dogs consume their own feces but can be a concern if a dog consumes feces belonging to another animal. They could catch various diseases or ingest parasites that could be harmful. If consuming another domestic animal’s feces, they also run the risk of intaking medications that the other animal may be on.
If a dog becomes ill from eating poop, they may contract a stomach virus or show signs by developing diarrhea or begin vomiting. They may also lose their appetite and become fatigued and lethargic.
Reasons Why a Dog May Eat Poop
Dogs may eat poop for many reasons. Instinct aside, the need for clearing up potential parasites generally doesn’t exist in the same capacity that first required its development in the first place. So, the reason dogs in our modern era consume feces can be narrowed down to a handful of reasons.
Replenishment of Enzymes or Vitamins
If a dog feels that they lack proper enzymes or vitamins, they may ingest poop in a somewhat abstract attempt to fuel themselves with the nutrition they need. If a dog eats their poop, this is not the only sign that a dog lacks enzymes. Other symptoms such as balance problems, fatigue, and recurring infections are indicators of enzyme balance issues in addition to fecal consumption.
This viewpoint is not consistently received, and many authorities believe it’s less likely an underlying health condition and more likely an issue of habit and behavior.
Guilt and Shame
It’s an understandable desire for dog owners to prevent their pets from going to the bathroom in the house. Often, owners will bring negative focus to the action to highlight the wrongness of the deed.
Dogs, being communal and pack-oriented creatures, can develop feelings of shame regarding their wrongdoing. Rather than incite anger or disappointment from their owners, dogs may eat their poop to hide traces that they’ve committed a small crime.
It’s possible that a dog may dislike the presence of poop in their surroundings. Lacking the proper tools to clean up the poop, they resort to eating it as an approach to a more hygienic environment.
Female dogs will clean up the poop of their puppies as a way to keep the nest clean. Puppies, in turn, may eat poop simply out of curiosity, especially if they’ve witnessed their mother doing something similar.
If a dog feels neglected or ignored in some capacity, it may indulge in “bad” behavior as a means to capture the attention of their owners. This includes poop-eating. Even though the action is likely to result in scolding, if a dog requires attention, it may consider scolding as a better alternative to being left alone.
Dogs may resort to eating their poop if they are stressed. They may partake in several inappropriate or “strange” behaviors, including eating poop, as a way of dealing with stress and anxiety in their environment.
Stopping Dogs from Eating Poop
Instead of focusing on over-disciplining, which may potentially cause even more stress and shame in a dog’s life, addressing the issues that cause the habit to occur in the first place is the best way to prevent dogs from eating poop.
Clean Up After Your Dog
If a dog is prone to this habit, then it’s best to remove the opportunity before the dog has a chance to partake. Cleaning up after a dog eliminates the possibility of a dog eating its own poop, and if a dog prefers a clean environment, it will appreciate its surroundings being kept as they like it.
Treat Nutritional Deficiencies
Dogs who do have nutritional deficiencies of some kind, be that enzyme imbalance or lack of vitamins, ought to receive treatment in that area. Depending on what the issue is, dogs require treatment that is specific to their problems. Supplements or an adjusted diet can help improve this issue with a vet’s consultation to find the most appropriate treatment.
Use Positive Reinforcement Training
Avoid additional stress by using training methods that focus on positive reinforcement. If a dog eats poop due to stress, then eliminating the stress and replacing it with positive feelings helps the dog turn away from its poop-eating ways.
It’s off-putting to their human counterparts, but your furry friend’s poop-eating habit may be nothing more than ages-old instincts coming into play. Of course, if you notice that your pup isn’t feeling well, is experiencing other behavioral or health problems, or isn’t consuming their regular diet and is instead feasting on feces, it’s likely time to see your vet.