Your dog’s unpleasant habit of eating its own (or another animal’s) poo might be a sign of separation anxiety, stress, nutrient deficiency, increased appetite, hunger or that it simply likes the taste.
If your dog has only recently started eating its poo and you think its appetite has increased dramatically, talk to your vet.
Increased appetite might be caused by certain conditions that prevent your dog from absorbing all the nutrients from its food, such as a lack of digestive enzymes or parasites.
Hunger caused by underfeeding could make a dog feast on anything in sight, and as dogs are not repulsed by poo the way humans are, they might easily take up to supplementing their diet with it.
Some dogs when bored might even find eating their own poo entertaining or an effective way to grab your attention. If they’re feeling a little bit needy, even a scold is welcomed attention.
Young dogs can pick up the habit from older dogs and acquire a taste for it.
No one can say for certain why dogs develop a taste for their own faeces, but according to Benjamin Hart director of the Center for Animal Behavior at Davis, USA, who studied coprophagy (eating faeces) in dogs, it might be an ancient instinct inherited from their wolf ancestors.
Eighty per cent of the dogs Hart studied prefered fresh poo, which he hypothesised is linked to the behaviour exhibited by an ill or lame wolf forced to go in its own den 15,000 years ago.
Because canine faeces contain intestinal parasite eggs, wolfs would usually defecate away from their home.
An ill or lame wolf, in order to protect itself from the infectious larvae that could hatch from eggs contained in the poo, would instead digest the faeces before the larvae have had the chance to hatch.
Regardless of the reason, coprophagy is common among dogs. There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with your dog; it could simply like the taste.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s a habit you’d like to keep.
How to stop your dog from eating poo?
- Don’t leave any poo lying around, try to clean up after your dog as soon as it’s gone. If you have cats, try to scoop their poo out of their litter trays as frequently as you can
- Don’t respond emotionally as your dog might misinterpret your reaction and deduce that eating poo gets him or her attention
- Train your dog to respond to an appropriate command, eg "don't eat that"
- If the behaviour persists, speak to your vet or to a behavioural specialist.