Most new owners are delighted by puppy antics, but a puppy that eats poop prompts anything but smiles. It could be any animal's feces, too. From its own stool to your cat's litter box deposits to a neighboring horse's or cow's manure, some puppies don't discriminate when it comes to poo they're willing to eat.
Although many puppies grow out of this phase at least to some extent, there are steps you can take to discourage and even stop the behavior. Exercising your puppy more, changing foods, making it clear that poop-eating is off limits, and minimizing your dog's opportunities to snack on droppings are just some of the ways to stop this gross habit. Here's what you should know about why puppies eat their poop and how to stop it.
Watch Now: Why Do Some Puppies Eat Poop?
Why Do Puppies Eat Poop?
Dogs often eat their own or another animal’s droppings, no matter what species of animal does it. There's even a technical term for it: coprophagia.
This behavior typically is normal for very young puppies, possibly to colonize the gastrointestinal tract with normal bacteria. Puppies may also learn this behavior while imitating their mothers, as a female dog normally will eat the feces of her nursing puppies to keep the "den" clean and prevent potential predators from coming to investigate the odor. Generally, female dogs will stop eating their puppies' bowel movements around the time the puppies wean, but some pups might continue to dine on droppings. Still, the good news is that most puppies outgrow the habit. The bad news is that some dogs hang on to the nasty practice throughout their lives.
There are a variety of reasons why your puppy eats poop:
When you wave your hands, shout with disgust, and chase the puppy all over the yard in an attempt to discourage it from eating poop, that’s great puppy entertainment. As far as your puppy is concerned, you are both playing a fun game. Chasing can reward the behavior and encourage your puppy to play poopy-keep-away. Other times, poop eating stems from boredom. If a pup left out in the yard alone has little to occupy its time, it may turn to the one available thing to play with.
Low-Quality or Low-Quantity Diet
Poor quality diets may lead to puppies snacking on their waste. For instance, if the dog's food is not being digested fully, the dog may look to its feces as a supplement because it's nearly the same as when it was eaten. It's also possible that a dog is simply not eating enough and its daily food intake needs to be increased. Another possibility is that a puppy with a heavy infestation of worms eats its own poop in an attempt to make up for the nutrients it is losing to the worms.
Some health issues may cause coprophagia as well. Diseases in the small intestine or pancreas may cause malabsorption or maldigestion. Also, conditions such as diabetes and thyroid disease often increase a dog's appetite and, if its regular diet isn't filling, it may resort to whatever is available. If your puppy isn't thriving despite eating a well balanced diet, or shows other signs of illness, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to be sure there isn't a health issue at play.
Stress can also lead a dog to eat their feces, especially major stressors like coming to a new home after being adopted. Puppies can also become stressed if they are harshly punished for poop eating. This can lead to a vicious cycle where the puppy associates poop with punishment, and eats the "evidence" in an attempt to stay out of trouble.
How to Stop Dogs From Eating Poop
It's best to put a stop to this behavior before it gets out of hand. Parasites are often transmitted through feces, so having a dog that eats it as a treat puts the pup's health at risk. There are several things you can do to put an end to this nauseating habit:
Make It Clear the Behavior Is Unwanted
Puppies may eat waste to get your attention, which means that even yelling may reward their behavior. If you catch your pup in the act, don’t make eye contact or speak. Instead, interrupt the act by shaking a can full of pennies or clapping your hands loudly. Do not hit your dog, which can make the situation even worse by causing your puppy to fear you. Once your dog leaves the poop alone, reward it for the good behavior by supplying a small treat, petting your pup or praising it, or engaging in a play session. Positive reinforcement is always better than negative discouragement when it comes to training your dog.
Increase the Level of Activity
For bored pups, increase playtime to a minimum of 20 minutes several times a day or try aerobic exercise twice a day. If you leave your puppy in the yard while you're away from home, increase the number of toys available. A treat-spiked toy such as a Kong filled with peanut butter offers a tastier, healthier alternative to poop. Remember that puppies are naturally playful, social animals that long to be with their favorite humans, so try to schedule frequent play and bonding sessions with your pet. Training sessions, such as teaching your puppy to walk on a leash, sit, stay, come, and lie down are also excellent ways to relieve boredom, encourage bonding, discourage poop-eating, and improve your dog's overall behaviors.
If you believe stress may be playing a role in your dog's habit, try to offer some relief. This will entail addressing the reason for its anxiety, whether that be a move to a new home, changes in household members, or simply separation anxiety. Calming products such as Adaptil may help in the interim while you work on alleviating your puppy's anxiety. Speak to your veterinarian for help with diagnosis and treatment.
Keep Your Pup On a Leash
Prevent access by walking your puppy on a leash and leading it away from its pile once the business is done. Offer it rewards for leaving the stool alone. Teach the puppy to "come" and sit in front of you after each bowel movement—its own or another dogs’—and offer a fantastic treat while you pick up the waste. Then be sure to dispose of the feces in a trash can with a tightly fitted lid so your pup can't scavenge the poop out of the garbage.
Add Bad Flavors
You might be able to discourage your puppy from eating poop by making the poop taste bad. This can be accomplished by adding a supplement to your puppy's meals that causes the resulting poop to taste terrible. Hot pepper and garlic are two of the commonly used ingredients in these supplements. If your puppy is dining on cat feces or another household pet's poop, try pouring a little hot sauce on the feces and allowing your puppy to sample it. This can set up a negative association in the puppy's mind that poop tastes terrible, so leave it alone.
Some dogs may eat their stool when it hasn’t thoroughly "processed." In these instances, a more digestible food that offers all the nutrients your dog needs may help. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. Remember to make a gradual change to the new food as a sudden change could prompt tummy issues. And always check any new food to be sure it is balanced and recommended for puppies or for dogs of all ages. Don't feed your young puppy food meant for adult dogs unless advised to do so by your veterinarian. Puppy food is formulated to provide the higher levels of nutrients and calories required by a growing dog.
Minimize Access to Other Animal Waste
Place the litter box on a table or counter out of the dog's reach. If the cat doesn’t object, a covered litter box might deter the dog while allowing the cat access and privacy. Use a baby gate to keep the dog out of the cat’s domain. Some cats can jump over the standard gates, or you can install it a couple of inches off the floor so your kitty can slink underneath while the jumbo-size pup can’t get through.
If your dog is dining on feces from neighborhood dogs, be sure to keep your pup tightly leashed when out walking so it can't approach the poop. The same technique can be used to keep your dog from eating horse, cow, rabbit, or other animal droppings. Remember to stay alert when walking with your puppy; dogs can be amazingly fast when they see something on the ground that they want to eat.