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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Dogs That Eat Cat Poop

August 23, 2013 / (9) comments

A few weeks ago, a couple of comments were made about dogs eating cat poop. Bloomlarry mentioned, “A gastroenterologist I know had a dog with a chronic case [of diarrhea]. After a couple of visits to the vet he decided to try a “probiotic.” His answer? A bit of cat stool. The chronic case cleared right up.”


But TheOldBroad countered, “However, I would assume that eating cat stool wouldn't be good for the dog, especially on an ongoing basis” adding, “Dr. Coates, could you address what problems might occur if a dog snacks on treats from the litter box (other than possible malnutrition because I assume it wouldn't be balanced...)?”


Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?


Dogs eating cat poop is in no way a new phenomenon. It's actually a documented habit with a scientific name to go along with it - coprophagia. There are a few behavioral and psychological justifications for why dogs eat cat poop (and other animal poop). According to a 2012 study by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, dogs eating poop is a reflection of thier ancestral instinct to protect other pack members from the parasites found in poop that's dropped in their den or resting areas.


Another possible reason why dogs eat cat poop and poop in general is they may be dealing with an environmental stress or behavioral trigger. Things like isolation, restrictive confinement, living with other sick or elderly dogs, and anxiety can all trigger poop-eating behavior in dogs. Sometimes puppies will get confused by sniffing their mother's breath after she cleans them and detecting fecal matter on it. This "appetite inoculation," can set a puppy up to develop a habit of eating poop.


But none of this information is new, and neither is the behavior.


Here’s my take on the cat poop controversy (such as it is).


First of all, I could never recommend feeding a dog cat poop as a way of treating diarrhea. While commercially prepared probiotics are living microorganisms that are found in feces, a random sample of poop is hardly produced with the benefit of the same quality control measures. Veterinarians do sometimes practice something called transfaunation, which is essentially taking the feces of a healthy animal and feeding it to another individual of the same species to colonize its gastrointestinal tract with normal bacteria, but feeding a dog cat poop doesn’t qualify on many levels.


I don’t worry about malnutrition when a dog eats cat feces. I typically tell my clients that 10 percent of a pet’s diet can consist of treats. These could be commercial products, healthy scraps from the kitchen, essentially anything that is not downright dangerous for dogs to eat. As long as 90 percent of a dog’s diet is nutritionally balanced, we can get away with 10 percent being somewhat random. I certainly hope that even the most dedicated canine poop-eaters out there are not getting more than 10 percent of their calories from feces! If they are, the situation definitely needs to be addressed ASAP.


My biggest health concern with regards to coprophagia (the fancy word for poop eating) centers on potential pathogens. Feces contain a lot of bacteria. Yes, some of them can be considered “good” bacteria that promote normal digestive function, but others are not so benign. A large dose of Clostridia, Salmonella, Campylobacter, or other disease-causing bacteria has the ability to make a dog quite ill. Parasites are another potential problem; a few have the ability to cross species boundaries. And just because a cat does not appear clinically ill, we can’t assume that his or her feces are incapable of passing on disease. Some individuals are asymptomatic carriers, but still shed microorganisms that are capable of making other individuals sick.


Now I don’t want to make too big of a deal of this. Dogs eat cat feces all the time and the vast majority of them never develop any problems. In my opinion, the number one reason to stop the behavior is the “ick” factor. Do you really want your dog to snack from the litter box and then give you or your kid/grandchild/friend a big old smackeroo? I didn’t think so.


Dr. Jennifer Coates


Image: Thinkstock


Comments  9

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  • And wild rabbit poop?
    08/23/2013 12:19pm

    My schnoodles have recently both discovered wild dog poop and seem to look forward to "snacking" on this "delicacy" when we are on our twice daily walks. I try to stop them but they are quite persistant, should I worry?

  • 08/23/2013 07:53pm

    If they were my dogs, I'd simply watch closely for any GI problems and consider having fecal exams for parasites performed more frequently than is typically recommended - perhaps two or three times a year in the absence of any vomiting, diarrhea, etc.

  • 08/23/2013 09:27pm

    My dog was raiding the litter box! I put the litter box up on a chest where the dog couldn't reach it. I was more worried about the amount of litter that he might be consuming than the poop. I use clumping litter and was afraid that it would cause a fecal impaction.

  • 08/23/2013 10:27pm

    My dog like rabbit pooh,I yell at her and chase her away from it but sometimes she get some anyways...how bad is it?

  • Kissing Critters
    08/24/2013 06:22pm

    From the article and subsequent comments, this seems to be a pretty big concern for a lot of dog people. Dr. Coates, do you have any suggestions on training dogs to ignore litter boxes?

  • 08/26/2013 07:09pm

    It's tough because the dogs get "rewarded" every time they manage to snack. Figuring out a way to block access is the by far the most straightforward option - both in the house and while on walks (keep dog on short leash, etc.).

  • Crazy about cat "treats"
    01/19/2015 04:23pm

    I adopted my American Bulldog mix when he was 5 mos old. He's a wonderful boy, his only bad habit being his love of cat, rabbit, and deer poop. If my cats were inside cats, or even the only animals that had access to our acre, solving the coprophagia issue wouldn't be much of a challenge. However, we live on an acre with field fencing surrounding the entire property, so rabbits, other cats, deer, and a variety of other critters pay us a visit while we're all sleeping at night. When I let my boy out to do his business or just to enjoy being outside, what he most enjoys is trying to rid the entire acre of any poop that isn't his! He eats good food, and gets fed twice a day! Just ordered some chewable vitamins for him to see if that helps at all, but putting him on a leash every time he's outside to prevent him from "vacuuming" all the poop out of the property doesn't seem like a good long-term resolution. You are so right about not wanting him to lick my toddler in the face...or me or my hubby for that matter! Can you offer any other advice? Thanks!

  • 01/20/2015 05:26pm

    Sorry, you're situation is an awfully difficult one, and I'm afraid I don't have any other suggestions... maybe someone else out there has successfully dealt with something similar??

  • Litter Box Snacks
    09/25/2016 07:28am

    I would agree with Dr Coats if my dog was eating feces from the yard; however, It worries me from the litter box. One of my new dogs found the litter box & it's like she's addicted, regardless of how many times I tell her to leave it. As soon as Mom isn't watching, in goes the head. I use a covered box with clumping litter, she has benn dry hacking all day & I suspect the cause is the litter. Any recommendations as to what I can give her to make her more comfortable. A friend suggested a tablespoon of Vaseline?? I can't use an avoidance spray to keep her away as the cats may stay away as well. Gong to try turning it to the wall with about 6 inches fro wall so cats can get in. The dry hacking cough worries me so welcome all suggestions - otherwise may try the Vaseline.