Reviewed and updated for accuracy on February 25, 2020, by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM
Dogs eating cat poop is in no way a new phenomenon. It's actually a well-recognized canine habit with a scientific name to go along with it: coprophagia.
But why do dogs eat cat poop, and how can you stop it?
Why Is My Dog Eating Cat Poop?
Coprophagia in general is often a normal yet gross canine behavior. New canine moms will lick their puppies’ bottoms to stimulate defecation. They then eat what comes out to keep the den clean and free from odors that might attract predators.
Puppies are naturally inclined to try eating almost anything they find in the environment to determine whether or not it is a potential source of nutrition. Most puppies outgrow this habit with time, but for some, it does continue into adulthood.
And cat poop appears to be especially attractive to dogs. The feline digestive tract is relatively short, which means that the feces it produces can contain undigested nutrients like protein. I suspect that to dogs, cat poop simply smells (and tastes) an awful lot like food.
Are Dogs That Eat Cat Poop Malnourished?
However, cat poop-eating is not always normal for dogs. Health problems can be to blame in a limited number of cases.
Disorders like Cushing’s disease, intestinal malabsorption/maldigestion, or diabetes mellitus can make dogs ravenously hungry, and they will basically try to eat anything that has even the slightest resemblance to food.
Another frequently mentioned cause is that cat-poop-eating dogs are missing nutrients in their diets. In fact, there’s not a lot of evidence to support this, particularly if a dog is eating adequate amounts of a nutritionally balanced food made from high-quality ingredients.
A good first step when faced with a dog eating cat poop is to make an appointment with your veterinarian. The doctor can diagnose or rule out any diseases or dietary issues that may be playing a role and also check for the health problems that can result from this behavior.
Can Dogs Get Sick From Eating Cat Poop?
The biggest health concern with regards to a dog eating cat poop centers on exposure to potential pathogens.
Feces contain a lot of bacteria. A large dose of Clostridia, Salmonella, Campylobacter, or other disease-causing bacteria that can be found in cat feces has the ability to make a dog sick. 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 their feces are incapable of passing on disease. Some cats are asymptomatic carriers, but they still shed microorganisms that are capable of making other individuals sick.
How to Stop a Dog From Eating Cat Poop
While most dogs who eat cat poop won’t develop problems, it still makes sense to try to stop the behavior, if for no other reason than for the “ick” factor.
The surest way to stop dogs from eating cat poop is to eliminate their access to it. Put litter boxes in locations where your cat can easily access them, but your dog cannot.
Make creative use of baby gates, small pet doors, or litter box “furniture” with small openings. A self-cleaning litter box may also help, although some dogs learn to raid the box before the cleaning cycle begins.
If your dog is getting into cat feces in your yard, try modifying the areas that are attracting cats (gravel instead of sand or wood mulch, for example) or going for more leash walks.
Keep some treats on hand so you can reward your dog for resisting the urge to eat any “delicacies” that they might find along your route.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Featured Image: iStock.com/schulzie