Updated and reviewed for accuracy on February 24, 2020 by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
Stool eating, also known as coprophagy, is actually quite normal behavior for a puppy. And though you may find it utterly gross if you see your puppy eating poop, do not shout or do anything alarming when it happens (never punish your puppy).
Reacting in a way that startles your puppy can do more harm than good, and it may even lead to more coprophagy and other behavioral problems.
If the cause is not addressed appropriately and in a timely manner, there’s a good chance that eating poop could become a recurring habit for your puppy.
So why do puppies eat poop, and how can you stop them from eating poop?
Why Is My Puppy Eating Poop?
Here are several reasons why your puppy is eating poop.
Puppies Eat Poop to Mimic Their Mothers
Puppies may begin eating poop while still in the litter. At this stage, it is natural for the mother dog to eat the stool of her puppies. She does this both to keep the “den” clean and to protect the puppies from predators that might be drawn by the scent.
It doesn’t matter that there are no predators in your home; this is primitive evolutionary behavior, and other animals do the same thing with their young. The mother does this from the time her puppies are born until they are weaned.
Since puppies are learning how to be dogs, they may naturally follow her lead and do what she does. Natural puppy curiosity might also lead them to smell, taste, and even eat their own or other dogs’ stool.
The mother usually stops eating her puppies’ feces around the time that they have begun eating solid food and can leave the den to defecate. But a puppy who has started eating poop may still continue the behavior until he becomes more mature.
To begin discouraging this behavior early, you must always clean up after the puppies, before they have a chance to eat it. However, you most likely adopted the puppy after they have been separated from their mother, and this cleaning up immediately may not have been the practice in your puppy’s first home.
Poor Digestion May Lead to Coprophagia
Although it’s not uncommon for your puppy to eat its own or other dogs’ stool, dogs who receive a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet should grow out of this behavior.
If your puppy continues to eat poop, consult a veterinarian to identify the problem. Your puppy may not be digesting his food properly. The food may be low in digestible nutrients, causing it to come out basically the same way it went in, or your puppy may have a problem with his digestive system.
In these cases, the puppy’s stool tastes pretty much like the food he just ate. For the former, switching to a higher quality food can solve this. For the latter (if switching foods has not helped), you will have to have your puppy checked by a veterinarian.
Boredom and Stress Can Cause Puppies to Eat Poop
If a puppy is left alone for a long time, he may find relief from boredom by playing with and eating his own stool.
Stress will often drive puppies, and adult dogs, to eat their own stool. This may be stress from being brought into a new home, or from any number of reasons. You should not cause further stress for your puppy by punishing him for eating his stool.
Not Getting Enough Food
Worms and other intestinal parasites can leach nutrients from the puppy’s system, causing him to try to supplement his diet with whatever he can find that appears remotely edible.
On the same note, your puppy may simply not be getting enough to eat during the day. Puppies are growing, and most need to be fed two to three times a day. Four times a day may be recommended for puppy toy breeds to avoid hypoglycemia.
If you have any questions regarding how much or how often you should feed your puppy, talk to your veterinarian.
Trying to Get Your Attention
If you have already responded several times to this behavior by getting upset, your puppy may continue to do it just for the reaction. Even though the reaction is a negative one, all the puppy knows is that he is getting extra attention from you.
Conversely, your puppy may eat his stool to avoid negative attention. If you have been responding angrily to his accidents, his response may be to effectively “hide” the evidence by eating it.
Eating Poop Just Because
Finally, some puppies, and adult dogs, will eat their own stool just because they like to do it. There is not always a satisfying explanation for the behavior, and the best you can do is to try to prevent your dog from doing it by distracting him and getting the stool picked up as quickly as possible.
How to Stop a Puppy From Eating Poop
Here are some solutions for stopping your puppy from eating poop.
Always Feed Your Puppy a Good-Quality Puppy Food
Consult your veterinarian to find a quality food so you can be sure that your puppy is getting all of the protein, minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients he needs for normal growth.
Observe your puppy for signs that he may be suffering from poor digestion:
Insufficient weight gain
Stool with large particles of undigested food
If you see any of these signs, consult your veterinarian. This can become a serious issue if not resolved.
Make Sure Your Puppy Is Getting Exercise, Playtime, and Attention
Provide your puppy with plenty of time to exercise and play, and give your puppy the amount of attention they need. When you have to leave him alone for a while, offer your puppy age-appropriate chew toys or busy toys to relieve his stress, boredom, or loneliness so he won’t resort to eating feces.
Be Diligent In Cleaning Up After Your Puppy Eliminates
Do not give your puppy the chance to play with or eat his stool. Place your puppy on a leash when you take him outside to relieve himself, and do not allow him to inspect his stool after he has defecated.
Distract him from the stool by calling him to you, and when he responds appropriately, reward him with a training treat and verbal encouragement. Then take him inside, away from the stool, before you go back to pick it up.
Try Supplements That Help Stop Puppies From Eating Poop
Stool eating deterrents cause the feces to have a particularly unappealing smell that will discourage puppies from eating it. However, it is still more effective to just clean up after your puppy each time he eliminates.
Always Keep Your Puppy on a Leash When You Walk Him
Walking your puppy on a leash will prevent him from eating the stool of other dogs. Parasites and illnesses can be transmitted through stool, so you don’t want your puppy to come into contact with any stool (of course, this is not always possible).
If your puppy begins to sniff at a stool pile, gently pull on his leash and lead him in another direction. Use immediate distraction techniques as soon as he begins to show curiosity for his or another dog’s stool, and reward him with verbal praise and a training treat when he responds appropriately.
Soon enough, you will be able to give your puppy a little bit more freedom and not have to worry about him eating stool when you are not looking.
What About Adult Dogs?
Most puppies eventually outgrow their desire to eat their own or other dogs' feces, but there are some dogs that either continue to eat poop or seemingly develop the habit out of nowhere as adults.
Keep in mind that most dogs will eat cat stool or horse poop when given half a chance. Owners simply have to prevent dogs from having access to “treats” like these.
Adult dogs might eat their own poop or other dogs' poop for a variety of other reasons like boredom, illness, anxiety, fear of being punished for accidents, getting attention as a learned behavior. What’s an owner to do in these cases?
Have your vet check that your adult dog is healthy. If so, all the techniques for treating puppies with coprophagy are also appropriate for adult dogs.
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