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 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.
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, and for their mothers to keep the "den" clean. The good news is that most pups 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, that’s great puppy entertainment. Chasing can reward the behavior and encourage your puppy to play poopy-keep-away.
- 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.
- 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's available.
- It's also possible that a dog is simply not eating enough and its daily food intake needs to be increased.
- Eating other animals’ waste may have to do with taste. Cow and horse manure may contain undigested grains or other ingredients that are appealing to your pup.
- The cat’s litter box may as well be a puppy snack bar! Not only is this unsanitary, but it also puts kitty's tail in a twist to have a dog messing with its personal toilet. A cat that's pestered in its bathroom may look for another place to "go," such as behind the sofa.
- 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.
- Stress can also lead a dog to eat their feces, especially major stressors like coming to a new home after being adopted.
How to Stop Poop Eating
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 sees 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:
- 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.
- 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, increase the number of toys available. A treat-spiked toy such as a Kong filled with peanut butter offers a tastier, healthier alternative.
- 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 and calming products such as Adaptil may help in the interim while you work on correcting that issue. Speak to your veterinarian for help with diagnosis and treatment.
- Prevent access by walking your puppy on a leash and leading it away from a pile once the business is done. Offer it rewards for leaving 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.
- 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.
- Get your puppy to the vet for regular check-ups and keep an eye out for signs of intestinal parasites. For instance, rice-like segments in stool are a sign of tapeworms and diarrhea can be a signal of whipworm, roundworm, or hookworm infections. Taking stool samples to your vet will help detect a parasite's presence as not all are visible without a microscope or special tests.
- Check with your vet to see if it's OK to experiment with using a commercial product, such as Dis-Taste Chewables or For-Bid, to make stool less appetizing.
- Some products can be given to cats to reduce the odor of their feces and, therefore, its appeal to dogs. Again, it's best to consult your vet before trying them.
- Scoop and clean the cat box as often as possible. Leaving droppings for any length of time is asking for trouble. Automatic cat boxes sweep the feces into a bin within 10 minutes of the cat’s deposit.
- 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.
- Finally, when you can’t be around to supervise, muzzle (only cage muzzles that allow dogs to pant and drink are safe for long term use) or crate your pup.