Whether it’s their excrement or another animal’s, poop-eating points to a nutritional issue.
Though it appears highly unpleasant to humans, the practice of eating poop—known as coprophagia—is common in the animal kingdom, and helps some animals access nutrients they couldn't digest the first time around.
For our dogs at home, poop-eating—whether their own or that of another animal — is a sign that there is something missing from their diet, or that the food your dog is eating is not being digested and/or absorbed properly.
Poop eating is a behavior that alerts us pet parents that something is wrong with our dog. Except in rare cases, adult dogs do not generally eat poop for behavioral reasons. That said, new mothers will eat the poop of her pups to encourage them to defecate, to keep the den clean, and to prevent potential predators from smelling her pups.
For the vast majority of dogs, however, feces consumption will cease to occur once the dietary cause for eating poop is determined and corrected.
Being able to identify why your dog is eating poop is extremely important to solving this puzzle. It will help you:
- ensure that the food you’re feeding your dog has the nutritional substance they need, and
- ensure that the next time your dog gives you a kiss, there’s no added—shall we say—aftertaste.
(All kidding aside, the pathogenic bacteria exposure is a real concern for everyone involved.)
Two Types of Stool Eating
There are two types of stool eating, and the one in which your dog engages will tell us something differently about what’s going on in their body.
- Is your dog eating its own poop?
- Is your dog eating the poop of another animal?
If your dog is eating its own poop, this is an indication that his body is not properly digesting and absorbing the food being fed and that nutrient assimilation is poor. In other words, he’s not getting the full nutritional value out of the food he’s consuming. This can happen to dogs for a number of reasons, including:
- Those who have been ill, or who are on long-term medications
- Dogs with reduced digestive enzymes
- Those fed an inadequate diet (and without access to other nutrients)
- Those who lack appropriate moisture in their diet
- Those with an imbalanced gut microbiome
If your dog is eating poop from other animals—say another dog, household cat, or a rabbit or other herbivore—chances are your pup is not getting the nutrients his body needs from the food he’s eating. They are looking for the undigested food and those vital nutrients from another’s stool.
If, however, your dog only eats poop from the cat’s litter box, this could be a sign that your dog lacks sufficient protein in its diet. Cat food is commonly higher in protein than most dog foods due to the specific nutritional needs of cats.
Similarly, a dog eating the poop of an herbivore (rabbit, duck, horse, for example), indicates he is looking for the pre-digested nutrients and digestive enzymes he would have absorbed from the contents of his prey's stomachs had it been consumed naturally in the wild.
Banish your dog’s poop issue
Here are 5 steps you can take to banish your dog’s poop issue for good. Take note that a combination of these recommendations may be needed, and that the time it takes for poop eating to totally stop will depend on your individual dog and the degree of deficiency they are dealing with. As long as you see incremental lessening of feces ingestion, then you are on the right path! But be forewarned, it may take a few months or longer.
- Add water to your dog’s food: Water is a significant part of the digestive process, and helps to break down food so the body can absorb nutrients. Drinking water after eating is like chasing the eight ball — it just doesn’t have the same benefit.
- Up their protein: Dogs are carnivores and their bodies perform best on higher protein diets from animal meat. Be sure to switch up the proteins as they supply varying nutrients.
- Add probiotics: Among many other perks, probiotics help aid digestion and improve nutrient absorption by increasing the microflora in the gut. This is especially important for dogs that have recently been on medication, long-term antibiotics, or were recently ill.*
- Include plant-based digestive enzymes: Additional enzymes contribute to digestion, increase absorption and may aid in maximizing the utilization of nutrients from a dog’s diet. These enzymes also help to diversify the microbiome found in the gut.*
- Introduce vitamins: Commercial dog food meets minimum dietary standard guidelines—meaning our dogs aren’t getting optimal nutrition from them. We prefer supplementing with whole-food based vitamins as the body is able to utilize the vitamins it may need in whole form, and safely eliminate what it does not. (With synthetic-based vitamins, the body uses all that it takes in and additional stress may be placed on the elimination organs.)*
Even though they can’t talk, our dogs are great communicators. When they eat poop, they are telling us they need help with their diet. Understanding which type of poop your pup is consuming — their own or that of another animal — will help you zero in on the right remedy.
The good news is, we can help our pets get the nutrients they need, and banish poop-eating for good.
* While Bow Wow Labs works to formulate our own recipes for the best enzymes, probiotics and vitamins for your dogs, here are a couple of our tried and true favorites, including Animal Essentials, Wholistic Pet Organics, and Answers Pet Food.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
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