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Why Do Dogs Eat Poop? How I've Dealt with Coprophagia

I'm on the front line, fighting that most foul habit: coprophagia. Here are a few of my strategies to stop it.

 |  Aug 2nd 2012  |   76 Contributions


My rescue Goldens and I are locked in a battle of wills that can only be described as the Poop Wars.

On one side, there’s me -- Private Exasperated (and Grossed Out) Dog Mom reporting for Poop Patrol, sir! My mission: stalking my two dogs with an extra large pooper scooper each time they go out so that their business barely hits the ground before it’s discarded. Next, it’s careful reconnaissance around the yard to make sure no poop has been left behind. 

On the other side of the battle lines are Major and Max, two otherwise perfect boys (at least to me) with one truly repulsive habit. They (gulp) eat poop. 

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Major and Max, not caught in the act of eating poop.

Actually, they don’t just eat it. They hunt for it. They savor it. And while they’ll take it any way they can get it, they have their preferences. Aged, yum. Frozen, even better.  

The discovery that my boys had such a disgusting habit was traumatic. When my big guy Major came to us, he was friendly, but not overly affectionate. So imagine my delight when he suddenly trotted over one day and wanted to give me a big wet kiss. And now picture my horror, and colossal stomach turn, when I got a whiff of what he’d been up to. Worse, just like a typical big brother, he’s passed the repulsive behavior onto his impressionable younger brother Max.

Every once in a while, I emerge victorious, thanks mostly to my newfound skill of spotting enemy poop from yards away. But truth be told, my boys are ahead.

Why? It’s a poop-filled world out there, people. Even when I retrieve every trace of feces from our yard, there’s horse poop on our hikes, other dog’s poop left behind by inconsiderate pet owners on our walks, and the piece de resistance, literally, duck poop at the park.

Battle-weary and desperate for answers, I did what any soldier would do: I called in reinforcements, aka Debra Eisenstein, a veterinarian at Hickory Veterinary Hospital in Plymouth Meeting, PA, where I take my boys. Turns out, there’s a term for ingesting poop: coprophagia. Eisenstein said the behavior is common and (music to a dog parent’s ear) normal, especially among puppies, who usually outgrow the behavior. “Assuming it’s not a diet or nutritional issue, it’s usually behavioral,” she says. 

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No poop by Shutterstock

But here’s the kicker: Even dogs who are on well-balanced diets, like mine -- and who are otherwise healthy and well-adjusted, I swear -- have been known to pick up the nasty habit.

“There’s always the danger that your dog might pick up a parasite from another dog’s feces,” she cautions. “But it’s not inherently dangerous.”

That’s the good news. Now for some not-so-good news. There isn’t a magic cure. There are, however, several options that I’ve put into three categories: home remedies, store-bought cures, and tough love. As always, please consult your vet before trying any of them. 

Home remedies

  • Pepper or hot sauce: Generously sprinkle on the poop that your dog is ingesting. Enough potent sniffs or bites, the theory goes, and your dog will be turned off to eating poop.
  • Pumpkin: Add a few spoonfuls of canned pumpkin to dog food. Theory: Pumpkin tastes good going in, but not so good in excrement.
  • Meat tenderizer: Apply generously on dog food. It apparently makes the dog’s waste taste awful.

There are a lot of other options, including pineapple and pickles (not kidding –- look it up). But these are three I’ve tried to varying degrees of success. 

Verdict: Anyone need an extra can or 12 of pumpkin? These all worked for a while. And then my boys developed a taste for spiced poop. 

Commercial cures

  • For-bid: This is a popular taste deterrent you can easily get online, from your veterinarian or your neighborhood pet store. Sprinkle the stool-eating preventative on dog food to make the stool unpalatable. 
  • Nasty Habit: This is just one brand of a widely available liver chewable to help break your dog of the nasty habit. The pills cost about $8 for 75. Dosages are based on your dog’s weight. And if the pills don’t do the trick the first time, you can repeat the treatment. 

Verdict: As soon as the boys were off the pills for a while, they were back on the hunt. 

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Major on the search for fresh doodoo.

Tough love

Distraction: It’s back to obedience school here. Try a stern “No!” or “Leave it!” any time you see your dog is up to no good.  

Verdict: The dreaded doggie “No!” worked if I was right by their side when they went after the forbidden feces. But if I wasn’t nearby or on high alert, they tended to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. 

If all else fails, some online sites even suggest a behaviorist. But I’m not ready to wave the white flag of defeat just yet. 

So for now, the vigilant pooper scooping continues. My motto: Out of sight, out of mouths. Eisenstein agrees. Except -– who knew? -- there’s apparently a proper way of scooping poop when you’re engaged in heated Poop Wars. “It’s best to pick up the poop out of the dog’s sight so that it doesn’t become a competition,” she says.

Have you dealt with this nasty habit? What’s worked for you? Please share your stories in the comment section.

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