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Why does my dog eat feces?

Dear Dr. Barchas, Within the past few months my dog has taken a liking to eating his feces. The vet said it is normal and...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Jul 7th 2006


How Do I Stop My Dog From Eating Feces?

Dear Dr. Barchas,

Within the past few months my dog has taken a liking to eating his
feces. The vet said it is normal and gave us a powder to put in his food to
deter him. It did not work. I hate trying to correct him when he is
going to the bathroom and trying to eat it, because I think it confuses
him. Any tips?

Linda
PA

Dear Dr. Barchas,

Why do dogs eat poop?

Denise
San Francisco

When I started writing this column, I vowed that I would not cover this subject. Simply put, eating feces is an unsavory topic. However, for week after week I have received different versions of this question from hundreds of people. Clearly, people want to know why dogs eat feces, and what can be done about it. So here goes.

First, to answer the question of why dogs eat feces. The simple answer is that dogs eat feces because they are dogs. It’s something they do.

For those of you who desire a more scientific answer, one actually exists. The most current thinking on the development of dogs as a species states that dogs initially evolved to live on the fringes of human society. In this role, they scavenged human leftovers and waste. Although feces is generally unhealthy when eaten, it does have very slight nutritional value. Therefore, dogs ate feces in their role as scavenger. Modern dogs who participate in this behavior are simply following their instincts.

That said, for well-fed modern dogs, the health risks from eating feces are much greater than the benefits offered by its very slight nutritional value. As well, eating feces is disgusting. So, what can be done to stop the behavior?

Sadly, there is no simple answer. For dogs who eat their own feces, products are available that can be added to food and which claim to make the feces unpalatable. These products work well for some dogs, and have no effect for others.

Some people recommend pouring hot sauce onto feces and allowing dogs to eat it. The pain from the hot sauce, in theory, will create an aversion to feces. In my opinion, this method is cruel and I cannot recommend it.

In the end, there is only one method that consistently works: physically prevent access to feces. If your dog eats his own feces, keep him on leash while he defecates and clean up immediately after he is done. If your dog eats other dogs’ feces, keep him on leash when he is in areas where feces is present. And finally, if your dog eats out of your cat’s litter box, put the box in an area where the dog cannot get to it.