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.
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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.

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.

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.

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.

15 thoughts on “Why Do Dogs Eat Poop? How I’ve Dealt with Coprophagia”

  1. My dog has graduated from eating her own poop to eating other animals poop…chicken, deer, squirrel, you name it. So, none of these ideas will work for mine. I don’t know what to do!

  2. Frank Vinchiarello

    I have an English Lab since she was 10 weeks old and she is now 11 months old and still eats her own poop. I tried a powder from the vet with no success. I just bought pumpkin and now read where people tried it and not one said it worked. I’ll give it to her anyway being it is good for her but will try meat tenderizer with it. When I am outside with her she will go away from her poop and I scoop it up but she goes when I’m not there to see her and she eats it up. We wash out her mouth and brush her teeth when we see it but it’s so gross. If the family wasn’t so attached to her I would definitely get rid of her.

  3. You wouldn’t think eating poop would be adaptive given the parasites and other pathogens the eater can end up with. Some think this behaviour is inherited from a dog’s wolf ancestors and others from their dog ancestors. Read more about what science has to say about it at https://dogsciencesays.com/why-do-dogs-eat-poop/

  4. Somebody Save Me

    I’m seriously losing my mind with this problem. My dear doggos both eat poop.

    Whats worse, is if I scoop it as fast as they drop it, they start trying to get it like… before it lands. Still coming out of brother or sister dogs butt. Its so gross.

  5. My dogs prefer their poop after eating pumpkin so it’s not true that pumpkin makes their poop taste bad. After asking around I have found that my dogs are not the only ones that like recycled pumpkin.

  6. My dogs prefer their poop when pumpkin purée is added to their food so the theory of pumpkin making poop taste bad is not true. Have asked around and my dogs aren’t the only dogs that enjoy pumpkin the second time around.

  7. I cant believe sone of these tales of ravenous stool eating. Ive had many ourebred dogs throughout my many decades but this 4 mo old Rottie/dobe cross i s disgusting and im almost ready to find him a new hone but he is very intelligent. He gets good no grain food, raw chicken once week and digestive enzymes, i think he onky eats his nit our 2 year spayed germ shep. But who wants a dog licking them in affection after eating poop. I hooe sone of these suggestions work. Btw, he is a glutton and inhales his food, coukd be eating too fast is contributing so i feed him handfuls every few hours.

  8. My lab was a rescue at 11 months and he also is now well fed and healthy but nonetheless a poop eater! I also stalk him and our Weim following them with a shovel to scoop it right away sadly my husband and teenaged kids aren’t as good as i am about picking it up. He will race me to it if he sees it before it! If he’s eating it and sees you coming he eats quicker before you can stop him! And if you yell no, stop or drop it he will also gobble quicker. I have tried a pill that hasn’t worked but am going to try the meat tenderizer! I’m at my wits end and need to make him stop! It’s so frustrating

  9. Thanks for all the stories above. While this is a disgusting habit for our babies, it it good to know I am not alone. I have an adorable male Shih-Tzu that eats his poop. He is only 9 months old but will tear into it if I am not quick enough to grab it. I feel like the lady about who states she is on “poop patrol”. It has become a battle between me and my pup. I actually think he resents me for getting to it before he can. Ugh. I am trying the meat tenderizer for now and hope it works! Now it will go on the family meat before cooking and my pups food before he eats. Thanks again for all the comments and wish me luck!

  10. My dog eats her poop because she is a glutton. Also, she knows I do not like it, so she is very sneaky about eating her own. she does it to spite me.

  11. My younger boxer, now 7, came from a life of living in a crate. He was a poop eater. After a year of being very vigilant we broke this habit NOW 3 weeks into having a new Golden Retriever puppy in the house SHE has taken to eating poop her’s and her brothers – ugh!!! Pinneapple and a pooper scooper are first on my store list -tonight. Wish me luck!

  12. I have 2 English Bulldogs. One doesn’t do it, the other after having her for 2 wks. started only eating her own right away (she’s 4). She was a puppy mill momma. She did not do it in foster care but she was on leash and cleaned up right away. Here I let her go out the back door and enjoy the fenced in yard. I do know that since the winter snow and freezing weather there is an abundance of poop in the yard and she heads for the back corners, which I’m thinking is similar to being kept in a crate and having to eat her poop to keep the area clean. But dang, she has the whole back yard. She doesn’t not eat her fur siblings poop so at least that’s good. I did the For -bid for a week with no success. Sometimes if I shake the lid on the treat jar out the patio door I can get her attention enough to distract her and she’ll come in. Ugh… I hate this!!!
    REGINA from Ohio

  13. I have two healthy, well cared for beagles. My 9 year old has always been a poop eater – any way she can it, from any critter she can get it. My 12 year old started the nasty habit about 2 years ago. She is so bad that she will poop out one log then turn around and eat it while continuing to poop!! I have tried many of the suggestions above and none have worked for me. I have not tried pineapple or meat tenderizer, so off to the store I go. What I would really like to know is why my 12 year old started the habit late in life.

  14. I have a well-fed, well-adjusted, healthy, teeny poop eater who’d grab it “fresh from the press” of any dog, including herself. Potty Mouth didn’t work. Pumpkin didn’t work. No point in any topical formula since she’d get it before I got to it. I’ve been vigilant, like you, at hovering. I read that canning pineapple destroys the bromelain, so fresh might be worth a try. I’m going to try meat tenderizer since the bromelain is concentrated. Hoping that the poop will taste terrible and she’ll get out of the habit. Wish me luck!

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