Skip to main content

4 totally normal reasons dogs eat poop (and what to do about it)

Gross is gross – no matter how much you love your pup. From accidents to weird-smelling dog food, nothing tips the scale of disgusting quite like witnessing your dog eat poop… and then having to take it from their mouth. If you’re in public, like in a dog park or on a walking trail, it can be downright embarrassing too. So why do dogs eat poop anyway?

There are many reasons why your furry friend engages in this unpleasant habit, and it’s important to understand them if you want to stop your dog from becoming a repeat offender. Your local veterinarian can help you determine the cause of your pup’s stool-eating, and they can also recommend their favorite products and techniques to combat it. Until then, here’s what you need to know.

Why do dogs eat poop?

To truly understand this unique behavior, it’s important to look at it from a dog’s point of view. We’re different species, after all, so what’s disgusting to us may be completely normal to them.

1. Instinctual pack protection

The American Kennel Club notes that wild dogs would eat stools – both their own and each other’s – as a way of protecting pack members from parasites and illness. In fact, it can even protect the pack from predators, as many large animals can detect sick or weak prey just through the stool they find.

2. Consuming nutrients

Poop-eating, known clinically as coprophagia, may also be an instinctual attempt to consume essential nutrients in the wild. However, many domestic dogs still have this instinct, especially if they run into any dietary deficiencies or health concerns, according to Hudson Animal Hospital and the AKC such as:

  • Stress
  • Parasites
  • Attention-seeking
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Cushing’s syndrome
  • Malabsorption syndromes
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disease
  • Medications

Ruling out the above causes is a great reason to visit the veterinarian’s office, especially if this is something new for your dog.

3. Confined spaces

Canines who have been kept in small spaces are also more likely to eat feces. Since dogs are den animals, notes the AKC, they have an instinct to keep their space as clean including poop-free as possible. Sometimes there’s only one way to make that happen in an especially confined space.

4. Learned behavior

For puppies, notes the AKC, this can simply be a learned behavior. It’s common for fecal scents to be present on the mother’s mouth – especially after grooming her pups – which can create an association for the puppies.

A Jack Russell Terrier dog eats something in the grass of a park
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Is it harmful for dogs to eat poop?

As convenient as it would be, this question does not have a simple answer. It’s important to determine both whose feces are being eaten and why.

If your dog is snacking on their own stools, explains Hudson Animal Hospital, you don’t generally need to worry about illness. As gross and embarrassing as it may be, it will not put your dog’s health in jeopardy. If your pup is consuming the poop of other animals (even other dogs), however, they can be at risk for parasites, infections, and other health problems.

It’s also possible that your dog’s new habit stems from a physical or nutritional need. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your furry friend may be battling a problem you don’t yet know about.

 A black lab and pit bull mix dog licks their lips and looks up at the camera
Tara Lynn and Co / Shutterstock

How to discourage poop-eating

Whether or not you’re worried about your dog’s unpleasant behavior, it’s easy to see why you’d want to stop it. Fortunately, there are many ways to do this.

Supplements and products

Vitamin supplementswhether a multivitamin or specific nutrient – can be a helpful tool to prevent coprophagia. According to the AKC, your vet can pinpoint if your dog is missing something in their diet to find you the best product to end this habit. Vitamin B12 often works well for this. Similarly, enzyme supplements may help counteract the high-carbohydrate diet of modern canines. Papain in particular is helpful with canine digestion, and it’s easily found online or in pet stores.

There are also taste-deterrent products, such as Well & Good Coprophagia Chewable Tablets, that will discourage your dog from eating stools. To make it work, just feed your dog (or all dogs in a multi-dog household) the product and let it do its thing. It will make your pup’s stools taste, well, unpleasant, even to them, so they won’t want to keep snacking.

Behavioral and environmental changes

The most effective long-term solutions for coprophagia include training and environmental changes. For example, if your dog consumes feces while in a small space, consider finding a larger space for them – and include more potty breaks! The AKC recommends staying ahead of your dog and picking up any droppings as soon as you’re able.

Of course, nothing works its magic quite like obedience training. With some dedication, patience, and consistency, a simple “leave it” can stop your pup’s nasty habit cold. No matter why your dog eats poop, these changes can go a long way in making sure the behavior does not continue. You can thank us later!

Editors' Recommendations

Gabrielle LaFrank
Gabrielle LaFrank has written for sites such as Psych2Go, Elite Daily, and, currently, PawTracks. When she's not writing, you…
How much should newborn puppies eat? Follow this feeding chart
Here's what you need to know about feeding newborn puppies
Bottle feeding a newborn puppy

Having newborn puppies around can be such a gift, but there's also a lot of work involved. You need to keep their enclosure clean, make sure they're fed, and stay on top of their health in a multitude of ways. Luckily, we're here to help you navigate your newborn puppies' feeding routine.

Whenever possible, newborn puppies should consume their mother's nutrient-rich milk, which helps protect them from illness while their immune systems develop. It's the perfect food for them! However, it's not always possible for a mama dog to feed her litter all by herself.

Read more
Signs of inbred dogs – and all the reasons why inbreeding is controversial and problematic
Here's how to spot indicators of inbreeding (and what to do if you have an inbred dog)
A closeup shot of a black lab wearing a red leather collar.

Inbreeding, or the act of deliberately breeding two related animals together, is a controversial topic. Sadly, inbreeding is all too common in the world of our canine companions. According to a veterinary study conducted by the University of California at Davis, scientists discovered an inbreeding level of roughly 25% — the same amount of genetic similarity between siblings.

Many dog breeders intentionally choose to inbreed dogs to strengthen certain physical and behavioral traits, as well as to keep the breed's bloodline pure. But this pure bloodline comes at a cost. We'll go over the five most common signs of inbred dogs and discuss why each is potentially dangerous for these unfortunate pups. 

Read more
Why do dogs sleep on their backs? The adorable reasons will leave you feeling overjoyed
Read this to find out why your dog sleeps on their back
Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever lies on teal couch upside down

Dogs are wonderful companions. They're sweet, loyal, and sometimes a bit goofy. However, their behavior isn't always easy to understand, and they can sleep in some pretty unusual positions. Unique sleeping positions can mean anything, from discomfort and joint pain to just getting comfy. If you've ever looked over at your dog and seem them spread out on their back, you might be wondering if this behavior is as cute as it looks.
We’ve looked into this funny phenomenon to see what vets and canine behavior specialists had to say, and the answer is sweeter than you might expect! Here's everything you need to know about what your dog's sleeping position means.

Why do dogs sleep on their backs? Five reasons for this funny-looking position
Like any behavior or sleep position, back-sleeping can stem from many causes. Some of these reasons are more subtle than others, but none are reasons to worry about your pet’s health or well-being. Generally speaking, when a dog sleeps on their back, it’s a good thing!

Read more