When puppies eat their poop, owners often cringe at this sight and wonder how in the world a cute animal as such would engage in such a repulsive practice. What gives? In other to better understand this behavior, medically known as "coprophagia," we asked veterinarian Dr. Ivana why puppies eat their poop and whether there can be some underlying medical problems causing this.
From a Puppy's Perspective
Being a responsible dog parent means dealing with messy and stinky situations on a daily basis. It also means searching and Googling for some not very glamorous topics. Why puppies eat their own poop…and sometimes someone else’s poop is a perfect example of such topic.
Your beloved pup pooped on the floor, in the middle of the living room. I mean can it get any worse? While you think how to clean up the mess, the pup already took care of it –he just ate it all. After all, it was its mess and he dealt with it.
Eating poop seems beyond gross to us. However, pups do not think the same way. For them, pooping is natural and normal.
Here's the thing: After being born, pups watch their mothers eat their poop to keep them clean. For the mother this comes instinctively and has a protective purpose. Over time, as the pups observe, they pick up the habit. Through life, some pups outgrow the habit. Sadly, other pups get addicted and simply cannot get rid of this nasty habit.
But is eating poop normal? Are the pups that outgrow the habit healthier or stronger than the ones that get addicted? Can eating poop indicate some underlying health issues or nutritional deficiencies? Read below and find out.
Why Do Puppies Eat Their Poop?
If you managed to get through the headline and introduction, it means you have a strong stomach. Eating poop is a common habit for many pups and the underlying reasons vary from behavioral to medical. Here we have listed the most common reasons.
Behavioral Causes of Puppies Eating Poop
Following are several behavioral causes of puppies eating poop.
"Puppy see – puppy do attitude"– this concept was already explained. Pups learn how to behave and what to do by watching their mothers. If the mother eats their poops it is normal for them to want to do the same.
Adventurous nature – highly-spirited and curious, pups enjoy exploring their surroundings. This is an important part of their mental development. Eating different non-edible items (including poop) is part of their adventures.
Scavenging – before being domesticated, dogs were scavengers. Although modern dogs eat well-prepared meals, the scavenging instinct is imprinted in their nature.
Cleanliness – just like people, some pups are obsessed with cleanliness. Although this is quite rare in the canine world (except for mothers keeping their nests clean), it is possible.
Boredom – letting your pup stay home alone all day will make it feel bored. A bored pup’s only limitation is its imagination. Sometimes, that imagination includes eating poop. The idea of eating the poop is not just entertaining, it also comes with a special treat.
Stress – when feeling stressed many dogs focus themselves on chewing and eating non-edible items. The chewing and eating divert their attentions and serve as good coping mechanisms.
Attention seeking – there is nothing a pup would not do to gain your attention. Pups are smarter than we think – they know that making shenanigans and getting into trouble are the best way of ensuring our undivided attention.
Punishment avoidance – punishing your pup for having accidents around the house will make the pup believe pooping is bad. It will try to restrain from pooping for as long as it can but when it finally poops it will hide the evidence by eating it. That is why it is highly advisable to avoid making a big deal of pooping accidents.
Mill puppies – as sad as it may sound, pups born and raised in puppy mills are more likely to eat poop and retain the habit into adulthood. This is because they grow in stressful environments and more often than not, have poor nutritional starts.
Medical Causes of Puppies Eating Poop
Following are several medical causes of puppies eating poop.
Underfeeding – as stated, dogs are scavengers by nature. If there are limited food sources, they will definitely turn to eating what is available – and luckily, for them, poop can be easily found.
Malabsorption – conditions causing poor nutrient absorption are often followed by poop eating. In such cases, eating the poop is a way of getting the undigested nutrients back.
Enzyme deficiency – prior to domestication, wild dogs ate whole prey and lots of vegetation. When eating the whole prey, the dog would also eat the prey’s digestive tract which is packed with digestive enzymes. Modern dogs eat processed foods with little or no digestive enzymes. Although dogs can produce certain amounts of digestive enzymes on their own, in most cases they are not enough. Therefore, modern dogs are likely to experience enzyme deficiency and consequently poop eating.
Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) – this relatively rare genetic condition results in complete or partial lack of digestive enzymes. Pups with EPI cannot digest food and are actually starved. They eat poop in an attempt to satiate their hunger. In addition of eating poop, they will exhibit diarrhea and weight loss. Pups with EPI need enzyme supplementation to manage their condition.
Parasitic infestations – intestinal parasites feed on the pup’s food. When infested with intestinal parasites, the pup finds itself in a situation where it has to compete with the worms for its food. Since the worms are usually stronger and get the food first, the pup is left hungry and left no other choice than to eat its own poop.
Conditions triggering increased appetite – certain health issues like thyroid abnormalities, adrenal gland issues and diabetes make the pup feel hungry even though it is nutritionally satisfied.
Hydrochloric acid deficiency – hydrochloric acid is secreted in the stomach and used to break down food. If there is not enough hydrochloric acid, the dog will pass undigested food. Once again, by eating the poop, the pup tries to get the nutrients back. Hydrochloric acid deficiency in pups is caused by poor nutrition. The condition is more common in older dogs in which it occurs due to aging.
All in all, eating poop can be a completely normal pup behavior or indicative of an underlying medical issue. To differentiate between the two, have your beloved pup examined by a veterinary professional.
Did you know? "Babies are not born with bacteria in their GI tract, and some scientists theorize that infant pets that eat poop are naturally helping their body to host normal healthy gut bacteria (also known as intestinal flora)."~Dr. Jacqueline Brister
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.