Dog sniffing grass to eat poop (coprophagia)

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Coprophagia is when an animal ingests feces on a chronic basis, whether it’s their own or that of another animal. An estimated 16% of domesticated dogs eat feces.1 But why do dogs eat poop? A dog may develop coprophagia if they are missing vital nutrients in their diet or if their body is not properly absorbing certain nutrients during the digestion process.

One study found that dogs with a vitamin B1 deficiency were more likely to develop coprophagia.2 There are also certain medical disorders that can trigger coprophagia, such as digestive enzyme deficiencies, parasitic infections, diabetes, or thyroid disease. It’s best to take your dog to the vet if they suddenly start eating poop or if they are doing it often.3

Although dogs engage in quite a few behaviors that seem unhygienic to us, eating poop might be the most off-putting. Animal experts generally agree that this behavior seems to stem from a nutrient deficiency of some kind, but this can vary depending on the dog and their particular diet. Another theory states that it’s simply always been part of dog behavior, going as far back as their wolf ancestors. In other words, consuming feces may just be in their DNA.4

Coprophagia is still undergoing research in the veterinary medicine world. There are various steps you can take to prevent your dog from eating poop. Here, we’ll take you through the signs, potential causes, methods of discouraging the behavior, and frequently asked questions.

An estimated 16% of domesticated dogs eat poop.

Signs of Coprophagia in Dogs

The most obvious sign of coprophagia in your dog is that they eat feces, whether it’s their own or that of another animal. Dogs who live in an environment with other dogs or animals may have a higher tendency to do this.³ For example, if you also have a cat in the house, your dog may eat the cat’s poop from the litter box. They might also eat their own poop during walks or time spent playing outside. In extreme cases, a dog can even vomit feces if they have consumed too much.

Reasons why dogs eat poop

Causes of Coprophagia

The exact cause of coprophagia in dogs is unclear. Often, coprophagia starts during puppyhood. A mother dog may eat feces in the nesting area to keep it clean or as an instinctive tactic to prevent attracting predators to her babies. A puppy might start to copy that behavior.5 Veterinary scientists theorize that this behavior is also a way that puppies process and learn about the world around them.

Sometimes, dogs don’t digest food well enough to absorb all the nutrients they need, leaving them with lower energy levels. They are instinctively aware of this and can smell nutrients in poop, so they eat it to try and get those nutrients into their own bodies.6

If there isn’t a clear separation between the feeding area and the outdoor environment, your dog may associate both food and poop with nutritional needs. Always make sure that they receive their meals away from any area where they’re allowed to poop.

Coprophagia can also be a form of attention-seeking behavior. As a dog owner, we tend to react strongly when we see our dog eating something they shouldn’t. The dog may start to recognize this connection and will eat feces as a way to get attention from you, regardless whether it’s negative or positive. If your dog suddenly starts showing signs of coprophagia, they may be trying to tell you that they are feeling unwell or uncomfortable.

The less likely, but most serious cause of coprophagia in dogs is some kind of medical issue, including severe stress or anxiety. It has been suggested that punishing your dog by using harsh methods could actually stress them out, making the problem worse. The dog may react by simply consuming the feces more quickly in an attempt to hide the behavior, due to anxiety about your reaction.

If your dog does have a legitimate nutrient deficiency, your veterinarian may prescribe a dog-friendly supplement.6 They will also examine your dog to identify any illnesses, like diabetes or thyroid problems. In this case, more active medical treatment may be required.

Sometimes, instinct is the main reason for coprophagia. Protecting the pack (their owners or other pets in the household) is a consistent tendency in most dogs. This is common, particularly if a dog lives with a sick or elderly dog. Eating poop can be a way of erasing their scent to keep predators away.

So, your dog may eat poop for any of the following reasons4:

  • Smelling it on their mother when they are young and copying the behavior.
  • Nutrient deficiency - They might not be getting enough of a certain nutrient in their diet, so they try to get it from feces.
  • Attention seeking - Dogs know that eating poop will get some kind of reaction from their owner, so they may do this if they want attention.
  • Anxiety or loneliness — Insufficient interaction or time spent with their owner can make a dog anxious, causing them to eat poop. Dogs in high-stress environments, like overcrowded shelters may also do this.
  • Inappropriate relationship with food -Dogs may associate poop and food as interchangeable if they are regularly fed near their feces (ie: outside in the yard).
  • Living in the same household as a sick or elderly dog - The younger dog may eat the older dog’s poop as an instinctive behavior to protect the pack.

Can a Dog Get Sick From Eating Poop?

The short answer is: possibly. Although eating their own poop (referred to as autocoprophagia) is generally harmless, ingesting the feces of other species can be unhealthy for dogs, as it might contain contaminants like parasites, viruses, or other toxins.4 If your dog has consumed poop and seems ill, they might have ingested a harmful pathogen, so it’s best to take them to the vet.

Symptoms might include gastrointestinal distress (like vomiting or diarrhea), lethargy, or loss of appetite. Monitor your dog closely if they are near the feces of other animals.

Coprophagia typically stops by the time a puppy is a year old, but can continue into adulthood. Some dogs have a natural preference for eating other animals’ feces, likely due to the fact that it smells different from their own. A curious puppy might eat horse manure or rabbit poop on the ground, but if your dog is doing this continuously when they are grown, it may be time to consult a vet.4

How to Stop Coprophagia

So how can you stop your dog’s poop-eating habit? Studies show that dogs who have a stable and active relationship with their owner are less likely to develop coprophagia. For example: Always walking your dog on a leash and rewarding good behavior, like when they poop without eating it or do not attempt to eat it. Engaging with your dog on a daily basis solidifies and reinforces a positive relationship.

A study done by Wells in 2003 identified two distinctive methods for discouraging coprophagia in dogs: a spray collar and sound therapy. The collar produced a cloud of citronella-scented spray with an accompanying hiss under the dog’s nose whenever the experimenter pressed a button on the collar’s corresponding remote control. The citronella scent was added to increase the chance of effectiveness, as most dogs are unfamiliar with the smell. The sound therapy method was an alarm that emitted a loud, screeching sound of about 115 dB when triggered.7

This study showed successful results, indicating that these types of methods are effective. However, while it’s best to discourage your dog from eating poop, you should also make sure that you aren’t accidentally sending the message that the act of pooping itself is bad. This can cause them to start consuming their own poop after elimination, because they believe that pooping will result in punishment. Using harsh forms of punishment might make them fearful, causing the problem to get worse.

Steps to stop coprophagia

Some steps you can take at home to discourage your dog from eating poop include5:

  • Restrict access to feces by always cleaning it up immediately.
  • Use taste-aversion products to make feces unappealing. Common substances are garlic, parsley, and chamomile.
  • Provide an alternative stimulus, like a chew toy.
  • Spend more time together.
  • Feed them more times during the day, but don’t increase the overall amount of food. This will decrease their need to “hunt” for food in between meals.
  • Use a muzzle if the coprophagia symptoms are extreme.

Proper training and the right equipment are also key to preventing this behavior. Always make sure that your dog’s living area is clean, including the yard, to ensure that there isn’t any old poop lying around that they try to eat. Practice basic commands, like “leave it,” “drop it,” and “come.” Give them a treat right after they’ve pooped, so they focus on you and the treat, rather than eating their poop.5

While coprophagia is a common behavior, more research is needed to determine the best course of action to combat it. It’s also important to note that every dog reacts differently, so some methods might not work for your dog.


What home remedy can I use to stop my dog from eating their poop?

Restricting access to poop is the simplest way to tackle coprophagia. Distract them with a toy or by playing with them to keep their mind off the feces. Taste-aversion products can also help. In extreme cases, you can put a muzzle on your dog to physically prevent them from consuming feces.

Will my dog eventually stop eating their own poop?

If your puppy is eating poop, it’s usually nothing to worry about. The behavior normally goes away by the time they are 9 months - 1 year old. However, you can always talk to your vet if it seems excessive or if they continue to do it into adulthood.

Close up of a brown Spanish water dog

Final Notes

There are many theories and potential explanations for coprophagia in dogs. Occasionally, it’s caused by an underlying medical problem, but it’s a fairly normal behavior for puppies — especially very young puppies that are still with their mother. Like human babies, puppies explore their surroundings with their mouths. This can manifest as biting, licking, chewing, and even ingesting non-food items, such as feces. So if you notice your puppy eating strange things, including poop, it’s not always a cause for concern.

Studies have shown that disrupting the behavior is an effective way to discourage it. Proper training and having a stable relationship with your dog is also important and makes them feel secure. Anxious or stressed dogs might eat poop as an attention-seeking behavior or as a way of self-soothing. Always make sure that you are spending enough time with your pup and provide them with engaging toys, because sometimes, coprophagia means they just need something to chew on.

If you notice coprophagia in your canine companion, reach out to us at to speak to one of our licensed veterinarians. Our vets will be happy to answer any questions and will determine the best treatment for your dog.



  1. Hart, Benjamin L., et al. "The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagy." Veterinary medicine and science 4.2 (2018): 106-114.

  2. Read, D H, and D D Harrington. “Experimentally Induced Thiamine Deficiency in Beagle Dogs: Clinical Observations.” American Journal of Veterinary Research, vol. 42, no. 6, 1 June 1981, pp. 984–991.

  3. “Why Do Dogs Eat Their Own Poo.” Vetwest Animal Hospitals, 22 Sept. 2021, Accessed 12 May 2023.

  4. AKC Staff. “Why Does My Dog Eat Poop?” American Kennel Club, 29 June 2022,

  5. “Coprophagia in Dogs.” Accessed 12 May 2023. 

  6. Davis, Charli. “Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?” The Dish on Science, 8 June 2021, Accessed 12 May 2023. 

  7. Wells, D. L. “Comparison of Two Treatments for Preventing Dogs Eating Their Own Faeces.” Veterinary Record, vol. 153, no. 2, 2003, pp. 51–53,

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