Why do puppies eat their poop and how to stop it
Written by Napo HQ
Reviewed by Rachel Rodgers
28th Jun 2023
6 mins read
Poo eating is a gross but surprisingly common habit puppies can pick up. Usually, it's caused by hunger, boredom, stress, or it's a habit they've learned. (It's very rare to be caused by illness!) You can train a puppy not to eat their poo by using redirection and positive reinforcement, so they learn to ignore their poop. Here's an explanation on why puppies eat their poop (because it seems so bizarre to us humans!) and how to stop it.
If you're here, you've probably been startled by one strange, and downright gross, behaviour. Yep, your pup eating their own poop. It’s gross, but don't worry, you're not alone. Coprophagia, or eating poop, is a pretty common behaviour in dogs. Understandably though, you’ll want to figure out how to stop it. Here’s our quick guide to why puppies eat their poop, and how to stop your puppy eating their poop.
Why do puppies eat their poop?
There are a few possible reasons why puppies eat their poop. These include,
- Attention seeking
- Stress or anxiety
Usually, poo eating is due to hunger, boredom, or stress. It’s rare for a puppy to eat poo because of an illness, like a nutritional deficiency, but it’s not an impossible reason either.
Dogs aren’t discriminate eaters at any time, let alone when they’re hungry. If your pup is feeling peckish, and there’s poop available, they might try it as a snack.
It’s due to boredom
Another common reason why puppies eat their poop is boredom. Puppies are bundles of energy and they need mental stimulation. If they're bored, they might turn to unusual behaviours to entertain themselves. Ensuring your pup gets plenty of playtime and has toys to keep them occupied can help deter this behaviour.
They’re looking for attention
One of the main reasons why puppies eat their poop is to get attention. If your pup has noticed that eating poop gets a strong reaction (and let's be honest, it usually does!), they might repeat the behaviour to get that attention again. Even if that attention is you shouting at them, they still see it as interaction. And some dogs will take negative attention over none at all.
Eating poop is a natural behaviour, especially in mother dogs, who clean up after their puppies by eating their faeces. Dogs learn through social learning. So puppies may pick up this behaviour from their mother and in some cases, it may become a habit. Sometimes your pup might even try eating poop once, whether it’s out of hunger, boredom, or stress, and it becomes a habit.
They’re trying to hide it
One reason why puppies will eat their poo is to hide it. This habit can be picked up if they have been told off after having an accident in the house. A puppy can’t work out that they are being told off for going to the toilet inside. Instead, they think they’re being told off for going to the toilet in front of humans, or for going to the toilet at all. Punishing a puppy for accidents can be really damaging to your relationship with your pup, and can cause them anxiety and coprophagia that could ultimately make toilet training more difficult. That’s why it’s really important to be calm and quiet when you clean up any accidents your puppy has. Ideally, wait until your puppy is out of sight before cleaning the mess.
Nutritional deficiencies or illness
Very, very rarely, a puppy eating poop can be a sign of illness or nutritional deficiencies. Your pup might be trying to supplement their diet with the nutrients their diet is missing. They might also eat their poop if they have a “malabsorption syndrome”. That means their body isn’t digesting something properly, because eating it gives them another chance to digest the nutrients. Poo eating, or increased hunger that can cause poo eating, might also be triggered by parasites or other health conditions.
Let's not forget, puppies are curious critters. They use their mouths to explore the world. And poop is part of that world, albeit a gross part. If your pup has eaten poop as a one off, they might just be seeing how it tastes or what the texture’s like. That said, while occasional poop eating might be due to curiosity, if it becomes a habit, it should be addressed.
Should you speak to a vet?
If your puppy is eating poop regularly, it's a good idea to have them checked by a vet to rule out any health issues. While most cases of coprophagia are caused by emotional triggers like boredom or stress, in rare cases the behaviour might be triggered by a health problem. This is because problems like nutritional deficiencies, parasites, conditions causing increased appetite, or malabsorption syndromes can lead to poop eating.
How to stop a puppy eating their poo
- Remove temptation. One of the easiest ways to prevent your puppy from eating poop is to simply to clean it up right away. If it's not there, they can't eat it!
- Supervise potty time. When you let your pup outside to go to the toilet, go with them! If you supervise and stay close, you can stop them from eating poop by redirecting them, or using a lead.
- Redirect them. If your puppy approaches some poo, call them to you and distract them. Or if you’re on the lead, walk away. If your puppy comes to you or ignores the poo, reward them!
- Reinforce the new habit. Reward your puppy for doing the right thing. If they do their business and then leave it alone, give them a treat or lots of praise. This can help reinforce the positive behaviour.
- Don’t punish them. If your pup has eaten poo, don’t punish them. This could make the problem worse!
- Be patient and consistent. Like any training, patience and consistency is key. You’re breaking a habit and forming a new one, which takes time.
Training is the best way to stop puppies eating their poo, and the only way to break the habit long-term. There are a few things you can do on top of this training to help end your pup’s habit.
- Provide additional enrichment.Boredom breeds mischief in pups, including poop eating. Regular exercise and mental stimulation can keep your puppy's mind off unwanted behaviours.
- Teach “leave”.Teaching your puppy the "Leave it" or "Drop it" can be helpful in preventing them from eating anything they shouldn’t, including poop. Practice these cues with regular items.
- Feed pineapple or courgette.Pineapple and courgette in small amounts is safe for dogs to eat. And although there’s no science to back it up, some people find it puts pups off eating poo because it gives it a bitter taste.
- Provide a balanced diet.Ensure your pup's diet is balanced, complete, and age-appropriate. If you're unsure about what diet is best, consider consulting with a vet.
- Get regular vet checks.Regular vet check-ups can help ensure that your puppy isn't eating poop because of a medical issue.
- Get extra help. For a variety of reasons, training a dog to stop eating poo can be extremely difficult so don’t worry if you’re feeling stuck. We all need a helping hand from time to time! An accredited dog trainer should be able to help you with your pup’s training and breaking the poo eating habit. You can find one throughthe ABTC website.
So why do puppies eat poo? It could be because they’re hungry, bored, or stressed. Rarely, they might be eating poop because of a health issue. If your puppy is eating poop regularly, you should get them checked over by a vet to rule out any health conditions. Then, it’ll take some time and patience to train your pup to stop eating poo, but you can use positive reinforcement to break the habit and build a more positive (and less gross) behaviour, ignoring the stinky stuff!