Why Does My Dog Eat Poop On Walks
Grab your Gr. 8 science cap, because it's time to sniff the secrets of why on earth your dog eats poop on walks. It happens to all of us pup parents; distracted at the park while scrolling through your phone, you turn yourglance and notice your pup munching away on some squirrel dung (at least it's not a carcass like my old dachshund used to do).
Before diving into this odd behavior, rest assured it's actually not abnormal among animals. It's handy to know the facts and stats behind dogs eating poop, theories on why dogs do this, and solutions for managing the behavior. With the tricks at the end of this article, you'll hopefully be able to overcome this habit!
A Common Habit Among Mammals
Believe it or not, eating poop is natural behavior in many different types of animals, including dogs. The word for eating one's own poop is called "coprophagia". From Ancient Greek, 'copros' means feces, and 'phagia' means to eat.
Try imagining some reasons why animals would eat their own dung; think about how, in the wild, nutrients are scarce, your predators could be trying to sniff your track, and the bacteria that poop contains! Then, keep reading to see if your guesses are right!
Why Might Animals Eat Poop?
You'd be surprised at how common coprophagia is among mammals. For instance, baby elephants, koalas, and hippos all eat their mother's poop, or the poop of others in the herd. Why is this the case? Well, as you know, today's maybe not so modern mantra, "reuse, recycle, reduce" goes pretty far back!
Shortly after being born, the intestines of these animals' young are sterile, meaning they lack the gut bacteria needed to absorb the nutrients of their food. By eating their parent's dung, that bacteria helps to actually digest their food.
For similar reasons, it's believed by scientists that hamsters, hedgehogs, and even mole-rats use a similar technique with their own poop to make sure no vitamin B and K has been wasted.
Those are just a couple of a handful of theories for why animals eat poop! For some more details, and how it pertains to your pup, continue reading along.
Facts & Stats About Pup Poop Eating
It helps to know the information from scientific studies related to coprophagia.
From the University of California, Dr. Benjamin Hart undertook a study for the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, surveying 3,000 pups to learn about doo-doo. He dug up some interesting facts! His team found that 16% of dogs are 'serious' poop eaters, meaning the dogs ate stool 5 times during the course of the study. Also, he found that 24% of dogs are 'moderate' stool eaters, meaning the dogs ate stool at least 1 time over the lifetime of the study.
Nearly 50% of dogs are therefore likely to eat poop on walks; that probably makes you feel less alone with your pup eating poop on walks! Dr. Hart mentions, “our conclusion is that eating of fresh stools is a reflection of an innate predisposition of ancestral canids living in nature that protects pack members from intestinal parasites present in feces that could occasionally be dropped in the den/rest area.”
For some added information, Dr. Hart found that eating poop was more common among multi-dog familes; further below, you'll read about why dogs might eat the poop of their pack members. Moreover, 85% of dogs preferred eating other animals' dung (instead of their own), and nearly all dogs, 92%, preferred compact, fresh stool which was less than 2 days old.
Therefore, poop eating is pretty common in dogs. For this type of behavior to persist for so long, one can assume there's some biological reason why it benefits a dog's survival, so here are some of the common reasons people think that dogs eat poop!
3 Reasons Why Pooches Eat Poop
Here's the content you've been waiting for. Cynologists, scientists who study dogs, have a few theories about why pups eat poop, and these are some of the most popular ones; they include motherly cleaning, anxiety about predators, and nutrient absorption.
In nature, animals don't have the luxuries of bathtubs, running water, and soap; because of that, licking is often used as a way of grooming and cleaning each other. For dogs, that includes mother dogs cleaning their youngs' behinds. Furthermore, for nearly the first month following birth, mother dogs often eat their babies' poop. By cleaning her pack's surroundings of poop, the puppies face less bacteria and pests, which could be attracted by the dung.
For wild animals who often rely on their sense of smell, leaving behind scat can also easily attract unwanted predators. Therefore, it's believed that pup mothers applying their instincts, hoping to clear the evidence of their pups, so that predators don't take notice of their presence.
Mothers may also consume their pups' poop to recycle nutrients, especially if they're in short supply. In nature, having a litter of pups is energy exhaustive, and if there's not much food then mothers must do what they can to make the most of the food they have. This can imply eating poop to be more efficient with their food.
Anxiety About Predators
Picking up where the factor above left off, dogs may also eat their own poop to keep protected from predators. In nature, you can imagine that some animals are tracking your pack with their great scent. By leaving behind scat, you risk leaving behind clues of where you've been.
Therefore, dogs might eat their own scat, or the scat of other dogs in their pack, to "clear the trail" from predators. Similarly, if dogs are scolded for pooping indoors, dogs may eat their own scat to avoid punishment.
Circling back to earlier parts of this article, dogs may eat poop to absorb nutrients, making up for deficiencies in their daily diets. In other words, dogs may have odd cravings for squirrel dung upon sniffing it. Cravings are spurred by the body's desire for particular vitamins and minerals.
We're the same way with our cravings. For example, it's reported that toddlers with salt deficiencies perhaps because of kidney problems, have been reported to go on missions to find salt, even climbing countertops to locate cooking salt and pour it into their mouths.
For dogs, those same cravings clearly appear to outweigh the repulsion of poop. With that being said, it's important to mention that, while your pup might get extra nutrients from the poop, it's well-advised to discourage your dog from eating poop, since the poop might have harmful parasites and bacteria. But, it might be worth taking these cravings as a sign that your dog's missing certain nutrients from his or her diet.
Risk Factors for Eating Poop
As you're trying to understand your pooch's desire for poop, you can pinpoint possible risk factors which your pup may be experiencing. Here's a list of various risk factors in no particular order which you can weigh in your dog's behavior.
- Isolation: dogs who are often alone in kennels or rooms tend to eat scat more often than those who are social with other dogs or people
- Claustrophobia-like: dogs such as pups in crowded shelters who are often kept in tight spaces are more likely to partake in coprophagia
- Anxiety: worried dogs may feel compelled to eat their own scat, out of instinctual fear of predators picking up on their scent
- Living with sick or old dogs: healthy dogs may eat the stool of their weaker canine family member, feeling the need to “protect the pack” in case predators sense the weak members of their pack
Solutions for Eating Poop On Walks
Finally, it's probably not quite enough for you to understand why your dog eats poop on walks. Rather, you're likely also looking for information touching on how to curb this behavior.
Here are a few ideas for how to accomplish this as a pup parent!
Multivitamins and Enzymes
If your hunch is that your pup is eating feces to make up for nutritional deficiencies, then it could be worth asking your veterinarian about multivitamins or enzymes.
For example, after trying a 2 month regimen of multivitamins, you can gauge if your pup’s coprophagia diminishes; if it doesn’t, then you can continue monitoring and trying other solutions.
Cleaning Your Property of Animal Poop
Another solution is clear-cut, even though it requires a bit of leg-work, which is just clearing your backyard on a regular basis of animal scat.
This can also include indoors as well; if you’ve got other animals such as a cat in the house, try to ensure that the litter box is inaccessible to your dogs.
Finally, if you’re familiar with positive reinforcement training, you can associate a verbal command with abandoning animal scat. Using a phrase such as “leave it”, you can train your dog to ignore scat, rewarding your dog with praise and/or a treat anytime the command is followed.
Positive reinforcement training is tough for most amateur pup owners, since wrong behavior is sometimes rewarded, or the training stalls after the first week, but with commitment you too can win your pup over!
Coprophagia is common among nearly all mammals in nature — dogs are no different. The next time your friend comments on dogs eating poop, you can explain how it's not only common for dogs, but also the reasons why this behavior seems to occur, risk factors involved, and solutions for curbing the behavior. If your pup has a habit of eating poop, then rest assured that, with time, she or he can overcome this habit with verbal commands, dietary supplements, and supervision from you.