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Help! My Dog Eats Poop!

Gross to be sure, it's also a fact of canine life. Nearly one in every four dogs displays coprophagia, or stool eating, at some time in their life. Dogs are very inquisitive, and they put their mouths and noses in some pretty questionable places. This is a perfectly normal and safe way for them to learn about their surroundings and other dogs. But eating fecal matter—either their own or another dog's or cat's—should raise a red flag.

Causes of coprophagia

Some dogs that ingest their own or another dog's feces may suffer from one of several medical conditions. The most common reason for the disorder is simple hunger. A dietary deficiency from low-quality food or an insufficient quantity at mealtimes could lead a dog to try to "supplement" her meals.

Another common culprit is a digestive enzyme deficiency, resulting in an inability to absorb enough vitamins and minerals from food. Stool eating is a dog's way of getting enough nutrients to stave off starvation.

Parasites in the system can also lead to this habit. So be sure your pup has been properly diagnosed and dewormed by your veterinarian.

Behavioral reasons

Coprophagia can be a behavioral issue, especially in puppies. It may be learned when mother dogs eat their puppies' dung. This is a normal adaptive behavior to hide the puppies' scent and make them less vulnerable to predators. Puppies will usually lose interest by the age of 12 weeks.

Dogs who are kept isolated or in small spaces for long periods of time are also more prone to coprophagia. The behavior can also point to anxiety from overly severe housetraining methods—the canine equivalent of hiding the evidence.

What to do

1. Make sure your dog is eating a high-nutrient food and enough of it. 

2. Consult with your vet. A blood test will determine if your dog has EPI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency), a condition that's easily remedied with enzyme supplements and a more easily digestible diet. In the meantime, be sure to pick up after your dog immediately and steer clear of places where other dogs may have done their business.

3. Be sure your dog has plenty of space to feel comfortable when home alone. Do not keep a dog locked up in a kennel for long periods during the day.

4. Be gentle when housetraining a puppy. Dogs are extremely sensitive and react poorly to shouting or harsh punishments.

5. If your dog exhibits this behavior, try not to react. It's hard, but you don't want to punish a dog for a behavior resulting from a physical imbalance. And you don't want to inadvertently encourage him.

Most of all, don't panic. The good news is stool eating is almost always an easily treatable condition, and a very normal one. Be sure to consult with your vet as soon as you notice the behavior.