Stool eating, also known as coprophagy, is actually quite normal behavior for a puppy. And though you may find it utterly gross, the behavior does have an underlying cause. Moreover, if the cause is not addressed appropriately and in a timely manner, it does have a good chance of becoming a recurring habit.
To begin, do not be immediately alarmed when you see your puppy doing it. Reacting in a way that is alarming to the puppy can do more harm than good, and may even lead to more coprophagy and other behavioral problems.
Stool eating can begin when a puppy is still in the litter. At this stage, it is natural for the mother to eat the stool of her puppies. She does this both to keep the “den” clean and to protect the puppies from predators that might be drawn by the scent. (It doesn’t matter that there are no predators in your home, this is primitive evolutionary behavior -- other animals do the same thing with their young.) The mother does this from the time the puppies are born until they are weaned, and since puppies are in the process of learning how to be dogs, they may naturally follow her lead and do what she does.
The mother usually stops eating her puppies’ feces around the time that they have begun eating solid food and can leave the den to defecate, but the puppy may still continue the behavior until he becomes more mature. It is learned behavior along with natural puppy curiosity that leads them to smell, taste and even eat their own or other dogs’ stool.
To begin discouraging this behavior before the puppy is ready to go to his new home, it is the breeder’s responsibility to always clean up after the puppies, before they have a chance to eat it. However, this may not have been the practice used in your puppy’s first home.
Other Reasons for Stool Eating
As previously stated, it is not uncommon to find your puppy eat its own or other dogs’ stool. However, dogs who are receiving a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet should grow out of this behavior. If your puppy continues to eat poop despite all your attempts to stop the behavior, you will need to consult a veterinarian or behaviorist in order to identify the problem.
Here are several of the reasons that are typically associated with coprophagy:
Your puppy may not be digesting his food properly. This may be because the food is low in digestible nutrients and is coming out basically the same way it went in, or because the puppy has a problem with his digestive system. In these cases, the puppy’s stool tastes pretty much like the food he just ate. For the former, switching to a higher quality food can solve this. For the latter (if switching foods has not helped), you will have to have the puppy checked by a veterinarian.
Boredom is another cause for stool eating. If a puppy is left alone for a long time, he may find relief from boredom by playing with and eating his own stool.
Stress will often drive puppies, and adult dogs, to eat their own stool. This may be stress from being brought into a new home, or from any of a number of reasons. Therefore, you should not induce further stress in the puppy by punishing him for eating his stool.
Worms and other intestinal parasites can leach nutrients from the puppy’s system, causing him to try to supplement his diet with whatever he can find that appears remotely edible. On the same note, your puppy may simply not be getting enough to eat during the day. Puppies are growing and most need to be fed two to three times a day. If you have any questions regarding how much or how often you should feed your puppy, talk to your veterinarian.
If you have already responded several times to this behavior by getting upset, your puppy may continue to do it just for the reaction. Even though the reaction is a negative one, all the puppy knows is that he is getting extra attention from you.
Conversely, your puppy may eat his stool to avoid negative attention. If you have been responding angrily to “accidents,” his response may be to effectively “hide” the evidence by eating it.
Finally, some puppies, and adult dogs, will eat their own stool just because they like to do it. There is not always a satisfying explanation for the behavior, and the best you can do is to try to prevent your dog from doing it by distracting him and getting the stool picked up as quickly as possible.