Why do dogs eat cat poop? It must be up there with the grossest thing your pooch does, right? Yet, nearly all dogs have done it at some point. And there are a few dogs who seem to be obsessed with cat poop and seek it out wherever they can!
It’s natural for dog owners to feel pretty disgusted by this behavior but if we can figure out why dogs eat cat poop, we may be able to understand why it happens and even do something about it.
Is It Normal For Dogs To Eat Cat Poop?
Yes, it is perfectly normal for dogs to want to eat poop of all kinds – not just the stuff produced by the family cat. The action of eating poop is so normal it even has a scientific name – coprophagia.
Most dogs have at least tried a taste of cat poop at one time. If you think your dog hasn’t – you just probably haven’t caught them at it yet! We may find the thought of eating cat poop hideous, but your dog does not.
When they were pups, the Mom dog licked them clean and they ended up ingesting fecal material. It actually helped to populate their gut with the bacteria it needed to start digesting food properly. The mother dog eats some of their poop as she cleans up after them so dogs are brought up to find poop-eating to be perfectly acceptable behavior.
Why Do Dogs Eat Cat Poop?
So, part of the reason that dogs eat cat poop is that they see no reason not to! When they are scavenging around looking for titbits, a cat poop to them is just as attractive as a discarded sandwich.
The fact that so many dogs are so keen on cat poop must mean that it tastes good to them but we’ll have to take their word for it! They also appear to be attracted to the smell – something else that humans find hard to relate to.
Another possible reason is that it contains a lot of protein. Cat food is higher in protein than dog food because cats need a high protein diet. Not all of it will be broken down in their gut and so they tend to have high-protein poops.
What Does Eating Cat Poop Mean In A Dog?
So, now that we know that eating cat poop is normal for dogs and we know why they do it, should you just let them get on with it. The answer is a definite ‘no’. Whilst this is normal behavior, it can also signal that something is wrong.
For some dogs, poop-eating gets out of hand and becomes an unpleasant habit. This is because it becomes a self-rewarding behavior. Your dog practices the behavior of eating the poop – and is rewarded for it by getting a tasty snack. Self-rewarding behavior is difficult to break and will require some focused training that we will outline later.
This behavior can also indicate boredom. Dogs that have nothing else to do are inevitably going to investigate the litter box at some point. If your dog has plenty of playtime and structured exercise they are less likely to resort to poop-eating for entertainment.
Poop-eating can emerge in pups during potty training. If they are punished for pooping inside, the next time they will get rid of the evidence by eating it. Soon, a pup will progress from eating their own poop to that produced by the family cat.
Also, be mindful that poop-eating can be a sign of stress. It is more common in dogs that are going through some form of stress in their lives. They are using it as a self-soothing technique in the same way some humans turn to chocolate.
What Are Dogs Lacking When They Eat Cat Poop?
There are some medical reasons why a dog may be attracted to cat poop. Malnutrition (a lack of nutrients in the diet) is probably the leading cause. It is most likely to be seen in dogs that are fed a homemade diet because it can be hard to get all the nutrients into the food in the correct amounts. Commercial dog foods that have been certified by AAFCO will meet your dog’s nutritional needs.
There could also be an underlying medical reason. These can include intestinal parasites (such as worms) and poor intestinal absorption. There could also be an endocrine or hormonal imbalance. In senior dogs, this behavior can emerge as part of a wider pattern of cognitive decline.
We always recommend getting your dog checked out by your vet if you are at all concerned about their behavior.
Is Cat Poop Harmful For Dogs?
Yes, there are risks associated with eating cat poop. It can contain pathogens such as salmonella and E.coli. Some of these can make your dog sick and others can be carried by your dog and then spread to you. Also, the cat may have been on medication that has been excreted in the poop – it could be harmful to your dog. Cat feces can contain intestinal parasites such as worms which can also go on to infest your dog.
If the poop is covered in cat litter, that is an even bigger problem. When eaten in large quantities, cat litter (particularly clumping cat litter) can cause intestinal blockages in dogs.
What to Do if Your Dog Eats Cat Poop
Don’t panic. Eating a small amount of cat poop is highly unlikely to harm your dog. You want to keep an eye on them and report any changes to your vet but most dogs will be absolutely fine and will not understand what you are making such a fuss about.
The key here is to stop this from becoming a habit and to take steps to discourage your dog from doing it again.
How to Stop Your Dog from Eating Cat Poop
Dogs may think that eating cat poop is okay but very few dog owners are happy about this particular canine behavior. So, you’ll be pleased to know that we have compiled a list of top tips and hacks on how to stop it from happening!
Check Your Dog’s Diet
This is the obvious place to start. Make sure that your dog is receiving a balanced and wholesome diet. Commercial dog foods in the correct quantities are a great option. Having discussed this with your vet, you may want to transition your dog to a food more suitable for their particular needs. This could be a high protein diet for working dogs or a special food for seniors. If your dog does have an upset stomach after eating cat poop, you may want to try a food for sensitive stomachs.
Get your dog into the habit of eating slowly by using a special slow-eating dog bowl or a treat dispenser for kibble. This discourages the instinct to gobble up things (including poop) that they find.
For puppies, only use positive potty-training techniques so that they don’t get into the habit of eating poop.
All dogs need to learn the ‘leave it’ command. Use a low-value object (perhaps some kibble) as you practice and reward with a high-value treat. It takes time and patience but eventually it will work for cat poop. This is a positive training method – your dog learns that ignoring poop is more rewarding than eating it!
Check for Intestinal Parasites and Illness
Check in with your vet. Find out if there are medical reasons behind the behavior. Treat your dog regularly for intestinal parasites.
Keep Your Dog Occupied
Give your dog lots of fun alternatives to raiding the cat litter tray. Give them plenty of physical and mental stimulation with games and training.
Keep the Litter Box Clean
Litter boxes with no poop in them are not so attractive to dogs. So, get in the habit of clearing away the soiled cat litter as soon as you can and dispose of it somewhere that your dog cannot access. If you spend a lot of time out of the house and cannot do this, why not invest in a self-cleaning litter box that will do the job for you.
- Affordable pricetag in the self-cleaning category
- Rotation feature separates the waste from the clean litter maximizing your litter purchases
- Odor-absorbing technology and carbon filters mean no bad odors to contend with
- Slow-moving motor means it won't scare your kitten
Cat Food Supplements
You can buy supplements to feed your cat that makes their poop less attractive to dogs. This should only be done once you have exhausted most of the other remedies. Always check with your cat’s vet first to make sure that it is safe to do this.
Buy a Dog-Proof Litter Box
If all else fails, you will need to physically stop your dog from accessing the litter box and this requires a barrier. There are special dog-proof litter boxes that have covers. Your cat will be able to get in but your dog won’t. Alternatively, you could place the litter tray in an area of the house that your dog does not have access to. You could use a baby or dog gate or fence to achieve this. The bars should be wide enough to let your cat through but narrow enough to stop your dog.
The final option for a physical barrier is a muzzle. You need one that allows your dog to pant and drink but not to pick up feces from a cat litter tray. This may seem extreme but it can be very effective in many dogs.
The plan is that many of these methods only need to be temporary. Once you have successfully trained and occupied your pooch and broken the habit, you can remove many of the measures.
Final Words on Why Dogs Eat Poop…
Eating cat poop is a perfectly normal, if disgusting, thing for your dog to do. They do it because it is there and it tastes and smells good. If it becomes a habit, however, it can signal that something is wrong and you should discuss it with your vet.
In the meantime, there is a lot that you can do to discourage the habit through diet, training and physical barriers. Good luck!
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