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Why does my dog eat poop?

Recently we received this article from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, and it answered a question we’ve received from pet owners in the past – and something we’ve wondered ourselves.

Here is the answer and what to do about it:

Man’s best friend has some baffling habits that sometimes offend man’s best sensibilities.  Nobody likes to talk about it, but everyone wonders, “Why does my dog eat poop?”

Dr. Kelly Ballantyne, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine, has a special interest in animal behavior and offers behavior consultations for pet owners. Veterinary behavior integrates medicine, research, learning science, and deductive reasoning, but some behaviors can’t quite be figured out.

Dr. Ballantyne says this habit of dogs usually has nothing to do with their health, and it falls into the “unexplainable behaviors” category. While there is no solid answer as to why dogs eat poop, there are some linked behaviors for the majority of the dogs who do.

Ironically, the dogs who eat poop tend to be very fastidious. They do not soil their sleeping or resting areas. So contrary to human logic, this behavior is not a “dirty dog” behavior.

There has been limited research on this puzzling question. One study showed that in domestic dogs, those that had been spayed and neutered were 50 percent more likely to eat stool than intact dogs. There is also evidence that dogs that eat quickly are twice as likely as to eat stool as dogs who are picky or slow eaters. If you have a dog that’s a picky eater, that behavior might have a positive side!

Published findings also indicate that the behavior is most common among basset hounds, shelties, poodles, and various retriever breeds.

The next question that comes up actually is more important: How do you keep your dog from eating poop?

Unfortunately, behavior modification does not seem to be a very reliable or effective way to prevent poop-eating. Commercial food additives marketed as addressing this problem also have not been found to be effective.

The most effective prevention method is to be diligent.  Keep the yard clean and pick up stool immediately after your dog defecates. When walking your dog, have good control with the leash and, well, have great reflexes!

So while it isn’t completely understood why dogs eat stool, the best advice is to minimize their access.

For more information, contact your local veterinarian.

An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/

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