Why Your Dog Eats Poop, Ac­cord­ing to the Lat­est Sci­en­tific Re­search

Fi­nally, science sheds some light on a mys­tery that has stymied—and dis­gusted—dog lovers for gen­er­a­tions


Fi­nally, science sheds some light on a mys­tery that has long stymied—and dis­gusted—dog lovers.

Try as we might, we hu­mans gen­er­ally have a hard time un­der­stand­ing why in the world our dogs eat poop. Noth­ing is quite as dis­turb­ing as watch­ing the cute ca­nine you cud­dle up with on the couch chow down on a steam­ing pile when you’re out for a walk. Af­ter all, dogs have an in­cred­i­ble sense of smell; shouldn’t they be re­volted by fe­ces con­sump­tion?

Un­for­tu­nately, poop eat­ing, known in the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity as co­propha­gia, is a fairly com­mon be­hav­iour in dogs. New re­search ex­plains why this may be so. A study re­cently pub­lished in the jour­nal of Vet­eri­nary Medicine and Science sug­gests that this yucky be­hav­iour is linked to “greedy eat­ing”—think dogs that in­hale their food—as well as an in­stinct left­over from dogs’ an­ces­tors, the wolves.

Ac­cord­ing to the study, led by vet­eri­nar­ian Ben­jamin Hart, wolves may have eaten the fe­ces of their pack (dropped by old or sick pack mem­bers who couldn’t make it out­side—dogs and wolves alike don’t like to soil their liv­ing area) in or­der to clean up their dens. Do­ing so, posits Hart, who is di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for An­i­mal Be­hav­ior at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Davis, would have helped wolves avoid in­testi­nal par­a­sites such as lar­vae or worms. Be­cause it usu­ally takes around two days for par­a­sites and pathogens to de­velop, eat­ing the fe­ces would gen­er­ally be safe and would keep the par­a­sites from de­vel­op­ing in their liv­ing area.

As for the greedy eat­ing, Pro­fes­sor James Ser­pell of the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia and edi­tor of the re­cent book The Do­mes­tic Dog: Its Evo­lu­tion, Be­hav­ior and In­ter­ac­tions with Peo­ple, ex­plains it thus: dogs evolved as scav­engers, mean­ing that they would eat what­ever they could find—in­clud­ing fe­ces. This im­pulse is a left­over of their evo­lu­tion. In or­der to sur­vive, ca­nines couldn’t af­ford to be picky. This be­hav­iour is still seen in many parts of the de­vel­op­ing world, where dogs con­sume this, um, “pre-di­gested” food source when scav­eng­ing for any­thing to fill their bel­lies.

To­day, dogs (and cats) “are fed di­ets that are rel­a­tively rich in fats and pro­tein, not all of which may be com­pletely di­gested, mak­ing their fe­ces po­ten­tially at­trac­tive as a sec­ond hand food source,” Ser­pell ex­plained to the Wash­ing­ton Post.

Though it may prove small com­fort, co­propha­gia ap­pears to be a nor­mal, nat­u­ral dog be­hav­iour that has been tak­ing place for cen­turies. How­ever, al­ways con­sult your vet to make sure there are no other health prob­lems lead­ing to your pup’s be­hav­iour (for ex­am­ple, a diet de­fi­cient in nu­tri­ents or calo­ries), or psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues (like iso­la­tion or anxiety) that are spurring the be­hav­iour. When those are ruled out, if you would like to put an end to the poop eat­ing, the Amer­i­can Ken­nel Club sug­gests vi­ta­min sup­ple­men­ta­tion, en­zyme sup­ple­men­ta­tion, and taste-aver­sion prod­ucts. And of course, keep your dog’s liv­ing area clean (aka man­age the sup­ply), su­per­vise your dog while out­side, and train a solid “leave it” command to dis­cour­age your dog from de­vour­ing drop­pings.

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