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Poo Eating in Dogs

How can diet help with poo eating?

Written by Founder and Vet Surgeon John Burns BVMS MRCVS

The proper term for poo-eating is coprophagy.

Depraved appetite: An unnatural craving to eat unsuitable food is known as depraved (corrupt) appetite, or pica (Latin for magpie).


Whether it be tasty rabbit poo nibbles, big dollops of horse poo or scavenging for other dogs poo hidden in the long grass, poo eating is an issue we are frequently contacted about. It seems that this is something that many dogs like to do and unsurprisingly, it is something we find unpleasant and difficult to cope with.

Poo eating in itself, especially herbivore poo, is unlikely to cause any issues. However, it can be a transmitter of parasites and so any dog that is likely to have this habit is best kept up to date with all types of worm prevention medication.

There can be many different factors involved when a dog has been eating poo – life stage is the first factor to take into account. Young dogs that are still exploring the world will give eating most things a go at some point, including poo. For some it will be a passing phase, but for others they can realise they enjoy it and so a habit of ‘hunting’ for it can kick in. At this point, training is likely to be the key factor in solving the issue.

If an older dog is still poo eating or the behaviour has suddenly started at a later age, this is when we would look more carefully at the issue and make sure all dietary aspects have been carefully considered.

There are several myths about Poo eating:

  • The first myth is that the dog eats poo because it is hungry. Because of this, dog owners try to compensate by mistakenly giving the dog more food. It can appear that some of the greedier breeds are more prone to poo eating but these dogs may also be more prone to overeating in general, which is possibly more likely to be the cause.
  • Another common misconception is that poo-eating is a sign that something is lacking in the diet. Dogs on a nutritionally balanced diet will still sometimes eat poo.
  • “Adding certain things to the diet can stop the poo attraction” – this has been tried with several foods with varying levels of success but it is rarely a long term solution and doesn’t solve the initial cause of the issue either

As with many “bad habits”, poo eating can occasionally be linked to an underlying health issue.

Some dogs may show obvious signs of digestive upset such as occasional loose stools but for many, the only indication is poo eating. As with many common health issues, a holistic approach to health and nutrition can offer a solution.  To do this, we have to consider in particular the health and function of the digestive system.

What are the possible reasons why dogs eat poo?
  • Poor quality food of low digestibility
  • Overfeeding
  • Food intolerance
  • Excess protein & fat
  • Chemicals
  • Toxic waste build-up

You can read more about diet and the health of the digestive system in my Veterinary Guide to Natural Healthcare. See the link below (pp.12-13).

The Solution to Poo Eating
  • Feed a highly digestible, natural, wholesome, hypoallergenic food which is high in complex carbohydrate and low in protein and fat. A highly digestible diet reduces the workload of the digestive system so that the digestive process is more efficient. We have found over many years experience that food which uses wholegrains as the mainstay of the diet gives excellent results but other ingredients such as potato and buckwheat can also be effective. Not every food suits every dog so it may be necessary to experiment with several foods to find the right one for your own dog.  This should be done with professional advice, for instance with our Nutrition Team. You can read more about food allergy/intolerance in my Veterinary Guide to Natural Healthcare (pp. 9 -10)
  • Just as important as the right type of food, it is vital to get the feeding amount right too. This is where many pet owners fall down.  Too much food reduces the efficiency of the digestive system.  Manufacturers’ recommended feeding amounts should not be followed religiously. Every dog is an individual with different needs from all others and must be treated as such.  Food should be fed as sparingly as possible, especially in the early stages.
  • A bonus of digestible food fed in small amounts, is that less material reaches the lower bowel, meaning less dog poo to clean up!
  • Overfeeding, even good quality food, also contributes to the toxic burden of the system which can lead to other health problems. Many pet owners believe that they cannot be overfeeding as their pet is not overweight. Very often that is not correct; excessive weight gain is not the only health-related outcome of overfeeding. (See John Burns’ Veterinary Guide to Health and Nutrition “Development of Disease Stage 1)
How much food should I give?

The Burns Health and Nutrition Team (see back of leaflet) can give you individually tailored advice on finding the right food and the right feeding amounts for your dog

See Daily Feeding Amounts.

Can I still feed treats?

When trying to eliminate poo eating, it is important, initially, to have as little variety in the diet as possible, i.e. no treats, other pet food brands, fruit or even homemade foods containing meat and fat (vegetables are OK). Keeping it simple helps to identify what works best. Treats may be tried at a later stage once the poo eating has been resolved.


  • Weighing the food each time is more accurate and therefore more effective than going by eye.
  • A healthy dog will not be attracted to eat abnormal items such as poo. Any measure which promotes good health will reduce the likelihood of poo eating.
  • Production of waste is a normal part of the metabolism of the body. If excessive, this becomes toxic to the system.
    Keeping things simple avoids the build-up of toxic waste in the system.

Speak to a Pet Nutritionist

Get in touch with the Burns Health and Nutrition Team for individually tailored advice on the right food type and amounts for your dog. At Burns we work to address pet health conditions brought about by unhealthy lifestyle and especially diet. Drawing on the link between health and nutrition, we developed dry pet food that offers the same benefits for your favourite furry friend as simple homecooked food.

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