“Why does my dog eat cat poop?!”
As someone who worked in a veterinary clinic for over 30 years, I heard this question asked quite frequently by distressed pet parents in households containing both dogs and cats. The dog would eat the goodies right out of the litter box, or sometimes the dog couldn’t wait to go outdoors in the morning to visit the neighbor’s bushes and snack on the droppings from the cat next door.
Whatever the situation, canines ingesting feline excrement (or dogs eating cat poop) seems to be a universal issue. As disgusting as this tendency is to us humans, it’s a common problem that you may want to address if your pooch engages in this unsavory habit.
Why Do They Do It?
Why dogs eat cat feces is more often than not a behavioral issue. However, certain nutritional or medical conditions could be at the root of the problem and you and your veterinarian would want to rule them out first. The sophisticated term for eating poop is coprophagia.
Dietary or physical issues that could account for canine coprophagia include:
- Malnutrition due to underfeeding or feeding a low quality diet ~ If an animal is not being fed enough, cat feces would be especially appetizing, so make sure your pooch is being fed enough food for his size and energy level. Likewise, be sure to feed a high quality dog food containing essential canine nutrients such as sufficient protein, vitamins, and minerals.
- Intestinal parasites ~ Intestinal parasites such as hookworms, roundworms, whip worms, and tapeworms, can also lead to malnutrition. Have your dog’s stool checked for worms at least once a year by your vet.
- Certain medications ~ Increased hunger and thirst are a side effect of some medications containing corticosteroids. For example, if your dog is on prednisone for a medical condition, his appetite may be stimulated to the point that the cat’s litter box looks and smells like a candy store.
- A digestive enzyme deficiency ~ Exocine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) is a syndrome in dogs that prevents the absorption of food and nutrients. This medical condition could be a possible cause for coprophagia in your pet, since their nutritional needs are not being met.
- Other health conditions ~ Canine Cushing’s disease or diabetes mellitus can cause a dog to be excessively hungry, resulting in coprophagia. Geriatric dogs may start eating cat feces due to decreased cognitive function, also known as canine dementia.
The following Behavioral Causes are the most common reason why dogs find cat stools so appetizing.
Natural Instinct ~ Believe it or not, when your dog raids the litter box he is engaging in normal doggy behavior. His intent is not to disgust you or the cat but most dogs do love strong pungent smells. Think about it. They sniff each other’s butts as an introductory greeting, bury their noses embarrassingly in your friends’ crotches, and roll around in the stinkiest patch of outdoors they can find right after a good bath.
A healthy dog loves to play and explore and sometimes scavenge. Scavenging from the litter box or from behind the neighbor’s azalea bushes for a temptingly pungent snack is simply following natural instinct. Your dog’s wild ancestors were hunters and scavengers, sometimes eating the feces of other animals if the hunt didn’t yield enough prey for food that day.
A Delicious Delicacy ~ Dogs love the taste. If you are the pet parent of a dog and a cat, you may have noticed that your dog always seems to want to eat the cat’s food. This is because cat food is richer in vitamins, minerals, protein, and fat, since felines have a higher need for essential nutrients than canines. So to your dog, the litter box goodies taste like a wonderfully smellier version of cat food in a compact treat. Yucky yes, but at least you know there are ‘reasons’ behind your pet’s behavior and he’s not doing it to gross you out.
Boredom ~ Sometimes dogs will eat cat poop because of boredom. Our canine kids are intelligent creatures and most need a certain amount of physical and mental stimulation to keep happy and healthy. If your dog is left at home by himself for long periods of time, boredom is likely to set in, and raiding the litter box is a way of adding a bit of exploratory excitement to the day. If the dog is consistently bored, this activity could turn into a bad habit that may be hard to break.
Anxiety ~ Most pet lovers know that dogs are sensitive creatures but did you know that they can suffer from anxiety attacks just like humans? This is particularly true for geriatric dogs or dogs who’ve been rescued from a shelter or from a former precarious life situation. Many such pets suffer from separation anxiety when the pet parent(s) leave the house. Stress and anxiety can trigger behaviors like excessive barking or licking, pacing, panting, aggression, hiding, and yes, coprophagia.
Will Eating Cat Poop Affect My Dog’s Health?
Eating cat poop can be bad for your dog. A dog who snacks on litter box leavings only occasionally may be perfectly fine; But if your pet makes a habit of this distasteful activity, he is at risk of contracting harmful bacteria. Some of these bacteria, such as salmonella, are transmissible to humans. Likewise, cat feces may contain intestinal parasites, such as tapeworm larvae, or the eggs of other intestinal worms.
Cats are one of the cleanest animals on the planet and most are meticulous about covering their stools with cat litter in the litter box or soil in the garden. Habitual ingestion of kitty litter or soil can cause problems with your dog’s digestive system.
How Can I Stop This Behavior in My Dog?
There are several things you can do to stop and prevent this behavior from happening in the future. If your pooch has been eating cat poop for a while and has made it into a habit, it may be a difficult one to break but it is possible and definitely in the best interest of all concerned.
Remove the Temptation ~ If raiding the cat’s litter box is your dog’s unpleasant habit, the most obvious and easiest solution is to simply put it in a place where the dog can’t get to it. Most cats are agile enough to jump on a shelf or other elevated place to do their bathroom duties, or you could place the litter box in a small isolated place that would only be accessible to the kitty cat. Strategically placed baby gates around the home can also keep the dog away from the litter box.
Alternatively, you could purchase a dog-proof litter box. This needn’t be a big expense, and should be well worth the investment. Check out this Booda Dome litter box by Petmate.
Challenge Your Dog with More Physical and Mental Activity ~ If boredom is the reason your otherwise cuddly canine is eating kitty doo-doo, providing more physical and mental stimulation can go a long way in correcting this unwanted behavior.
What interests your dog most is interaction with you, so if you can, increase the weekly or daily neighborhood walks that you take together. Set aside a special day of the week (perhaps your day off), to take a brisk walk or jog on your favorite nature trail; Or just go out to the backyard for a playtime session each day and throw the Frisbee or tennis ball around for 20 minutes or so. The exercise will do you both good.
Mental activity is also a great way to alleviate boredom for your pet, especially the more clever breeds. There are many mental stimulation toys available for dogs. Or instead of going outdoors and playing ‘throw the tennis ball,’ you could play ‘hide the tennis ball.’
Deal with Anxiety and Stress Issues your Dog May be Having ~ High stress levels may be driving your dog to engage in coprophagia and if this is the case, it’s likely that you are aware of it. Maybe your pet suffers from separation anxiety or any change in a strict daily routine. If certain issues are causing family members be anxious, you can be sure that the family dog will pick up on that too. If stress and anxiety is causing this behavioral problem in your pooch, the root of these worries needs to be addressed.
Make Proper Nutrition a Top Priority ~ Your dog’s diet is fundamental to this topic. Always make sure your precious pet is getting enough nourishment to meet his nutritional needs by taking into account his age and activity level. You may even want to consult your veterinarian about adding vitamin supplements to his diet.
I hope I’ve answered your question, “Why does my dog eat cat poop?” I agree that it’s quite an unpleasant situation that I myself have dealt with a few times and I can assure that it is possible to get your dog to ‘kick the habit.’ If you have any questions or comments to add, or perhaps a certain remedy that worked for you, please tell me about it in the comment section below.
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