Dogs are scavengers. As many dog owners know to their cost, dogs often have a penchant for things that we find less than palatable. If it’s not counter or table surfing, it might be raiding the kitchen rubbish bin or snacking on rich pickings from the park, street, or elsewhere.
Occasionally, those rich pickings include poo, much to the disgust of many owners. That poo can be from a range of species (birds, horses, rabbits, cattle, sheep, deer, and in my own dogs’ case, cat poo is a particular favorite). But sometimes, dogs have a desire to consume either their own or other dogs’ feces. This behavior is called coprophagy, literally translated as “feces eating” and, unsurprisingly, many dog owners don’t like it.
Ironically, dogs are often fastidious at keeping their sleeping areas clean by removing their feces. Dogs will also actively avoid areas contaminated with poo from other dogs. This is probably an innate behavior that has evolved to prevent the spread of disease. So given that eating poo does carry disease risk, why do dogs do it? A recent study has shed further light on the subject and could help us manage the behavior.
First, it seems that not all dogs eat each other’s poo. The study found that only 16% of more than 1,000 dog owners surveyed saw their dogs consume canine feces at least six times or more (the study’s definition of coprophagy). And 77% recorded never seeing their pets eat other dogs’ poo.