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Dog Behavior: Why Do Dogs Eat Cat Poop?

Updated on August 30, 2013

Strange Dog Behavior

My furkids exhibit strange dog behavior. It never fails…as soon as my two Great Danes hit the yard, they begin their search. Eagerly sniffing the sand, the pine straw, and under leaves. What are they so ardently searching for? Could it be some doggy treat I left for them? Or perhaps some tidbit of cookie or candy one of the grandkids accidentally dropped? Nope – they’re looking for cat poopie. It’s like a veritable canine Easter egg hunt whenever they go outside! This dog behavior is pretty gross!

This action is called “coprophagia.” I’ve owned and trained many dogs, of several different breeds, and most of them would consume feline feces if given the chance. Some were worse than others. I think the top poop hound was my Golden Retriever, Rascal. Not only would he gobble up all the cat poop he could find, he’d actually follow the family cats around waiting for them to relieve themselves. Yep, ol’ Rascal did love him some of those “kitty tootsie rolls.”

Why do we see this dog behavior? From all the information I can gather from veterinarians, no one is exactly sure. One theory is that cat feces is high in protein and vitamins produced by the intestinal tract, and by consuming the droppings, the dogs benefit from these nutrients.

Another theory is that the practice is a learned dog behavior. Mother dogs lick the bottoms of their puppies in order to stimulate urination and defecation. Once the pups “go,” the bitch consumes the urine and feces. Why? It’s a holdover from when dogs lived in the wild. The mother did this in an effort to remove the smell that might alert predators to the location of her litter. Maybe adult dogs learned to eat poop from their moms.

Yet another widely held belief is that it’s just part of the dog’s scavenger mentality. Cats aren’t very effective at absorbing nutrients from their food, so their feces can be viewed as a food source for dogs. Even after the cat's food makes its way through the digestive tract, there are still some nutrients left. Even though your dog is well fed, his instincts tell him to take advantage of any available “food finds.”

Cat poop isn’t the only feces dogs will consume. When I lived on a farm-ranch, I often saw my dogs eating the droppings of horses and cows. I assume they’ll eat just about any feces.

Dogs aren’t the only mammals that eat feces, either. Cats will do it occasionally, and rodents do it frequently. It’s believed that animals like rabbits eat their poop to get more nutrients from the high-fiber foods in their diet. In a way, ruminants like cows do it, too. They chew partially digested food from one of their stomachs in an effort to more fully digest it – called “chewing their cud.”

Is it harmful for your dog to eat cat poop? Most veterinarians agree that for a canine that is up to date on vaccinations and parasite prevention, eating the poop is probably harmless. The one instance where it could be dangerous is when the dog is eating the “tootsie rolls” from a litter box. Then, it’s not the poop that’s the problem – it’s the litter that comes with it. The “crunchy coating” itself can cause digestive problems for the dog, not to mention the chemicals that might have been added to the kitty litter.

It’s often difficult to break a pooch of this natural dog behavior, especially an adult dog. There are substances you can add to your cat’s feces to make it less palatable to your dog. Also, it’s important to keep any litter boxes in a place that the dog cannot access. Furthermore, you might want to keep a good supply of breath mints on hand if your dog's behavior gets too smelly.

Read more about dogs and dog behavior by clinking on the article links below:

Hamlet and Grendel love a nice kitty tootsie roll!
Hamlet and Grendel love a nice kitty tootsie roll!

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