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Why dogs eat poop and what to do about it

It might be every pet owner’s embarrassing nightmare, but dogs eating other dogs’ feces is actually quite common.

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In fact, according to new research from the University of California at Davis, 16 percent of puppies “frequently” consume other dogs’ feces. This phenomenon is called coprophagia.

The veterinarians at UC-Davis conducted two surveys of a total 3,000 dog owners for their results and found 16 percent of the dog owners spotted their dogs eating other canines’ feces more than six times.

It didn’t matter how old the dogs were, what they ate, whether or not they were house-trained or what their compulsive behaviors were like, the researchers found.

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» RELATED: Read the full study at oninelibrary.wiley.com.

So, why do dogs eat their own poop?

“For every person you ask about this, you get a different opinion. Because they’re guessing, whether they’re veterinarians or experts in behavior,” said lead author Benjamin Hart.

Hart believes it comes down to canines’ “wolfy” instinct.

When wolves normally defecate, they do so away from their dens to protect against intestinal parasite eggs in the feces.

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However, when wolves do defecate near their dens (if they’re sick or old or lame), they eat the feces right away. This is because parasite eggs don’t typically hatch into infectious larvae for a few days, according to Hart. 

“If they eat it right away, it’s safe to eat. They won’t get infected by parasites,” he said.

Other researchers believe it comes down to dietary motivations.

University of Pennsylvania veterinary school professor James Serpell told the Washington Post that dogs in developing countries that often hunt to fill their stomach, eat a lot of human feces.

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“Given its historical survival value, this common village dog behavior may still be fairly widespread in the modern canine population,” Serpell said.

And if you Google “why dogs eat poop,” you’ll get bombarded with even more theories, including a lack of vitamin B or other key nutrients or even heightened stress.

How do I stop my dog from eating poop?

Before looking for a fix, Serpell recommends a vet visit to rule out other issues, such as pancreatic enzyme deficiency.

After that, he told National Geographic, try reward-based training by discouraging the behavior while leash-walking and offering treats when Fido sees and ignores feces.

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Still nothing? If you survey pet stores or speak with experts for quicker solutions, you’ll probably end up disappointed, Hart said.

But he and his colleagues are working on developing a product to address the issue.

“We’re going to be looking at some clinical trials on treatments that are different enough that they’ll stand a chance of working,” Hart told the Washington Post. “We’re going to put our heads to this.”

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