There are few things as repulsive as catching your dog snacking on cat poop. Something about the way the litter clings to their muzzles, not to mention the bad breath, is just too much to bear. It doesn’t make any sense to us humans. Why on earth would anyone—besides a dung beetle—want to eat cat poop, or poop of any kind?
As it turns out, eating cat poop is the result of natural dog behavior. Here is what the experts have to say about this unfortunate habit, and what you can do to stop it.
RELATED: Why Dogs Eat Poop and How to Stop It
Why Do Dogs Eat Cat Poop?
Dogs enjoy eating all kinds of poop, much to our disgust, but they do seem to have a special fondness for feline feces.
This behavior is totally natural. Dogs are scavengers by nature, and as much as we like to romanticize our canines’ resemblance to their wild cousins, wolves, the reality is far less majestic. Dogs eat all kinds of things. Garbage, carpet, rocks, you name it, and it has probably been seen on an x-ray of a dog’s stomach in a veterinary emergency room. Cat poop is no exception.
Cat poop might smell gross to us, but it also smells like cat food to your dog. Since cat food ranks right up there with peanut butter and hot dogs on your dog’s list of favorite snacks, the decision to eat cat poop is easy. Since dogs repeatedly, and often zealously, return for more, we can only conclude that cat poop is the holy grail of scavenged household treats.
Eating poop, a habit called coprophagia, can be the result of a dietary deficiency, but in most cases, it is just the product of exploration, which can become a bad habit. The Merck Veterinary Manual states, “as part of exploratory behavior, many dogs are attracted to and may ingest feces, compost, and prey (dead or live).” In other words, your mighty hunter is just as happy tracking squirrels as he is raiding the litter box.
Is Cat Poop Bad for Dogs?
Yes, it is gross, but is eating cat poop actually bad for dogs? The answer, according to Dr. Jennifer Coates, writing for PetMD.com, is “possibly.”
It is common for dogs to eat cat poop, and most of them are fine. It might make us less interested in a doggy kiss, but our dogs generally get over rejection quickly, if they take no for an answer at all. However, eating any poop carries the potential for the dog to contract harmful bacteria and parasites. To make things even more gross, some of those bacteria, like salmonella, can be transmitted to humans.
Dogs can contract several different species of internal parasites from cat poop, and just because your cat isn’t showing signs of a parasite infection, doesn’t mean they are not there.
Cat litter can also be problematic for dogs if they eat it in large quantities. The good news is that most dogs would have to eat a lot of litter before it could cause a blockage. If your dog has eaten cat litter or clumping cat litter, keep an eye on her. If she has normal bowel movements, she is probably fine. If she appears to be having difficulty pooping, does not poop, or if her poop is abnormal, call your veterinarian.
In most cases, your dog won’t suffer any health consequences from eating cat poop. However, for you and your dog’s health, eating cat poop is one habit your dog definitely needs to kick.
How to Prevent Your Dog from Eating Cat Poop
Now that we know why dogs love cat poop so much, let’s address the bigger question: how do we stop them from eating it?
The easiest way to prevent your dog from eating cat poop, according to veterinarians, is to place the litter box in a spot where your dog can’t access it. This can be on top of a shelf, or, if you have large dogs, in a room with a cat door too small for your dogs to fit through. Baby gates are great at keeping dogs out without getting in your cat’s way and can also give your cats a room of their own.
If you can’t keep your dogs away from the litter box, you can invest in a litter box with a closed top, or a “dog-proof” litter box that makes it hard for dogs to get in. However, keep in mind that determined canines can usually find a way to get what they want if it is within their reach, so separating your dog from the litter box is your safest bet.
Training your dog to leave the litter box alone is next to impossible, according to renowned animal behaviorist Sophia Yin, because the behavior is reinforced each time your dog scores a snack. Scooping the poop out of the cat box immediately after your cat goes is a good idea in theory, but unless your cat poops at the same time every day, you would have to be superhuman to catch it all in time.
Sometimes the cat poop in question is out of your control. If neighborhood cats are pooping in your yard, there is little you can do to prevent your dog from eating it. You could always try a basket muzzle or leash walks, but sometimes we can't prevent our dogs from eating undesirable objects, like poop. If this is the case, take your dog in for regular visits to the veterinarian to make sure he has not contracted any internal parasites from his scavenging.
Coprophagia is disgusting, but eating cat poop does not necessarily mean there is something wrong with your dog. This natural behavior does come with some risks, however, so do your best to prevent it using these tips, and contact your veterinarian for further advice.