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Inquiring (and grossed-out) minds want to know: Why do dogs eat poop?

Julie Sprankles is a freelance writer living in the storied city of Charleston, SC. When she isn't slinging sass for SheKnows, she enjoys watching campy SyFy creature features (Pirahnaconda, anyone?), trolling the internet for dance work...

Ever wonder why your pup snacks on poop? The reason for this gross habit may surprise you

We're friends, right? You're in the circle of trust here, so I feel I can ask you a fairly personal question. So, here goes: Does your dog eat poop? Remember, this is a safe place, and you can trust me with all your secrets. After all, I've been known to have a few pups in my life who consider poop a food group. Gross but true.

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Trust me when I say there are certain things you can't unsee in this world, and my quest for an answer to this peculiar doggy practice yielded several. However, in the name of you, dear readers, I've forged ahead and found out some pretty intriguing information about this repulsive canine habit.

For starters, did you know there is an actual, honest-to-goodness term for such behavior? According to the American Kennel Club or AKC, it is called coprophagia (kop-ruh-fey-jee-uh). The bad news is that there are many reasons your sweet doggy may think stools are a delicacy. The good news is that this proclivity can be deterred.

Before we delve into that, though, let's talk about why your pooch feels compelled to gobble poop.

It's in our dogs' DNA

Seriously. Scientists believe it could be coded in your dog's genetic disposition. In a 2012 study out of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior annual conference, Dr. Benjamin Hart from the University of California, Davis, explored the phenomenon.

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In his findings, he stated, "Our conclusion is that eating of fresh stools is a reflection of an innate predisposition of ancestral canids living in nature that protects pack members from intestinal parasites present in feces that could occasionally be dropped in the den/rest area." Um, how selfless?

It's just a phase

While some species of animals actually eat poop to obtain key nutrients (so thankful I'm not a rabbit right about now), dogs get everything they need from other food. So sorry, Fido, that can't be your excuse. However, puppies eating poop is still pretty natural behavior. The upside is that they typically grow out of it by the time they are around 9 months. Unless, that is, they are females and grow up to have puppies of their own — at which point they will eat their puppies' poo for around the first three weeks.

Your dog is lonely

Scientists have found that dogs who are frequently isolated from other dogs, like those kept in a kennel, are more likely to eat their poop than would their well-socialized puppy peers. So as gross as it may sound, the next time you see your dog eating poop, he might just need a hug. Or, you know, a playmate.

Because imitation is the most sincere form of flattery

I don't want to say it's your fault your dog eats poop, but... j/k, j/k. Well, sort of. You see, dogs are very eager to please, and like children, they tend to absorb information by watching you. If your dog ever makes a mistake in the house and you clean up after him by picking up his poop, he may try to mimic the behavior. But since he doesn't have those cute little deodorized baggies like you do, he has to use his mouth to dispose of his doo-doo. This mimicry is called allelomimetic behavior in dogs.

The dog really is hungry

Although most dogs get all the nutrients they need from food that is not poop, some dogs — for reasons ranging from parasites to neglect — are not getting their caloric or nutritional needs met and therefore resort to feces to try to fill in the gaps. So if you see a dog eating poop and there doesn't seem to be any sort of environmental or behavioral trigger, it's quite possible the pup needs a big bowl of kibble, stat.

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If you have a poo gobbler living in your home, don't despair. Since this behavior is not essential to your dog's well-being (not to mention the fact that it's super gross), it can be curbed. The easiest way to get your dog to give it a rest is to restrict his or her access to any poop. Which, in full disclosure, is easier said than done. But if you stick to it, your persistence should pay off. And it goes without saying, the best practice anytime you have a concern about your dog is to consult your vet.

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