Reasons Boxers Eat Poop (And Why It’s OK)

There are multiple reasons why Boxers sometimes eat their own poop, that of other dogs, or sample the droppings of another species altogether.

What it means when a Boxer dog eats poop depends on the particular dog and situation.

Poop eating in Boxers can be:

  1. Healthy canine behavior to populate the gut with microbes and obtain nutrition
  2. Normal canine instinct inherited from wolf ancestors
  3. Reflective of a dietary deficiency
  4. An effort to access more nutrition due to underfeeding or malabsorption
  5. A disordered behavior stemming from understimulation or boredom
  6. Indicative of underlying disease
  7. Related to the presence of large numbers of intestinal parasites

The consumption of feces is relatively common behavior in dogs and can be difficult to stop.


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Types Of Poop Eating In Boxer Dogs

Coprophagy, or coprophagia, is the technical term for the consumption of feces.

Poop eating in Boxers can take several forms:

  • Eating one’s own droppings
  • Eating the poop of another dog (or cat)
  • Eating the scat of herbivorous wildlife
  • Eating the dung of livestock like horses and cattle

Each kind of poop eating has its own implications for a Boxer’s health and may warrant a different response.

The risk arguably stems not so much from the poop itself, or from “germs”, but from the artificial contaminants and toxins — such as pharmaceuticals, deworming chemicals and flea/tick treatments — that will be present in the excrement of some animals.

Poop Eating Is Normal For Dogs

Noted wolf authority L David Mech is reported to have remarked that wolves commonly eat feces.

Eating all manner of things that humans find totally disgusting — dirt, vomit, decaying flesh — is how dogs obtain the nutrients they need.

When wolves and wild dogs make a kill, they consume the stomach contents (and stomach lining) of the prey animal, which contains not only fermenting grass but beneficial bacteria and digestive enzymes.

Dogs can make their own digestive enzymes but also source them in food.

They can only do this when they consume “living”, raw food.

Cooked or “dead” food like kibble and other commercial dog food (except for raw) has no enzymes, as they’re killed by heat.

So, a kibble-fed dog eating poop may well be trying to find the enzymes and beneficial bacteria his diet is lacking.

In his groundbreaking book Give Your Dog a Bone: The Practical Commonsense Way To Feed Dogs For A Long Healthy Life, world-renowned veterinarian Dr Ian Billinghurst describes feces as a natural, “highly valuable food” for dogs, both wild and domesticated.

He says not only is feces rich in beneficial microbes, but it’s an excellent source of:

  • Very high quality protein
  • Essential fatty acids
  • Fat soluble vitamins especially vitamin K
  • The whole range of B vitamins
  • Many different minerals, because of the soil in it
  • A host of other nutritional factors including antioxidants, enzymes and iodine
  • Valuable fiber

Not to put too fine a point on it, Dr Billinghurst says eating feces provides much more benefit to a kibble-fed dog than what goes in their bowls.

That may sound pretty shocking, so here it is, in Dr Billinghurst’s own words:

“Many dogs that eat commercial dog food, particularly the dry dog food, have to eat feces to stay healthy. Usually their own. Cat’s droppings are also very popular. The feces they eat is of far greater benefit to them than the product produced by the dog food companies.

Your dog needs to be fed feces and similar revolting material or their equivalent if it is to remain healthy.

If you do not want your dog to eat feces, and people who kiss their dogs usually don’t, then you must provide in the diet all those nutrients which are currently missing from your dog’s diet, and which feces supplies.”

Dr Ian Billinghurst, Veterinarian

That means, you need to feed your Boxer a properly composed fresh, raw meaty bone-based diet that occasionally incorporates additions like raw eggs, overripe fruit and other elements of the natural canine diet.

This seminal raw feeding book is as relevant today as when first published in 1993.

How Common Is It For Boxers To Eat Other Dogs’ Poop?

In 2018, the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis surveyed 3000 dog owners and asked them if their dogs ate other dogs’ poop.

The researchers found 16% of dogs consumed other dogs’ feces “frequently”, having been spotted doing it more than half a dozen times by their owners.

23 per cent of dogs had eaten poop at least once.

The vast majority of the dogs (80 per cent) preferred fresh stool, defined as less than two days old.

The study found no evidence that poop eating behavior had any link to:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Neuter/spay status
  • Diet (The majority of both poop eating and non poop eating dogs were kibble-fed, reflective of the general pet dog population.)
  • Age of separation from mother
  • How easily house trained the dog was
  • Compulsive behaviors like tail chasing
  • Anxiety
  • Any other specific behaviors including barking, aggression, destructiveness

However, these results may not be definitive, as the study relied on self reported surveys rather than strictly regulated clinical trials.

The findings were partially contradicted by another study which, in 2010, found a higher prevalence of poop eating in:

  • Unneutered male dogs (though not unspayed females)
  • Dogs with anxiety disorders
  • Dogs with pica (disorder involving consumption of non food items)
  • Dogs that ate plants

The UC Davis researchers did find poop eating was more likely in dogs that were:

  • Described as “greedy eaters”
  • Terriers and Hounds
  • Living in multidog households (with access to more sources of poop)
  • Also eaters of cat feces
  • Also dirt eaters
  • More than four years old (75% of coprophagic dogs in the survey)

Although the sample size was too small to reach firm conclusions about any breed associations, the most common stool eaters were Shetland Sheepdogs.

Of all the breeds involved in the survey, the least likely to eat poop were Poodles of all sizes.

The lead author of the study, veterinarian Benjamin Hart — who also directs UC’s Center for Animal Behavior — hypothesized that dogs inherited poop eating behavior from their wolf ancestors who did it as a way to keep the den area free of fecal-borne intestinal parasites.

His theory goes something like this:

Dogs usually eliminate away from where they sleep, but it’s conceivable that a pup or a sick wolf might mess up.

Feces can contain intestinal parasite eggs, but these eggs don’t usually hatch into infective larvae for a few days.

So, eating the feces right away is safe and cleans the living area of a potential future health risk.

Dr Hart argues this instinct may persist in modern dogs because of its strong historical survival value.

There are other instances where dogs eat poop to basically get rid of it.

Mother dogs, for instance, lick their puppies in the perineal region (under the tail) to stimulate urination and defecation, which they then clean up by swallowing — replenishing their own gut microbiome in the process.

Boxer Puppy Eating Poop

While people find it revolting, coprophagy is perfectly normal for the young of most species, the theory being it helps establish intestinal flora.

It’s also conceivable that some puppies eat poop as part of exploring the world, or during play.

They may even be copying their mother.

The attention coprophagy tends to attract from owners may serve to reinforce the behavior.

Poop Eating As A Sign Of Boredom In Boxers

Sometimes poop eating is seen in animals kept in barren environments.

Here, the behavior seems to arise out of boredom or a lack of adequate stimulation.

This explanation may fit certain pet dogs left alone in backyards for extended periods or not sufficiently challenged mentally or physically.

Poop Eating Due To Underfeeding Or Malabsorption

If a dog’s digestive system is not working properly, such that he’s having trouble extracting nutrition from the food he eats, then he may be undernourished.

In this case, he may eat poop in an attempt to obtain more nourishment, but also because his own waste is more appealing because it contains so much undigested food.

Poop Eating In Boxers Due To An Underlying Health Issue

Occasionally, poop eating may indicate an underlying health problem such as:

  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid problems
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Hydrochloric acid deficiency

EPI

Pancreatic insufficiency is a genetic condition that affects some young dogs but can also strike later in life.

It involves an inability to create many, or any, of the digestive enzymes usually made in the pancreas.

Symptoms include weight loss and diarrhea, in addition to poop eating.

Unable to access the nutrition in the food they eat, these dogs are generally treated by supplementing with digestive enzymes.

Where necessary, Dr Mercola Digestive Enzymes are our choice because they use human-grade, non-GMO ingredients, get their enzymes from natural sources (pig pancreas, pineapple and papaya) and avoid long lists of unnecessary additives.

Diabetes, Thyroid Issues, Cushing’s

Diabetes and thyroid issues can both cause increased appetite, potentially prompting poop eating in an attempt to satisfy the hunger.

Hydrochloric Acid Deficiency

Hydrochloric acid deficiency can occur as a result of ageing or poor diet.

This acid is used in the stomach to break down protein.

If food is passing undigested due to a lack of stomach acid, your Boxer will not be getting enough nutrition and so may poop eat in search of more.

Drugs Like Prednisone Can Cause Poop Eating

Steroids like prednisone can make a dog unnaturally hungry, hungry enough to eat whatever he can find.

Prednisone causes a raft of ill effects, particularly when given at high doses for for extended periods.

This is what prednisone did to my 18-month-old Boxer.

Poop Eating Due To Intestinal Parasites

Dogs with a super high “worm burden” may not receive all the benefit of the food they consume because the intestinal parasites are competing for that food.

There is some thought such dogs could be driven to eat poop as part of seeking more nutrition.

Why Does My Boxer Eat His Own Poop?

Because he can.

It might be that simple.

Dr Billinghurst points out that the only poop the average pet dog has available to him is either his own, that of another dog or a cat’s.

Dogs are far from the only animals known to consume their own excrement.

Chimpanzees and rabbits eat their own droppings as a way of extracting the nutrition that remains after passing through the gut only once.

Nothing goes to waste in nature!

Why Is My Boxer Eating Other Dog’s Poop?

For a start, dogs are not repelled by bodily waste the way humans are.

Quite the opposite: feces is one of the smells dogs are attracted to in their environment.

Scent glands on either side of the anus give each dog’s waste a particular odor, something akin to a unique “calling card”, if you like.

Similarly, wild animals use their droppings, as well as their urine, to mark territory and communicate.

So, dogs pay attention to poop.

If your Boxer is taking it a step further and not just sniffing but eating the poop of other dogs, it may be because he discovered that those feces smelled like food.

Thanks to processed diets overly rich in fat and high in protein, the waste excreted by the average pet dog can contain significant amounts of undigested material, making it a viable source of secondhand food.

If a dog develops a taste for a particular other dog’s stool, it may be worth considering whether that dog is producing poop that’s improperly digested and therefore more “food-like” i.e. the other dog may himself be malabsorbed or being fed a diet that’s not digesting well.

When Your Boxer Dog Eats Cat Poop

Something about the smell or taste of cat poop seems to attract dogs.

As with dogs, the excrement of domesticated cats is high in protein as a result of eating highly processed commercial pet food rather than a natural feline diet.

Boxer Dog Eating Poop Of Another Species

Wild dogs, and farm dogs, commonly eat the feces of other animals.

The droppings of herbivorous animals like horses, kangaroos, wombats and the like are just predigested vegetable matter.

It appeals to some dogs in the same way as regular grass.

The benefit to eating the grass in poop form, though, is that a dog can actually access the nutrition in the vegetable matter.

This is because the predigestion by the herbivore’s gut has already broken the bonds of the cellulose in the plant cell walls, which dogs can’t digest on their own.

Read more about grass eating in Boxer dogs here.

Can A Boxer Dog Get Sick From Eating Poop?

A healthy Boxer eating the poop of another healthy dog is unlikely to encounter much of a problem.

So, your dog eating his own poop or the poop of another dog in the same household is low risk, as long as that other dog is not medicated or ingesting chemical wormers or flea/tick treatments.

In that case, your dog would inadvertently be dosed with those drugs as they’re excreted in the other dog’s poop.

There are documented cases of dogs developing drug toxicosis from eating the poop of dogs on medication.

Some intestinal parasites can be spread by fecal-oral contact e.g. hookworms and roundworms

For these reasons, eating the poop of an unknown dog (or cat) with questionable health status and care is higher risk.

How To Deal With Poop Eating Behavior In Boxers

Though it’s normal and healthy (as long as the poop that’s eaten is not laced with drugs or other chemicals) many owners find poop eating behavior in their Boxers disturbing to the point that it can disrupt the relationship.

If you want to stop your Boxer eating poop, the best way is to limit access to feces by picking up all poop immediately, keeping kitty litter boxes out of range of your dog and avoiding the poop of other dogs when out on walks.

Training a strong “Leave it” command will help, paired with high value treats to distract and reward.

Then, address the underlying cause.

Try to identify which of the possible causes of poop eating seems to be driving the behavior in your dog’s case.

If your Boxer has developed a habit of eating poop in the backyard when left alone, give him something better to do, such as:

  • More attention or play
  • Exercise
  • Mental stimulation like training or games
  • A raw meaty bone to chew

If your Boxer is kibble-fed and eating poop, the first port of call is to fix the diet.

As Dr Billinghurst made clear above, it’s essential to provide your Boxer with a biologically-appropriate canine diet — i.e. a raw diet — that contains the full complement of nutrients he neeeds and is readily digestible.

Otherwise your dog will be driven to self-supplement.

Here is what’s wrong with kibble as a food for your Boxer.

A great many problems disappear when a dog is simply fed a fresh, raw diet instead of processed dog food.

Here is how to get started properly raw feeding your Boxer dog in 7 days.

Green tripe (the unbleached, untreated stomach lining of ungulates like sheep or cattle) is particularly useful in providing the enzymes and beneficial bacteria that a poop eating Boxer may be craving.

What Not To Do If Your Boxer Eats Poop

From the perspective of an animal that is an opportunistic scavenger by nature, poop eating is highly adaptive behavior.

Research on free-roaming dogs in developing countries that feed themselves by scavenging shows they even eat quite a lot of human feces.

The typical responses by owners trying to stop poop eating behavior usually fail dismally.

The UC Davis survey evaluated the effectiveness of 11 commercially available products (food additives, tablets etc) marketed as solving poop eating in dogs, generally by making the dog’s own poop taste foul.

The researchers found all but four of the products achieved a zero per cent success rate.

Of the four remaining, three worked in one per cent of cases and the other scored two per cent success.

The most effective approach was a “Leave it” command, but even it only worked for 4% of owners.

Other common but fruitless responses to poop eating in Boxers include:

  • Lacing stools with pepper
  • Adding papaya, yoghurt, cottage cheese etc to the dog’s food
  • Getting angry
  • Punishment by electronic or sound-emitting collar
  • Rubbing your dog’s nose in it

Especially in the case of young puppies eating stool, as long as you don’t overreact or make a big deal about poop and poop eating, the behavior will usually moderate itself.

Conclusion

Should you worry if your Boxer is eating poop?

Probably not, although it’s worth being aware of the range of potential causes.

Coprophagy is natural for dogs — particularly eating the droppings of herbivorous prey animals which form part of the diet of wild dogs like wolves.

Though owners understandably balk at the idea, feces is actually a source of valuable nutrition for your Boxer.

Kibble-fed dogs missing the enzymes and beneficial bacteria provided by a fresh, raw diet may have a particularly strong inclination to eat poop as they seek to make up for what their dry dog food lacks.

Eating poop will rarely be dangerous for a Boxer, but care should be taken to avoid feces likely to be contaminated with drugs or deworming and flea/tick chemicals.

This generally means it’s advisable to avoid letting your Boxer eat the feces of other dogs, cats horses and farmed livestock like cattle and sheep — unless they’re organically raised.

References

Beaver, B V, Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, 2010, p537-542

Billinghurst, Ian, Give Your Dog a Bone, Warrigal Press, 1993

Boze BGV. Correlates of coprophagy in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) as assessed by owner reportsJ Appl Companion Anim Behav. 2010;4(1):28-37.

Butler, J R A and du Toit J T, Diet of free-ranging domestic dogs in rural Zimbabwe: implications for wild scavengers on the periphery of wildlife reserves, Animal Conservation, Volume 5, Issue 1, p 29-37

Hart, B., Hart, L. A., Thigpen, A., Tran, A., & Bain, M. (2018). The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagy. Veterinary Medicine and Science4(2), 106-114. https://doi.org/10.1002/vms3.92

Horwitz, Debra, Dog Behavior Problems – Coprophagia, VCA Hospitals

Hutchins RG, Messenger KM, Vaden SL. Suspected carprofen toxicosis caused by coprophagia in a dogJ Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013;243(5):709-711

Kawczynska, Claudia, Why Do Dogs Eat Their Poop? The Bark, 2018

Langley, Liz, Why Do Animals — Including Your Dog — Eat Poop? National Geographic, 2015

Shadwick SR, Ridgway MD, Kubier A. Thyrotoxicosis in a dog induced by the consumption of feces from a levothyroxine-supplemented housemateCan Vet J. 2013;54(10):987-989