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In many rural communities, the presence of cow poop is a normal part of daily life. Dogs, too, often go hand-in-hand with ranching and agricultural communities.
While we humans often think of cow manure as gross (or a good fertilizer at best), our four-legged friends may have a different viewpoint on it!
Dogs tend to love “gross” things, and cow poop, goose poop, and other animal feces are up there on that list. Apart from being gross, consuming cow feces could potentially be a health concern for some dogs. But why exactly do dogs eat cow poop?
Dogs may eat cow poop because it smells or tastes good to them, they are bored or curious about the cow patty, or just because they are hungry, and the cow poop is what’s available. Dogs who consume cow manure may be at risk for health issues, though serious risks are usually rare.
Below we’ll discuss possible reasons why a dog may eat cow poop, as well as information on why it’s probably not a good idea to let your dog eat cow manure.
We’ll also discuss ways to prevent your pup from consuming cow patties, and why it’s risky to let your dog eat cow poop, even if there may be minor nutritional benefits to it.
5 Reasons Why Dogs Eat Cow Poop
Dogs may eat cow poop for one of the following reasons:
1. It Smells And Tastes Good
The most likely reason that your dog is eating cow poop is because it smells or tastes good to your dog. As gross as it seems to use, dogs have a much more powerful sense of smell (up to 100x time more powerful than a human’s sense of smell) and they may smell something within the manure that smells quite tasty.
I know, it’s gross to us but we’ve already talked extensively about how dogs love to lick and eat gross things from the ears and eyes of their canine companions to even more surprising things.
Dogs are also naturally curious, and they often explore with their mouths to see what’s edible and what’s not. If your pup comes across a fresh or dry cow patty, they may smell, lick, and then take a tiny bite of it to see if it’s worth eating or not.
If they’ve found that it tastes good and is worth eating, they’ll probably happily swallow it down unless you step in and stop them first!
Your dog may also roll in it or use it as a chew toy if it’s one of the drier piles of cow manure.
2. Your Dog Is Bored
Dogs require both physical and mental enrichment to tire them out, and some dogs require more than others.
Younger dogs, high energy dogs, or breeds of dogs that tend to be more prone to needing an excessive amount of activity (such as the German Shepherd or Australian Shepherd) are more likely to engage in activities that bring them any kind of relief from their boredom and high energy levels, like eating cow poop or chewing on acorns they’ve found.
Chewing on and eating cow poop may be just the thing your pup has decided they need to get over their boredom. Some dogs will even play with dried out cow poop just like any of their other toys!
So, if you find that your pup seems to be chewing on and consuming the cow poop in a way that indicates it’s due to more than just the poop smelling or tasting good, then it’s likely your dog is eating it out of boredom. Providing them with an alternative toy (just be sure they don’t also eat the toy!) or exercise will reduce their interest in eating cow poop.
3. Your Dog Is Hungry
If you are out on the trail and your pup comes across a pile of cow poop and eats it, it could be because your dog is hungry, and the cow poop is the first thing that really smells and tastes like something they could eat.
This is especially true if you’ve been hiking for a while, or if you have a younger dog or one who is high energy. Similar to people, dogs also require nutrition upkeep while engaging in heavy physical activity and if those needs are not met, they may look elsewhere for a nutritious pick-me-up.
Depending on what their diet is, cow poop may also contain a lot of byproducts that smell and taste good to a dog, so it is likely they may identify it as a food source, especially if they are hungry. Ensuring that your dog is adequately fed in relation to the intensity of the physical activity you are expecting to engage in with them will reduce the chances of them looking for a quick snack while out and about.
4. Your Dog Is Displaying Scavenging Behavior
Unlike their wolf ancestors who mostly rely on hunting for food, dogs have developed more of a scavenging or foraging behavior when they seek out foods. Dogs may forage or scavenge for foods throughout the day, and eat something they consider food whenever they find it, and this includes cow manure.
This can often fall in line with your dog being hungry, but can also be a result of curiosity, boredom, or just a natural inclination that your dog has to take a quick bite out of something they found, whether they are hungry or not. This type of behavior is what can sometimes lead to obese pups!
Scavenging behavior is more likely to be seen in dogs who have come from a situation where they were semi-feral, or where they did not receive enough access to resources previously. They may decide that they need to eat whenever and wherever they come across something edible, with the mindset of “just in case”.
If you have multiple dogs out on a hike you may also see this behavior as the cow poop as now become a valuable resource and one or more of the dogs may gulp it down before another has the chance to claim it.
All of this is normal behavior for dogs, but this can occasionally be a result of an underlying anxiety or behavioral issue and may be seen with other objects (whether they are edible or not) so if you have been seeing this type of behavior frequently it’s best to schedule a consultation with a reputable dog trainer or your veterinarian.
5. Your Dog Has A Nutrient Deficiency
A nutrient deficiency would be the least likely reason as to why your pup is eating cow poop, but it is still a possibility. Dogs require a specific amount of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fats on a daily basis and if those levels are not met, your pup may start feeling unwell.
Dogs with a nutrient deficiency may consume all kinds of “non-food” items to try and make up for the lost nutrient, and this includes cow manure which can contain fiber, potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus.
While cow manure does contain certain nutrients that a dog also needs, the levels found within both fresh and dry cow poop is unlikely to make a real difference for your pup and may actually be more harmful than beneficial.
Dogs with underlying health or behavioral issues may also zealously consume piles of cow patties. If you suspect your pup’s consumption of cow manure is due to an underlying health issue, schedule an appointment with your vet.
What Your Dog Eating Cow Poop Probably ISN’T
The reasons listed above are the most likely reasons why your pup is eating cow manure. While there is a small possibility that there is another, very specific reason your pup is consuming cow feces (such as if they were taught to eat cow poop and received a reward for it), it’s unlikely your dog is eating cow poop for any other reason.
This includes the idea that a dog can “self-medicate” by eating cow manure, or that they are “protecting their pack” by consuming cow patties.
Dogs can and do self-medicate (especially for upset stomachs and the consumption of grass) but it is highly unlikely your dog is eating cow manure to self-medicate for an upset stomach. The exception to this is if the consumption is due to a nutrient deficiency, but that is also very rare and there are better nutrient sources a dog would seek out first before choosing to eat the cow poop to replenish those nutrients.
And while both dogs and wolves may consume their own feces, they are unlikely to do the same with cow manure. There is evidence that wolves will consume feces in a den area to prevent the hatching of parasite larvae and stop the spread of parasites, however there is minimal evidence that domesticated dogs will do this with their own feces, let alone with the feces of another species.
Can Cow Poop Make My Dog Sick?
Yes, the consumption of cow poop can make your dog sick. While occasionally consuming cow poop in small amounts may not cause much of an issue for your pup, the potential risks of something more serious happening are there.
Cow poop makes a great plant fertilizer, and mushrooms can frequently be found underneath many piles of cow patties. While the mushrooms may not exactly be toxic if your dog only gets a small taste of one, in high doses they could potentially make your dog very ill, especially if they have an underlying condition. Digestive upset, neurological issues, seizures, and body tremors are all possible side effects of your pup getting into the mushrooms underneath a cow patty.
Cow manure can also contain a large variety of parasites and harmful bacteria, all of which pose a serious threat to your pup. While dogs can usually handle some small amounts of bacteria like e. Coli, in large amounts it can be devastating to their digestive systems. Worms and other parasites within the cow feces can also cause damage to your dog’s internal systems.
The cow may also have a disease that could potentially cause a risk to your dog, or the cow may have eaten something toxic and passed it along in its feces. In many rural locations within the United States where ranching is a way of life, it is also not unlikely that toxic or poisonous substances were purposely placed near cattle (including in their feces) in an attempt to cull feral dog populations or to get rid of a problem dog that won’t stop bothering the cattle.
While situations of this type of rare (and there are groups actively working in several states to make this practice illegal), the risks of your pup unintentionally eating something dangerous along with the cow poop is too great a risk, thus preventing your dog from eating the cow manure is probably the safest course of action.
If your pup has recently eaten cow poop and begins showing signs of digestive upset, neurological issues, lethargy, or other signs of illness, get them to your vet promptly.
How Do I Get My Dog To Stop Eating Cow Poop?
There are a variety of ways in which to stop your dog from eating cow poop. The easiest way to stop your dog from eating cow manure is to prevent access to the cow manure in the first place.
You can do this by keeping them on leash and away from cow poop while out on the trails in areas where cattle are allowed to free range or choosing to recreate in an area where cattle are not permitted.
If you yourself live with cows, then you can work to keep your pup away from any areas in which the cattle congregate and there are large piles of feces or use secure fencing and enclosures to keep your pup away from compost piles that contain cow manure.
If you have a working dog, obviously they’ll need to be around the cattle and most of the time they’ll probably be too focused on their job to worry about eating any cow poop but if you do find that they tend to scoop up a bite or two, you can also teach them the “Leave It” and “Drop It” cues. These cues are useful for a variety of things (like stopping your dog from eating lizards, which are also often found on farms), and are easy to teach.
To teach “Leave It”, you can start by placing a piece of food on the floor and then stand right next to it. As your dog attempts to pick up the piece of food, you can cover it with your foot and say “Leave It”.
After your dog backs away, remove your foot and if they attempt to get the food again, repeat the “Leave It” cue and step over the treat again. As soon as your dog does not attempt to immediately go towards the piece of food on the ground, praise and reward them with a treat from your hand before picking up the piece of food on the ground.
Alternatively, you can also hold a piece of food in the palm of your hand and hold it out to your dog. If your dog attempts to take it from your hand, quickly close your hand and say “Leave It”.
Once your dog stops immediately going towards your hand when you open it, praise and reward them with the treat. Repeat this frequently, gradually ramping up the difficulty of what you are asking your dog to leave alone, and eventually you’ll be able to utilize it in the presence of cow manure.
Because cow poop is such a high value “reward”, it may take a lot of practice before you can test it out in the real world. Make sure you are bringing lots of tasty treats along on your outing with your dog so that you can reward them heavily when they leave the cow poop alone!
If you’re having trouble putting this together, this video can help explain the process as well:
The ”Drop It” cue may also be beneficial if you have a pup who is prone to picking things up a little too quickly for you to cut them off with a “Leave It”, or if you have your dog off leash and don’t catch them in time before they’ve already got the poop in their mouth.
To teach “Drop It”, you can set up the situation by playing with your pup using one of their favorite toys. This works especially well if you are playing Tug of War.
Play with your dog for a few minutes, and then stop tugging or playing, but still keep a hold on the toy. Your pup may try to continue to play, but just stay calm and still. As soon as your pup relaxes their hold and releases the toy from their mouth, praise and reward them with more play time, or even a treat.
Repeat this several times, and once your pup is relaxing their mouth almost as soon as you stop moving, start saying “Drop It” just before they release their grip. Over time and with repeated practice, your pup will learn that the verbal cue “Drop It” means he needs to let go of whatever he has in his mouth.
As you practice with your pup and they are immediately dropping the toy upon hearing the verbal cue, you can move up to using dog treats and dog food with the “Drop It” cue.
While you may not have the opportunity to practice this cue with cow poop (unless you live on a farm or have access to fresh cow poop), practicing it repeatedly at home with various high value food items or toys will help instill the cue in your dog’s mind so that when you are out on a hike and your dog happens to come across and try to eat some cow dung, there’s a higher chance of your dog dropping it on cue.
The use of an eCollar or any other type of punishment-based training technique to stop your dog from eating cow poop is not recommended as there can be severe unintended consequences as a result of these methods that are almost impossible to prevent.
Are There Any Benefits To My Dog Eating Cow Poop?
There are not really any benefits to your dog consuming cow poop, and the risks outweigh any minor benefit that might exist when it comes to fiber or nutrient value of the poop.
Even if the cow is on an organic, grass-fed diet there is still a risk for parasite and bacteria transmission, in addition to other external toxins or poisons.
The safer thing to do would be to supplement your dog’s diet with dog-friendly vegetables, fruits, grains, and proteins that can add fiber and other nutrients to their diet that their regular dog food may be missing.
Your veterinarian or a certified pet nutritionist can help you determine if your dog needs any additional supplements.
If you live in a more rural community, chances are that you and your pup will come across cow poop at some point. In most cases, your dog may attempt to eat the cow manure if they find it smells or tastes good, or because they are bored and looking for something to do.
Rarely is it because of a nutritional deficiency or some other underlying health or behavioral issue. There are many dogs that are eager to eat just about anything simply because they like to eat.
For the most part, the risks outweigh the potential benefits of your dog consuming cow poop, so it’s better to either prevent them from eating it in the first place or teaching them something like “Leave It” to keep your pup happy, healthy, and safe.