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As a dog owner, it can often feel like no item or substance is off-limits to your curious canine. From socks and toys to leftover food, your dog might seem willing to eat anything. Unfortunately, this curiosity can sometimes lead them to less appetizing items such as insects, rabbit droppings, or cat feces. Dogs can come across cat poop in a variety of situations such as during walks, backyard exploration, or even while sharing living spaces with a feline friend. It’s essential to understand the potential risks associated with this behavior and to know what steps to take if it happens.

Is Cat Poop Dangerous for Dogs?

In short, yes, cat poop can be harmful to dogs. While it’s not always detrimental, it carries a risk of causing health issues, and it’s best to prevent your dog from indulging in this unsavory habit.

Why Do Dogs Eat Cat Poop?

Coprophagia, or the consumption of feces, is a behavior observed in approximately one fifth of domestic dogs 1. This seemingly repugnant practice can be traced back to the habits of their wild counterparts, and may even be an evolutionary remnant. Wild canids have been noted to eat feces as a territorial behavior, and mother dogs might consume their puppies’ excrement to protect them from parasites – a practice called den sanitation. However, these specific motivations aren’t as applicable to our domestic pets.

Research suggests that dogs might indulge in coprophagia for various reasons, including recuperating lost nutrients, garnering attention from their owners, or dealing with stress and anxiety. Some dogs might consume feces to supplement their diet with nutrients they failed to absorb during digestion, much like humans take vitamins. Other dogs may eat feces as an attention-seeking behavior, especially if this behavior has received an emotional response from the owner before. Finally, stress or anxiety, often exacerbated by harsh punishments, could prompt dogs to eat their own poop as an attempt to hide the evidence of what they perceive as wrong behavior. Importantly, coprophagia is rarely indicative of any serious health disorder or deficiency. It’s typically harmless, albeit unappetizing to us, and may simply be a remnant of their ancestors’ practices.

What Variables Influence How Dangerous Cat Feces Are to Dogs?

The danger presented by ingested cat poop can depend on several variables. These factors may include the general health and immune status of your dog, the amount of feces consumed, and the level of pathogens present in the feces. Dogs with compromised immune systems may be more susceptible to developing illness after consuming cat feces.

The danger of cat feces for dogs lies primarily in the potential for disease transmission. Cat feces can contain various pathogens, like bacteria, viruses, and parasites, some of which are transmissible to dogs. The most common parasite found in cat poop that can harm dogs is Toxoplasma gondii, causing toxoplasmosis 2. The parasites’ eggs, passed through cat feces, can survive in the environment for long periods, posing a risk to dogs if ingested.

Symptoms to Watch Out For

It’s crucial to keep an eye out for symptoms that might indicate your dog is unwell after ingesting cat feces. Some signs may not be immediately apparent, but continuous observation and prompt action are key. Here are some symptoms to look out for:

  • Gastrointestinal Issues: These are usually the first signs that your dog might have ingested something harmful. Symptoms can include diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Your dog might also display signs of abdominal discomfort or pain.
  • Lethargy: Dogs feeling unwell often show decreased energy levels. They may sleep more than usual, be less enthusiastic about walks or playtime, and generally appear uninterested in their surroundings.
  • Muscle Weakness and Coordination Problems: In severe cases, especially with diseases like toxoplasmosis, dogs may exhibit muscle weakness and coordination problems. They may stumble, have difficulty getting up, or even show signs of paralysis.
  • Breathing Difficulties: If your dog is struggling to breathe, this could indicate a severe problem. Panting, wheezing, or labored breathing should not be ignored and warrant immediate veterinary attention.
  • Seizures: Another severe symptom related to diseases like toxoplasmosis or other potential neurological impacts is seizures. These can manifest as sporadic twitching, full-body convulsions, or loss of consciousness.
  • Fever: Fever can be a sign of infection or illness in dogs. If your dog feels unusually warm to the touch, is panting excessively, or appears lethargic, it might have a fever.
  • Eye Abnormalities: In some cases, especially with toxoplasmosis, dogs may display inflammation or other abnormalities in their eyes. This can result in redness, swelling, discharge, or apparent discomfort.
  • Weight Loss: If your dog experiences ongoing diarrhea or loss of appetite, this could eventually lead to noticeable weight loss.

If your dog shows any of these symptoms after consuming cat feces, it’s important to contact your vet promptly. They can guide you on the next steps to ensure your dog’s health and safety.

When Should I Contact a Professional?

If your dog has consumed cat feces and begins showing signs of illness, it’s important to contact your vet promptly. Depending on the symptoms and their severity, your vet might recommend specific treatments or tests to ensure your dog’s health.

Keep in Mind: Dogs and Cat Poop

While the occasional consumption of cat feces by dogs may not always result in significant health issues, it’s a behavior that should be discouraged due to potential risks. Understanding these risks and being able to recognize the symptoms of illness can help ensure your canine companion’s well-being. Remember to contact your vet if your dog shows signs of sickness after ingesting cat poop.

  1. B.L. Hart, Behavioural defences in animals against pathogens and parasites: parallels with the pillars of medicine in humans. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. [Biol].36, 3406-3417 (2011).

  2. Toxoplasma gondii infections in dogs: 2009-2020, (2023).

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Dogs might eat cat poop due to a variety of reasons, including nutritional deficiencies, curiosity, or boredom. It’s crucial to provide a balanced diet and plenty of mental stimulation to help curb this behavior. It can, depending on the pathogens present in the feces and the dog’s immune status.  Chronic infections or severe cases of illness can potentially lead to long-term health problems.

  • You can use strategies like maintaining a clean yard and litter box, using deterrent products, or even training commands to discourage this behavior

  • If you catch your dog in the act, try to remove any remaining feces from their mouth without risking a bite. Monitor your dog for any signs of illness and contact your vet if needed.

  • It can, depending on the pathogens present in the feces and the dog’s immune status.  Chronic infections or severe cases of illness can potentially lead to long-term health problems.

About the Writer
Dan Greco , Dog Dad

Having been a dog dad for 5 years, I know how hard it is to make sure your dog gets the right nutrients and stays away from hazardous foods. With the help of a veterinarian who specializes in nutrition, I created this blog to help dog owners quickly access food information they need.

photo of vet holding a pup
About the Contributor
Dr. Hillary Wolfe , Veterinarian & Certified Food Therapist

Dr. Wolfe holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Kansas State University and holds nutrition certifications from the NAVC and CIVT. Her business, Tula Veterinary Nutrition, hosts online courses that teach owners how to cook for their pet for optimal health and longevity. Follow her on Instagram at @doctorwolfe.dvm for dog nutrition tips, recipes and insights.