There’s nothing more disgusting than going on a quiet country walk with your dog, only to turn around and see eating on something like a cow pat. My dog does this all the time and seems to have a bit of taste for cow manure, poop, or dung – whatever you want to call, it’s really gross.
Of all the things to eat, you would thing that cow pats would be quite low down the list, but apparently not for dogs. There must be something very appealing to them about a freshly laid cow poop… but what can it be?
Well, wonder no more because I decided to look into what it means, what science says, and whether it’s bad or safe for your dog to eat cow poop, including the possible risk of worms!
But before I get into the detail, here’s the quick answer to why dogs eat cow manure and why they are so attracted to it.
Why do dogs eat cow pats? The reasons dogs like to eat cow dung so much are wide and varied. The simplest answer is that they just like the smell and taste or cow poop. However, some dogs will also chew cow manure due to something missing in their diet or a health problem.
How common is it for dogs to eat cow poop?
Don’t think your dog is alone in having this gruesome habit. It’s actually quite a common condition and even comes with its own medical name; coprophagia.
In fact, in 2012, a researcher at the University of California said this regarding the findings of a study regarding coprophagia in dogs:
“The findings revealed that 16% of dogs sampled engaged in frequent conspecific coprophagy, defined as having been seen eating stools at least six times. Coprophagic dogs were more likely to be reported as greedy eaters than non‐coprophagic dogs. The coprophagy was overwhelmingly directed at fresh stools, defined as being no more than 2 days old.” (view study).
7 reasons why dogs eat cow pats
So, if you do have a dog who loves to eat cow poop, it’s not all the unusual, and it would appear that they prefer fresh cow manure too, rather than older poops! Below you can see all the possible reasons why your dog is eating cow dung and then some advice on how you might be able to prevent it.
1. Cow pats taste good!
Whilst our stomachs might turn at the thought of eating cow poop manure, for dogs, it’s an amazing taste and treat – it makes sense when you think about it.
The feces of other animals will contain great tasting snacks and will also have a great smell and texture that far outweighs any thoughts your dog might have about it being poop.
It might smell bad to you, but to dogs, cow poop has a stink that will attract them from quite a distance so your dog will actively seek it out.
This is particularly true when you consider what cows like to eat; it’s things like grass mainly, hay, and grain – then possibly things like almond hulls and citrus pulp. All things you’ve probably seen your dog eat before or can imagine them wanting to try.
Put those ingredients into one neat and smelly little poop package, and you have something that resembles a dog salad!
A dog’s sense of smell is said to be between 10,000 and 100,000 times better than ours. We have around 6 million smell receptors in our nose, dogs have around 300 million… so just think how appealing those cow pat puddings must smell to a dog!
2. To protect their pack
Dogs are said to still have many instincts left over from the ancestral days of being wolves and wild dogs, and this relates to the next possibility: Dogs like to eat cow manure as a way to protect their pack and younger relations.
This is referenced in the 2012 study I linked to earlier, with the following statement published with the research:
“A hypothesis is offered that coprophagy reflects a tendency inherited from the ancestral wolf to keep the den area free of faecal‐borne intestinal parasites that might be deposited in the den resting area and would typically have parasite ova that are not initially infective, but could develop infective larvae after 2 days. An evolved parasite defence strategy to consume fresh faeces in the rest area would be adaptive.”
When I read that, my view is that we have to seriously consider that cow poop consumption is simply part of your dog’s DNA relating to how they would have behaved in days gone by.
3. As investigative and scavenging behavior
Younger dogs and puppies will eat cow dung as way of investigating things. They are very similar to how human babies will want to put things in their mouth to see what they are, and puppies are the same.
There is also an element of scavenging behavior where puppies will often worry about where their next meal is coming from, trying to eat everything in sight before it gets taken away.
4. To replace nutrients or an enzyme deficiency
Dogs also like to eat cow pats and manure due to deficiencies in their diet. This can include things like a lack of nutrients or enzymes.
The reason this makes them eat cow poop is down to what the cows themselves eat. They will have a diet that is rich in enzymes and partially digested proteins because of what they graze on.
Not all dogs get these elements into their system, so their body will seek it out elsewhere.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence in the animal kingdom. For example, the American Kennel Club say this on their website on the topic:
“For some species, such as rabbits, eating fecal droppings is a totally normal way of obtaining key nutrients. In fact, if you prevent rabbits from doing this, they will develop health problems, and young ones will fail to thrive.”
Domestic dogs will also have this instinct which has developed over thousands of years of evolution.
5. To self-medicate themselves
Dogs will also turn to eating cow poop to make themselves feel better as a way of self-medication.
For example, dogs with parasites will often turn to poop to try to medicate themselves. Parasites will leach nutrients from your dog, and your dog might think it can replace those nutrients via cow manure, which will often be high in it.
6. Cow poop can look like a tasty treat
Once cow poop is all dried up and broken apart it can resemble certain dog snacks. No wonder it’s so appealing to eat!
Dogs are so food-orientated that once they lock on to the smell of cow poop then see some on the ground, it’s going to be very hard to convince them that’s it’s not a tasty dog treat. You can’t blame them for wanting to have a chew on the manure despite how gross it looks to us!
7. Your dog is just hungry
And finally, it might be just because your dog is hungry. Before you go anywhere with your dog where the chance of eating cow pats is high, make sure they’ve had a meal, or you take some alternative snacks with you.
Handy Hint: If your dog is also eating his own poop, here are things to put in his food to discourage the habit.
Is it safe for dogs to eat cow poop?
Is cow poop toxic to dogs?
This is a hard one to answer, because most of the time it will not be bad for your dog to eat a little bit of cow manure, and they should not suffer any adverse reactions. There’s nothing naturally occurring in cow pats that is toxic or dangerous to dogs.
However, there are still some risks, and I will start off with the one that is most alarming; ivermectin poisoning.
Ivermectin is a chemical found in worming treatment medicine given to cows. Scientists have found that ivermectin can stay in cow manure for up to 45 days after the worm treatment is administered.
If your dog eats cow manure, then it could hurt them. There is this small risk, and according to the UK animal charity, the Blue Cross, here’s what to consider:
“Small amounts of ivermectin pose a health threat to some breeds but most dogs will not be affected. Symptoms of ivermectin poisoning include dilated pupils, disorientation, lethargy and vomiting. Dogs showing any of these signs or known to be at risk should be seen by a vet immediately.”
Whilst it appears that the risk is low, it’s still important to consider. If your dog has diarrhea after eating cow poop then this could be the reason why, so get in touch with a vet immediately.
The Blue Cross go on to say that certain dog breeds are more at risk from eating cow manure:
“Any dog that consumes a large amount of cow poop containing the chemical could become very ill, but a percentage of dogs of certain breeds have a gene mutation which predisposes them to toxicity from ivermectin at low levels. These include collies, Shetland sheepdogs, Australian shepherds, Old English sheepdogs, long-haired whippets, merle Pomeranians and possibly other herding breeds as well as those with white feet.”
Can my dog get worms from eating cow pats?
There’s also the consideration that your dog could get worms from eating cow pats. For example, if the cow is not up to date with its worm treatment, those parasites could pass through the manure which is then ingested by a greedy dog. So yes, dogs can get worms from cow manure.
As well as possible ivermectin poisoning, there are other small risks that could mean eating cow poop is bad for your dog.
Other risks of harm
For example, there can be traces of salmonella and campylobacter in cow feces. Admittedly that sounds bad, but dogs are said to have quite robust gastrointestinal tracts, so infections are said to be few and far between.
You should also be wary when you see holes and flies around the cow pats. This could be a sign that there are parasites in the manure droppings which could lead to a bacterial infection.
The bottom line is this; I would try to stop my dog from eating cow poop as much as possible. Whilst statistically speaking the chances of them getting ill after eating a small bit of manure is slim, there is always a chance it could lead to a problem.
You certainly need to take action if your dog likes to eat cow manure. Stop it happening as soon as you can, and here are some tips on how to do so.
How to stop your dog eating cow pats
You will have already considered stopping going to walks where you might encounter lots of cow manure. It might not always be possible to avoid it completely though, so here are some short tips you could consider:
- Improve your dog’s diet: Your dog might be chewing the poop due to a nutritional deficiency, so make sure you change the diet appropriately.
- Keep the animals apart: If you keep cows, don’t let them run free in the same area that your dog has access to.
- Contaminate the poop: Cow owners can also try sprinkling cayenne pepper or similar onto the poop to turn your dog off. After a few days, the dog should get the message.
- And above all, if the poop eating becomes problematic then it could be sign of health issue such as parasites so you should seek a professional intervention.
When to call a vet
If you have any concerns, you should always consult with a vet. The notes in this guide are written by me, a dog lover and not a veterinary professional – everything you read here is based on my own online research and opinion.
What I would say is this though; if your dog’s poop eating appears to be problematic and way to regular to be dismissed, you should call your vet.
Everything in this guide is based on my personal opinion and research. You should always do your own due diligence when it comes to things like this and see if you agree that a little cow poop probably won’t harm your dog in most cases.
However, if it’s regular and in volume then it certainly is something you need to put a stop to reduce the chance of your dog coming to harm.
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