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Why does my dog eat poop? New book from Eleanor Spicer Rice explains

The back of a black and white corgi basset mix dog as she stares down a dirt road.
contributed
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John Bauer
Nelly waits for her people to come home in spring of 2024.

Eleanor Spicer Rice’s new book is Your Pets’ Secret Lives: The Truth Behind Your Pets’ Wildest Behaviors. She is a senior science editor at Verdant Word and an award-winning author with a Ph.D. in entomology.

According to author and entomologist Eleanor Spicer Rice, there’s a reason our pets have wild behavior. Her new book for kids is Your Pets' Secret Lives: The Truth Behind Your Pets' Behaviors.

Why does my dog eat poop?

On the KAXE Morning Show, the first question from co-host John Bauer was about why exactly his corgi eats poop.

“You’ll get into this feedback loop that’s almost an antidepressant loop between you and your cat.”
Eleanor Spicer Rice

Eleanor explained, “Your corgi is young and your corgi is smart and dogs can get worms in their intestines. When dogs with worms poop, they can release a worm egg packet.”

Worm egg packets look like cucumber seeds, said Rice. The baby worms can’t emerge or pass to a new host until their egg packet dries out. So, if the packet is consumed before 48 hours, the young worms die.

A man lies on the ground with his corgi nestled in the crook of his neck.
contributed
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John Bauer
Springtime of 2024, John Bauer hangs out with his best bud Nelly.

Because of this life cycle, poop-eating behavior in dogs is an evolved hygienic behavior. Dogs keep their habitat free of intestinal parasites by eating poop, thereby preventing the worms from reproducing and spreading.

Eating poop to promote hygiene — what a surprising result!

Why do dogs and cats eat grass?

Worms and other intestinal issues also explain why dogs and cats eat grass.

“It turns out a lot of animals eat grass. And what grass does in their guts is it acts as a net and it kind of weaves around and wraps up stuff that's in their gut,” she said.

Then, when the animal vomits or poops out the grass, it brings all the parasites or undigested items with it.

Spinning and spinning

John’s dog JoJo, like many dogs, turns around and around before relieving herself.

Ember the cat comforts her owner, who had just received bad news about a family member. Ember is a grey cat and she is sitting on the chest of her owner, who is sitting in an armchair.
Charlie Mitchell
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KAXE
Ember the cat comforts her owner, who had just received bad news about a family member.

”When dogs stop and find their spot, they actually align their bodies with the north-south axis of the Earth’s magnetic field,” Rice said.

This internal compass may explain why dogs especially are good at navigation.

We connect with our pets

As the conversation turned to cats, Eleanor explained that humans have evolved alongside cats for 10,000 years. “They have trained us to touch them. They can recognize when you are sad, and they come up and just bump you.”

A cat sits with paws crossed on a colorful cushion.
Heidi Holtan
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KAXE
Aiko knows when something is wrong with her humans, summer of 2024.

Eleanor explained that interacting with our pets releases oxytocin in our bodies. Oxytocin acts as a bonding hormone and is released when mothers bond with their children, when we fall in love or form social bonds. So, when your cat bumps you and you touch or look at it in response, your body releases oxytocin, which results in increased relaxation, trust, and emotional stability.

As the oxytocin makes you feel better, the cat’s body also releases oxytocin in response. “You’ll get into this feedback loop that’s almost an antidepressant loop between you and your cat,” Eleanor explained. (According to research, most domestic cats will choose social interaction with their owners over food!)

Pets still help us after death

“Grief of losing your pet, or family member is real," Eleanor said. When she lost her dog Lucy, she was researching a book about microbes. Through her research, she learned that dogs share beneficial microbes with their owners, which can protect us from things like asthma and obesity.

These microbes live on in us long after our pets pass away. “To me, it’s so wonderful to think that I’m carrying living pieces of my dog on my body forever and it makes me happy to think that she’s still there helping me even though she’s gone,” Eleanor said.

Listen to the full conversation above.

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Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.