Dogs sometimes do gross things and it isn’t too surprising if you find yourself asking the question ‘why do dogs eat boogers’? It can be puzzling and exasperating if you find your dog picking your boogers or eating its own boogers.
In this guide, we will discuss:
- 6 Tips to prevent your dog from eating boogers
- 11 Reasons why do dogs eat boogers
- And more…
Why Do Dogs Eat Boogers?
Dogs eat boogers because their sense of smell is strong and when they eat boogers they get to relive those scents. Dogs are scavengers so they mostly eat everything. Sometimes, a dog might lick or eat boogers to get owner’s attention. A bored dog will also do such gross things.
11 Reasons Why Do Dogs Eat Boogers?
1. Dogs have a strong sense of smell
According to the experts at Phoenix Veterinary Center, dogs have nearly 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses as compared to the 6 million receptors in human noses.
Dogs also have neophilia which means that they are attracted to new and interesting odors. Besides this, the part of their brain that is linked to deciphering scents is much more developed than that in humans.
This gives dogs the instinct to constantly lick, sniff, and taste new things.
A dog might eat boogers to relive the scent of the booger and even its taste. Most dogs not only eat their own boogers but also their human’s boogers.
This is the most common reason behind this gross behavior. And to humans this may seem gross, but to dogs it is natural.
Your dog will come up to you and lick your eye boogers or even nose snot. It helps your dog understand the taste and scent and that is the primary reason why dogs lick us in the morning upon waking up.
Also Read: 9 Reasons Why Do Dogs Lick Their Anus?
2.Scavenging instinct is natural
According to Dr. Jeff Nichol, dogs are natural scavengers. They are always drawn to rotting, putrefied, and other revolting items like boogers, cat feces, etc.
This natural instinct of scavenging combined with their powerful sense of smell helps dogs find stuff that humans fail to find.
Unfortunately, this behavior can get dogs into trouble because some things they eat can be toxic and many are known to cause intestinal blockage in your dog.
In addition to finding boogers, the scavenging instinct in dogs draws them to find chicken bones, food wrappers, dead birds, dried feces, etc. and eating these harmful things can lead to many health issues.
That is why you need to teach your dog the drop it or leave it command. If needed, work with a dog trainer to proof your dog’s ‘drop it’ because it can come in handy when it really matters.
We will discuss the Leave/Drop It command and how to teach it to your dog, in detail, later in this guide.
Also Read: 10 Tips and Techniques for Training your Dog
3.To get the owner’s attention
Dr.Jennifer Coates, DVM believes that dogs licking human’s boogers or their faces is a ploy they use for getting attention.
Of course, most dogs lick their owners as a way of showing affection. If your face happens to have sweat, food, boogers, or salt, then it is an added advantage for the dog.
Often, the booger licking may not be intentional – a dog mainly wants to get food. Dr. Coates states that this behavior comes from puppyhood when puppies lick their mom’s mouth to get her to regurgitate food. Pups then eat the food regurgitated by the mom dog.
Therefore, a dog licking a human’s face for boogers is a way of asking for food and simply to get the owner’s affection, love, and attention as well.
Dr. Coates assures pet parents that licking isn’t harmful for you and your dog as long as you don’t have these 30 Toxic Foods for Dogs on your skin.
If your dog’s licking is bothering you, ignore the behavior. Get up calmly and walk away. Soon your dog will stop licking boogers when it realizes you don’t reward them for it.
4. Self- grooming
Dogs lick their own nose boogers or snot because they mostly do not use their paws to wipe their noses.
Most dogs will clean their own noses with their tongues. They do so to groom themselves. Sometimes, they do use their paws to wipe their eyes and noses and later they might lick their paws clean as well.
In the process, they might eat their own body fluids which may be an unconscious act in itself.
According to Dr. Kelly Black, faculty coordinator of veterinary technology at Cedar Valley College in Lancaster, Texas, dogs with pica (the disorder of eating non-food items) often eat boogers.
Dogs with pica are even known to eat socks, pantyhoses, and hockey pucks. They may not even spare towels, wash cloths, or parts of their dog bed.
Many factors can cause pica in dogs. Dr. Black believes that nutritional deficiency, hormonal imbalance, thyroid, diabetes, and even genetics can contribute to booger eating and pica in dogs.
Dog breeds like Dachshunds and Labrador Retrievers are more prone to pica.
Dr. Carol Osborne of Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Ohio recommends blood and urine tests to determine the exact cause behind pica or booger eating in dogs. Once the cause is discovered, you and your vet can work out a solution to treat it. Over time, this will stop the booger-eating as well.
6. Electrolyte imbalance
A dog with an electrolyte imbalance will crave salty foods and boogers and nose snot are known to be salty. Such dogs typically have diseased kidneys or parathyroid glands that cause excess phosphate secretion.
Dogs with diabetes also have electrolyte imbalance and that too can trigger booger eating or feces eating (coprophagia) in dogs.
Electrolyte imbalance can also result in muscle weakness, lethargy, and an uneven heart-rate. If you suspect your dog has the above, please see your vet. Treating the underlying issue will also prevent booger-eating in dogs.
According to Dr. Tammy Hunter, DVM of VCA Hospitals, booger eating in dogs can be a result of malabsorption and bacterial overgrowth in the dog’s intestine. The bad or harmful bacteria in the gut prevent the nutrients from food from getting absorbed.
Not only does this result in diarrhea, some dogs show an increase in appetite and yet continue to lose weight. Since the dog is forever hungry, it might eat everything, including boogers or feces of other animals.
Blood and fecal tests can help show the exact bacteria in the intestine responsible for the malabsorption. Your vet can then start appropriate antibiotics. Most dogs respond well to treatment but some dogs with malabsorption might need special diets.
8. Learned behavior
Dogs often learn certain behaviors from fellow dogs and even humans. This is called social learning.For example, in a litter, a mommy dog will lick her puppies to clean them. Puppies then also lick and clean each other and often groom their siblings and littermates.
Dogs also learn through visual and scent cues. That is why they smell buttholes and urine marks left by other dogs on their walks. This gives them information about the other dog.
Therefore, a dog eating boogers is often a learned behavior that your pet may have picked from its littermates.
The taste and scent of the booger also gives your dog important information about the human’s health. A dog might also eat its own eye boogers to clean and groom itself just as its mother or dam has taught it.
Dogs with parasites – both internal and external – will also eat non food items like boogers.
Internal parasites or worms like tapeworms, roundworms, and pinworms can cause a dog to be hungry all the time. The worms eat up all of the dog’s nutrition and resultantly the dog loses weight.
Other signs of worms include dull coat, pot-bellied appearance, diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy.
To prevent and treat worms, your vet will prescribe a deworming medicine. You must also regularly deworm your dog/s as per the schedule given by your vet.
Animal behaviorist Kate Mornement states that dogs with anxiety tend to indulge in many odd behaviors depending upon the anxiety. These odd behaviors often include excessively licking themselves or eating boogers.
Anxiety can occur due to changes in environment, routine, and even from loud noises like thunderstorms and fireworks. Dr. Mornement mentions other signs of anxiety in dogs such as:
- Not settling
- Digging the yard
- Destroying furniture
- Chewing or licikng paws
She recommends methods like behavior modification training, the use of anti-anxiety medicines, and planning ahead to manage a pet’s anxiety. This can prevent booger-eating and other bad behavior in anxious dogs.
11. Isolation distress
Dogs are pack animals and most of them hate being left alone. They depend on their humans for everything – for food, grooming, and other daily care.
Resultantly, many dogs develop isolation distress when left alone and, in isolation, they feel the need to indulge in strange behaviors.
Isolation Distress is something that your dog normally does not do when you are around but seems to always do when you are gone. Some examples are digging, barking, chewing, urinating, etc.
Some dogs, when isolated, lick their paws to the point that they develop lick granulomas. A few dogs also eat feces or boogers. (In the next section, we will discuss ways to deal with isolation distress)
6 Tips to Stop your Dog Eating Boogers
There are some steps you can take to prevent this habit in your dog:
1. Teach it the ‘Leave it’ command
Here are the steps for teaching your dog the drop it or leave it command which can come in very handy if it starts eating boogers:
- Offer your dog a low-value toy – something he is interested in but not overly excited about. Allow your pet to play with the toy for a bit.
- Keep some treats handy. You will also need a clicker.
- Place the treat in front of your dog’s nose while it has the toy in its mouth.
- As soon as your dog drops the toy for the treat, mark the behavior by clicking. Then treat your dog.
- Let your dog eat the treat, then repeat the steps above by presenting it the toy again.
- Repeat the training over the next few days and also start using the command drop it or leave it.
- You must eventually get your dog to ‘drop’ the toy without the treats.
2. Limit your dog’s access to boogers
The best way to limit your dog’s booger-eating is to limit its access to boogers. If your dog eats its own eye boogers, then clean its eyes regularly. You can use special eye cleansing wipes or eye pads to clean its eye boogers.
3. Make sure your dog is up-to-date with its deworming
Follow the vet’s schedule regarding deworming. This can prevent many unwanted behaviors like coprophagia and booger eating.
4. Deal with isolation distress
There are ways to deal with isolation distress and prevent bad behaviors like feces eating or booger picking. The Humane Society of Silicon Valley recommends the following tips:
- Before you have to leave your dog alone, avoid spending too much time with it. Stop petting it or simply do not be in the same room all the time.
- Start leaving your pet alone for 5-10 minutes at a time daily. Then increase this duration.
- Crate train your dog. But make sure you crate it when you are at home and always start with a smaller duration first. Also, let your dog go potty before and after crating it.
- If needed, hire a pet-sitter to watch your dog or drop it at your friend/family.
5. Prevent nutritional deficiencies
Feed your dog nutritious meals to prevent hunger and subsequent bad behaviors like eating boogers. Speak to your vet about the right diet based on your dog’s breed, age, and activity levels..
6. Exercise your dog – mentally and physically
All dogs, regardless of their breed and age need exercise. Without exercise, they are bound to indulge in bad behaviors like destruction, licking excessively and even eating boogers. Take your pet out for a walk at least 2-3 times a day. At home, provide it with puzzles and mentally-stimulating activities to prevent boredom and anxiety.