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Coprophagia

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Coprophagia is the consumption of feces, from the Greek copros (feces) and phagein (eat). Many animal species have evolved to practice coprophagia; other species do not normally consume feces but may do so under unusual conditions. Only in rare cases is it practiced by humans.

Evolved coprophagia

Two butterflies feed on a small lump of feces lying on a rock. Two butterflies feed on a small lump of feces lying on a rock.

Coprophagous insects consume and redigest the feces of large animals; these feces contain substantial amounts of semi-digested food. (Herbivore digestive systems are especially inefficient.) Many species exist, the most famous probably being the scarab, sacred in ancient Egypt, and the most ubiquitous being the fly.

Pigs, like the above insects, will eat the feces of herbivores that leave a significant amount of semidigested matter. In certain cultures it was common for poor families to collect horse feces to feed their pigs. Pigs are also known to eat their own feces and even human feces as well. However, domesticated pigs should not be allowed to eat any sort of feces, as this contributes to the risk of parasite infection. Muslims cite this behavior as a prime reason why they do not eat pork.

Rabbits, cavies (guinea pigs) and related species do not have the complicated ruminant digestive system. Instead they extract more nutrition from grass by giving their food a second pass through the gut. Soft caecal pellets of partially digested food are excreted and generally consumed immediately. They also produce normal droppings, which are not re-eaten.

Young elephants eat the feces of their mother to obtain the necessary bacteria for the proper digestion of the vegetation found on the savannah. When they are born, their intestines do not contain these bacteria. Without them, these elephants would be unable to get any nutritional value from plants.

Hamsters eat their own droppings; this is thought to be a source of vitamins B and K, produced by bacteria in the gut. Apes have been observed eating horse droppings for the salt. Monkeys have been observed to eat elephant droppings.

Cures for Animals

Several companies produce food additives that can be added to the troublesome animal's food to make its feces taste excessively bad.

Theories on Dogs

Coprophagia is a behavior sometimes observed, with considerable disgust, by dog owners. Hofmeister, Cumming, and Dhein (2001) write that this behavior in animals has not been well-researched, and they are (as of this writing) preparing a study. In a preliminary online paper, they write that there are various theories explaining why animals consume other animals' feces. According to various theories—none proven or disproven—dogs might do this:

  • To get attention from their owners.
  • From anxiety, stress, or having been punished for bad behaviors.
  • From boredom.
  • In an attempt to clean up in crowded conditions.
  • When dogs observe their owners picking up feces, and imitate this behavior (allelomimetic behavior). This is highly improbable because the behaviour has also been observed in environments where owners never picked up the dog's (or other) feces.
  • Because puppies taste everything and discover that feces are edible and, perhaps, tasty, especially when fed a high fat content diet.
  • Because dogs are, by nature, scavengers, and this is within the range of scavenger behavior.
  • To prevent the scent from attracting predators, especially mother dogs eating their offsprings' feces.
  • Because the texture and temperature of fresh feces approximates that of regurgitated food, which is how canine mothers in the wild would provide solid food.
  • Because of the protein content of the feces (particularly cat feces), or over-feeding, leading to large concentrations of undigested matter in the feces.
  • Due to assorted health problems, including:
    • Pancreatitis
    • Intestinal infections
    • Food allergies, creating mal-absorption
  • Because they are hungry, such as when eating routines are changed, food is withheld, or nutrients aren't properly absorbed.

Another theory proposes that carnivores sometimes eat the feces of their prey in order to ingest and exude scents which camouflage their own.

References

  • Lewin, Ralph A. (2001). "More on Merde". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 44: 594-607.
  • Hofmeister, Erik, Melinda Cumming, and Cheryl Dhein (2001). "Owner Documentation of Coprophagia in the Canine". Accessed November 17, 2005.
  • Wise, T.N., and R.L. Goldberg (1995). "Escalation of a fetish: coprophagia in a nonpsychotic adult of normal intelligence". J. Sex Marital Ther. 21 (4): 272-5.

External links


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