Coprophagia is the consumption of
from the Greek copros (feces) and phagein (eat). Many
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.
butterflies feed on a small lump of
feces lying on a
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
ancient Egypt, and the most ubiquitous being the
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
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
Muslims cite this behavior as a prime reason why they do not eat
pigs) and related species do not have the complicated
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
elephants eat the feces of their mother to obtain the necessary
for the proper digestion of the vegetation found on the savannah. When they are
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
and K, produced by bacteria in the gut.
Apes have been
observed eating horse
droppings for the salt.
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
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
- 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
- Because of the protein content of the feces (particularly cat feces), or
over-feeding, leading to large concentrations of undigested matter in the
- Due to assorted health problems, including:
- 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.
- 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.
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