- Feeding on excrement
- The coprophagous dog was always hungry.
Coprophagia is the consumption of feces, from the Greek copros (feces) and phagein (eat). Many animal species 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, usually as a manifestation of psychiatric illness or being used in some sexual paraphilic practices.
Evolved CoprophagiaCoprophagous insects consume and redigest the feces of large animals; these feces contain substantial amounts of semi-digested food. (Herbivore digestive systems are especially inefficient.) The most famous feces-eating insect is the dung-beetle and the most ubiquitous is the fly.
Pigs are most commonly associated with eating not only their own dung, but also that of other animals and humans.
Capybara, rabbits, guinea pigs and other related species do not have a complex 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 eaten.
Young elephants, pandas, koalas, and hippos eat the feces of their mother to obtain the bacteria required to properly digest vegetation found on the savanna and in the jungle. When they are born, their intestines do not contain these bacteria (they are completely sterile). Without them, they would be unable to get any nutritional value from plants.
Gorillas eat their own feces and the feces of other gorillas.
Hamsters eat their own droppings, which are thought to be a source of vitamins B and K, produced by bacteria in the gut. Apes have been observed eating horse feces for the salt content. Monkeys have been observed eating elephant feces. Coprophagia also has been observed in the naked mole rat.
Theories on dogs
Coprophagia is a behavior often observed in dogs. Hofmeister, Cumming, and Dhein (2001) wrote that this behavior in dogs has not been well-researched, and they are currently preparing a study. In a preliminary paper, they write that there are various hypotheses for this behavior in canines, although none have been proven:
- To obtain attention from their caretakers.
- From anxiety, stress, or upon being punished for bad behaviors.
- They had been punished for having defecated in the past, and attempt to clean up out of fear of being punished again.
- From boredom.
- In an attempt to clean up in crowded conditions.
- Mimicry of behavior observed when their caretakers pick up feces (allelomimetic behavior). This is highly improbable because the behavior has also been observed in environments where caretakers never picked up the dog's (or other's) 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 offspring's 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 to their pups
- 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:
- Because they are hungry, such as when eating routines are changed, food is withheld, or nutrients are not properly absorbed.
- Carnivores may sometimes eat or roll in the feces of their prey to ingest and exude scents which mask their own.
Some veterinarians recommend adding meat tenderizer to dogfood, as this makes the feces taste excessively bad to dogs. Several companies produce food additives that can also be added to the animal's food to make feces taste bad. Often, these food additives will contain Capsicum Oleoresin which gives off a repugnant odor making the fecal matter undesirable to the dog.
Due to the attraction of dogs to their own feces, a popular Chinese idiom states "A dog cannot change its habit of eating feces", which usually refers to a bad habit that is difficult to correct.
Sexual aspectsCoprophagia is extremely uncommon in humans. It is generally thought to be the result of the paraphilia known as coprophilia. Similar risk of classification can apply to related sexual fetishes, such as analingus or inserting an object into the mouth that recently has been in the anus (see ass to mouth). Coprophagia is also sometimes depicted in pornography, usually under the terms "scat" or "shitplay" or even "kaviar".
Medical aspectsFrom the medical literature, coprophagia has been observed in a small number of patients with dementia and/or schizophrenia and depression.
Consuming other people's feces carries the risk of contracting diseases spread through fecal matter, such as Hepatitis A, Hepatitis E, pneumonia, and influenza. Coprophagia also carries a risk of contracting intestinal parasites. Vaccinations are generally recommended for those who engage in this practice.
Lewin (2001) reports that "... consumption of fresh, warm camel feces has been recommended by Bedouins as a remedy for bacterial dysentery; its efficacy (probably attributable to the antibiotic subtilisin from Bacillus subtilis) was confirmed by German soldiers in Africa during World War II."
Cultural aspectsPunk musician and performance artist GG Allin often engaged in coprophagia during his performances.
- PMID 11600805
- . Accessed November 17, 2005.
- PMID 8789509
- King County, Washington, Animal Control Section. "Eating His Own or Other Animal Feces."
- Why Does My Dog Eat Feces? - Theresa A. Fuess, Ph.D, College of Vet Medicine
- Coprophagia: Effective Treatment for Dogs Eating Feces
- Coprophagia in the Canine - Erik Hofmeister; Melinda Cumming, DVM PhD; Cheryl Dhein, DVM, MS, DACVIM; Douglas Island Veterinary Service; detailed preliminary results of study of behavior and prevention in dogs
- Rat care guide
- Break.com - Video of Coprophagia by a Gorilla
- Yesterday's Food Will Become Tomorrow's Food Dr David Ryde MB BS FRCP
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