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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, usually as a manifestation of psychiatric illness or as part of a sexual ritual.
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.) The most famous feces-eating insect is dung-beetle and the most ubiquitous is the fly.
Pigs are most commonly associated with eating not only their own dung, but those of other animals and humans.
Rabbits, cavies 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 eaten.
Young elephants, pandas, koalas, and hippos eat the feces of their mother to obtain the necessary bacteria for the proper digestion of the vegetation found on the savannah 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; this is 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. Monkeys have been observed to eat elephant feces. Coprophagia has also been observed in the naked mole rat.
Theories on dogs
Coprophagia is a behavior sometimes observed in dogs. Hofmeister, Cumming, and Dhein (2001) wrote that this behavior in dogs has not been well-researched, and are currently preparing a study. In a preliminary paper, they write that there are various hypotheses for this, although none have been proven:
- To get attention from their owners.
- From anxiety, stress, or having been 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.
- Imitation of behavior observed when their owners pick up feces (allelomimetic behavior). This is highly improbable because the behavior 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 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.
- 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:
- Intestinal infections
- Food allergies, creating mal-absorption
- 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 camouflage their own.
Some veterinarians recommend putting meat tenderizer in dogfood, since 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.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Due to the attraction of dogs to their feces, a popular Chinese idiom goes "A dog cannot change its habit of eating feces", which usually refers to a bad habit that is hard to correct.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Coprophagia is extremely uncommon in humans. It is generally thought to be the result of the paraphilia known as coprophilia, although it is only diagnosable in extreme cases where it disturbs one's functioning. Similar risk can apply to related sexual practices, such as anilingus or inserting an object into the mouth that has recently been in the anus (see ass to mouth). Coprophagia is also sometimes depicted in pornography, usually under the terms "scat" or "shitplay".
Consuming other people's feces carries the risk of contracting diseases spread through fecal matter, such as Hepatitis A, Hepatitis E, pneumonia, and influenza. Vaccinations are generally recommended for those who engage in this practice. Consuming one's own feces could have potentially harmful consequences as the bowel bacteria are not necessarily safe to ingest, though it is not as risky as eating a partner's feces.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
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."
- Lewin, Ralph A. (2001). "More on Merde". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 44 (4): 594-607. PMID 11600805
- 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. PMID 8789509
- Baker, D. J., Valenzuela, S., & Wieseler, N. A. (2005). Naturalistic Inquiry and Treatment of Coprophagia in One Individual: Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities Vol 17(4) Dec 2005, 361-367.
- Beck, D. A., & Frohberg, N. R. (2005). Coprophagia in an elderly man: A case report and review of the literature: International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine Vol 35(4) 2005, 417-427.
- Harada, K. I., Yamamoto, K., & Saito, T. (2006). Effective Treatment of Coprophagia in a Patient with Schizophrenia with the Novel Atypical Antipsychotic Drug Perospirone: A Case Report: Pharmacopsychiatry Vol 39(3) May 2006, 113.
- Krief, S., Jamart, A., & Hladik, C.-M. (2004). On the possible adaptive value of coprophagy in free-ranging chimpanzees: Primates Vol 45(2) Apr 2004, 141-145.
- 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 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
- Santa Clara County Humane Society guidelines for curing coprophagia 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
- How To Treat Dog Coprophagia
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