Coprophagia : You Want Me to Eat WHAT?!

Young rabbit

Image via Wikipedia

Every day at my job at the vet hospital, I deal with poop. And I mean LOTS of poop. (The technical term of course.) We currently have a canine patient whose anal glands ruptured a while back. This led to 4 surgeries, complications, and now an inability to control her bowel movements, essentially making her a walking poop fountain. She is incredibly sweet girl which makes dealing with her a little easier, especially since it is beyond her control.

This all sparked this post about the interesting behavior of coprophagia/coprophagy or…eating feces. While the behavior may be done under unusual circumstances, many animals do this out of nutritional necessity. Animals that may participate in coprophagia are:

  • Insects
  • Plants (eg. Pitcher plants)
  • Pigs
  • Capybaras
  • Hamsters
  • Young animals (elephants, koalas, hippos, etc.)
  • Gorillas
  • Rabbits

In the case of animals like rabbits and capybaras, their digestive system is not as complex as a ruminant digestive system. This basically means they can’t digest their vegetation as well as an animal with a rumen. Because of this, food can pass through only partially digested. Eating this, while gross to us, allows the animal to take advantage of any microflora set to work on the plant matter and have another go at the nutrients they missed out on. Vitamin B12 intake is partially dependent on this behavior.

Other animals may eat the feces of their young to keep their dens clean and lessen the rate of predation. Take for example this mother Robin:

Lucky for her, her young’s droppings come out is sort of gelatinous packet for easy removal.

So the next time you catch your dog in a litter box, or paying way to much attention to some droppings left behind by some other pet’s owner…you should probably still stop them just in case…parasites you know…


VMCAS Deadline Countdown: 32 days




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