Coprophagia is the consumption of feces. It is a practice common to several animals, including, in rare cases, humans (see below).
Coprophagia in non-human animals
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 one theory, dogs might do this in order to get attention from their owners. On a different theory, dogs observe their owners picking up feces, and imitate this 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. Other theories postulate that a dog might eat feces in order to prevent the scent from attracting predators, and that dogs might eat feces simply because they are hungry.
Another theory proposes that carnivores sometimes eat the feces of their prey in order to ingest and exude scents which camouflage their own.
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 important as a source of vitamins B and K. Apes have been observed eating horse droppings for the salt.
Rabbits, cavies and related species have a digestive system designed for coprophagia. These herbivores do not have the complicated ruminant digestive system, so 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.
Coprophagia in humans
Coprophagia is fairly uncommon in humans. It is usually associated with coprophilia. Consuming other people's feces carries the risk of contracting diseases spread through fecal matter, such as hepatitis. Consuming one's own feces potentially involves risk, as the bowel bacteria are not safe to ingest. Similar risk can apply to related sexual practices, such as anilingus.
- Hofmeister, Erik, Melinda Cumming, and Cheryl Dhein. 2001. "Owner Documentation of Coprophagia in the Canine." Online website: http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/pets/study.htm. Accessed January 11, 2001.
- King County, Washington, Animal Control Section. "Eating His Own or Other Animal Feces."
- Tomball Veterinary Clinic. "Coprophagia."
- Michal Justis. "Coprophagia (eating feces) and other Feces Problems."
- Jocelyn Toner. "Coprophagia - the unfortunately palatable truth."
- Scat FAQ (WARNING! Contains material relating to the practice of human coprophagia)
- Manscat Resources, forums and articles for male homosexual coprophiles.