One frequently asked question posed to veterinarians and searched on Google is, "Why does my dog eat its poop?" We think its disgusting but clearly they don't!
Dining on poop is a common animal behaviour! And dogs are just one species that do it.
Rabbits are one of the species in this ‘dung-eating diner club’ but they only eat one of the two types of their droppings. Rabbits have two types of poop which are little black round ones and softer black ones and it’s those soft ones they eat. So they even have the intelligence to choose which poop to eat!
But why do they do it? Rabbits don’t break down everything the first time, so they send it back through their gut and digest it a second time. And mother rabbits actually feed their faeces to their babies as it helps to colonise their digestive tract with healthy gut bacteria!
Other species do it for similar reasons because there is still nutrient-rich partially digested food in the poop.
Chimpanzees and capybaras do it, and Guinea pigs can reuse their poop up to 50 times per hour! Baby elephants and hippos do it to obtain the bacteria required to properly digest vegetation.
Horses are another example of an animal that engages in coprophagy (the scientific term for what we humans think is gross), particularly when they are fed a high-fibre diet. In some cases, they may eat their own faeces as a way of extracting additional nutrients from their food.
Cassowaries have been seen finishing their meal of fruit, pooping, then turning around and start digging through the excrement pulling out partially digested chunks of fruit from the pile and starting to eat it all over again.
Poop eating is also a Cat behaviour particularly if they are kept in close quarters or have limited access to a litter box. They may also eat the faeces of their kittens as a way of keeping their litter box clean and free of odours.
And as you may have seen, Dogs do it too. They could be lacking something in their diet, a medical cause, or just seeking attention from you as they know when you see them do it, you will respond and voile they have your attention!
Last but certainly not least are Dung beetles.
Unlike the other species mentioned already, Dung beetles don’t eat their own poop and prefer to dine on other animals’ poop. They are very fussy eaters as they pick out and discard the big bits and then eat the tiny bits where most of the nitrogen is found as they need it to build up their proteins.
Using their specialised antennae, they can smell dung from about 1 kilometre away. When they get to the dung they roll it in neat balls which are used for various reasons. Some species bury the dung balls as a food source for themselves or their larvae. Others create brood balls where they lay their eggs.
Amazingly some Dung beetle species navigate the precious dung ball to their home using the sun and celestial clues to roll the balls in a straight line and attempt to avoid obstacles.
But did you know that male Dung beetles use the dung to attract a female? They place a ball at the base of a tunnel then go back to the entrance, stand on their head so their bum sticks up in the air and release the beautiful smelling pheromone which only a female Dung beetle would love. The female knows he has a dung ball in his tunnel for her but sometimes a sneaky Dung beetle doesn’t actually have a dung ball to offer her at all! He’ll do anything for love.