Contamination of drinking water and food supplies has been a serious problem for all of human history, and continues to be a serious issue in many parts of the world today. This is because feces can provide a habitat for extremely harmful bacteria that can cause illness in whoever accidentally ingests it. Furthermore, the infections that result from drinking contaminated water (such as cholera and typhoid) can often prove fatal or may result in serious damage to the patient. Whilst many of the more serious illnesses have been vaccinated against, it is still possible to get a very debilitating infection from eating fecal matter. However, while dogs can safely consume many kinds of animal feces with no ill effect, can they get sick from eating human feces?
Can Dogs Get Sick From Eating Human Poop?
Human feces can be home to very harmful strains of bacteria as well as residual traces of drugs and foods that may prove dangerous to dogs if eaten in sufficient quantities. If you suspect that your dog has become ill as a result of eating human feces, it may be wise to seek veterinary help if the symptoms persist.
Has My Dog Eaten Human Poop?
The vast majority of dogs that ingest human feces will suffer no side effects and will be able to digest it just as they would normal food. However, a small minority will experience a mild case of stomach upset due to bacteria contained within the feces, resulting in symptoms such as a decreased appetite, stomach pain, and eventual vomiting. Note that it can take up to several hours for the symptoms to become apparent, so it is wise to move the dog to a location where they will not be at risk of making a mess. More serious cases of poisoning, however, will involve longer-term stomach problems and diarrhea, which can result in dehydration if the dog is not made to drink. Additionally, toxins within the feces due to things such as drugs (medical or otherwise) can seriously harm the dog and cause organ damage, usually starting with the liver. This can lead to the dog suffering increased vomiting and becoming somewhat uncoordinated and lethargic in their behavior.
When you take the animal to a vet, they will usually be able to diagnose the dog’s problem by performing tests on blood and fecal samples, as well as by getting information regarding the diet and health of the person whose feces was eaten, if known. This will help narrow down the cause of the problem and allow treatment to begin. You should be aware that dogs will consciously eat feces of many animals (an act known as ‘coprophagia’ ) in order to absorb any leftover nutrients, which can indicate a dietary deficiency of some sort.
For more information about cases of poisoning and how they typically present themselves, take a look at our condition guide, Ingestion of Feces and Foreign Objects in Dogs .
How Do I Treat My Dog’s Condition?
Once your vet has determined the root cause of the problem (typically bacterial or chemical in nature), they will present you with some treatment options. In most cases, the dog will be able to fight off the infection or remove the toxins from their body by themselves, though some assistance may make things easier. For this reason, the vet could provide them with intravenous fluid therapy, which would provoke urination in order to remove harmful substances via excretion as well as rehydrating the animal if they have been vomiting excessively. They can also deliver additional digestive enzymes straight to the dog’s stomach, which will help break down the remaining feces in order to get it out of the body.
In cases where a harmful drug or dietary component is to blame, activated charcoal can be used to absorb and thereby neutralize the remaining toxin before it is passed out through the intestines. In especially bad cases of infection, the vet may need to provide the dog with a course of antibiotics. As the owner, it would be your responsibility to continue this treatment at home, ensuring that the dog takes the entire course of drugs in order to prevent a resurgence of the bacteria. In total, recovery times are generally fairly short in all but the most serious cases, with the dog returning to normal life after a week or so of recuperation.
To read advice from dog owners who have dealt with the same issue or to consult our in-house vets on the subject, head to our condition guide .
How Is Coprophagia Similar in Dogs and Humans?
Despite the wildly different circumstances under which the event will usually occur in different species, ingestion of fecal matter can lead to some pretty similar effects.
Vomiting and diarrhea are a common symptom of poisoning due to ingestion of fecal matter in all animals, including both dogs and humans.
If an infection does not occur, the feces will be digested as normal, providing the eater with additional nutrition, primarily in the form of minerals such as iron.
How Is Coprophagia Different in Dogs and Humans?
While the condition can present in a fairly identical manner in most species, poisoning due to eating feces will have some notable differences when it comes to humans and animals.
While all animals can be effected by ingesting fecal matter, humans are typically guaranteed to have a violent negative reaction to the substances contained within it. This is because of the relatively delicate nature of our digestive systems compared to animals that eat their food raw (such as dogs).
Animals such as dogs, horses, and cats will actively engage in the consumption of feces in order to get hold of excess nutrients that may be contained within. Humans, meanwhile, will typically only engage in the activity due to desperation or mental illness.
While out for a walk, an Alsatian darts into the bushes and starts eating something hidden in the undergrowth. Recognizing the object as human feces, the owner pulls the dog back to stop him from eating it and, knowing the usual resilience of a dog’s digestive system, continues the walk. Later that afternoon, however, the dog starts to vomit and pass diarrhea. This continues through the night until the owner becomes concerned enough to take them to see a vet. The veterinarian takes a blood sample from the dog and determines that they have ingested feces that contained a large amount of the antidepressant Prozac, which is toxic to canines. To help the dog get over the poisoning, they provide them with extra fluids to replace the water lost to vomiting and diarrhea, before feeding them activated charcoal to absorb the remaining toxin. The dog continues to refuse food for a few more days, but eventually becomes ready to eat smaller portions. A few weeks later, the vet re-examines the dog to check for long-term damage and concludes that he has fully recovered.