Understanding Coprophagia in Children: Why Kids Eat Their Poop and How to Address It

You’ve probably heard of kids putting all sorts of things in their mouths, but what if your child takes it a step further and eats their own poop? It’s a behavior that’s not only gross but can also be concerning.

This act, known as coprophagia, is relatively common among toddlers. It’s often a phase that they grow out of, but sometimes it can indicate underlying issues. So, what does it mean when a child eats their poop?

In this article, we’ll delve into the reasons behind this behavior, the potential health risks, and when you should be worried. We’ll also provide some tips on how to handle this situation, so you’re well-prepared if you ever find yourself dealing with it.

Key Takeaways

  • Coprophagia, the act of a child eating their own feces, is relatively common among toddlers and is often a phase they grow out of. However, it can sometimes indicate more serious issues such as malnutrition, developmental delays, or specific conditions like Pica.
  • There are several potential reasons behind this behavior, including curiosity, attention-seeking, nutrient deficiencies, environmental factors, developmental issues, or even boredom.
  • The ingestion of feces can present various health risks, due to the potential presence of harmful bacteria, parasites and other toxins. Risks can include gastrointestinal issues, fever, severe diseases, dental issues, bad breath, and gum disease.
  • Frequent or habitual coprophagia merits concern, especially if accompanied by signs of sickness (like abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting) or behavioral or mood changes. Professional help should be sought in these cases.
  • Managing coprophagia should involve a considerate approach focussed on understanding, patience, encouraging cleanliness, providing a balanced diet, promoting independence, and seeking professional help as needed.

Coprophagia in children can be distressing for parents, and understanding the reasons behind this behavior is crucial. The Cleveland Clinic offers in-depth medical insights into why some children might develop this habit and the psychological and developmental issues associated with it. Addressing the problem effectively involves interventions that can range from medical to behavioral solutions, as outlined by Healthline. For further guidance, Verywell Health provides strategies to help parents manage and correct this behavior in toddlers and young children.

Understanding Coprophagia

The act of children eating their own feces, scientifically known as “coprophagia”, can understandably be alarming for any parent. The first step towards handling this issue is to comprehend its causes and implications. Though it’s seen commonly among toddlers, it’s typically a temporary phase most kids naturally grow out of.

Some might ask, “Why would a toddler engage in such behavior?” It’s important to realize that curiosity is a major factor in the early years. At this stage, toddlers are keen on exploring their surroundings using their senses, and unfortunately, their sense of taste is one of them. Their inquisitive minds might not distinguish between edible and non-edible substances – thus landing them into such behaviors.

With this being noted, coprophagia isn’t exclusive to children driven by curiosity. There may be instances where this act could be a signal to a more serious underlying issue. Among these concerns can be malnutrition, developmental delays, or even specific medical conditions such as Pica – the urge to eat non-food items. While these aren’t common, being aware of such possibilities emphasizes the importance of monitoring this behavior and not dismissing it entirely.

As parents, it’s also essential to understand the health risks associated with coprophagia. Feces can carry bacteria, parasites, and other harmful substances. If consumed, these may lead to stomach upsets, infections, and other health complications. Hence, paying close attention to your child’s habits and intervening promptly is key to preventing possible health issues.
Now let’s steer our attention towards addressing and managing this peculiar behavior effectively.

Reasons Behind the Behavior

As a parent or caregiver, understanding the motivations behind a child’s unusual habits is key. Coprophagia, or the act of eating one’s own feces, might cause you distress, alarm, or confusion. Let’s delve into the possible causes behind this unusual behavior.

One common cause is curiosity. Toddlers by nature are explorative and lack the understanding of what is harmful or inappropriate. With their world largely understood through taste, toddlers may not comprehend why consuming feces is wrong.

Next on the list is attention-seeking. Kids are clever. They recognize actions that elicit strong reactions from adults and may repeat those actions to garner attention. If you’ve shown a massive reaction when catching your child in the act, it’s possible this behavior continues as a means of garnering your attention.

Then there’s the possibility of nutrient deficiencies. Remember, eating feces can be a sign of malnutrition. Your child might be battling a deficiency, like low iron or vitamins, prompting this awkward habit.

Developmental issues can’t be ignored either. Kids with autism or other developmental delays may exhibit coprophagia. This is because they have impaired social skills and fail to recognize the taboo associated with fecal ingestion.

Interestingly, the environment plays a role too. Children who grow up in chaotic environments, rife with hygiene issues, may succumb to coprophagia because cleanliness and basic sanitary standards aren’t upheld.

Don’t forget about boredom! Boredom results in children finding new, and often inappropriate, ways to entertain themselves.

While this gives you a comprehensive roundup of possible reasons, remember: it’s vital to consult a healthcare professional if your child exhibits coprophagia. They can perform in-depth examinations and determine the exact reason for this behavior.

Potential Health Risks

As a parent, the concept of your kid engaging in coprophagia might be nauseating to you. More than that, it’s vital to comprehend the potential health risks that accompany this behavior. Let’s delve into those in the paragraphs that follow.

Among the most immediate health hazards is ingestion of harmful bacteria or parasites. This is a particular concern if the child eats poop from someone who is infected. It’s not just human feces though – if your kid gets hold of animal waste, they could be inadvertently ingesting disease-causing microorganisms such as Salmonella or E. coli.

The immune system of a young child is still developing, hence they’re more susceptible to infections. So, exposure to these pathogens can lead to problems like gastrointestinal issues, fever, and, in severe cases, even more serious conditions.

Additionally, the act of coprophagia itself can cause dental issues. Feces is not a substance meant to be chewed on and the remnant particles can promote tooth decay. Similarly, the high bacteria content can lead to bad breath and gum disease.

Overall, eating poop can lead to several complications, ranging from minor health issues to quite severe ones. It’s always best to prevent such habits in the first place but if your child is already engaged in the behavior, immediate intervention is crucial. Keeping the environment clean, ensuring your child’s nutritional needs are met and seeking professional help if required, are a few steps that can go a long way towards solving this problem. We’re certain learning about this potentially hazardous behavior gives insight into why intervention is so vital.

Gastrointestinal issues, fever, more serious conditions, dental issues, tooth decay, bad breath, gum disease. All these may come into play if your child engages in coprophagia. Here are these health risks in a tabulated form:

Potential Health Risks
Harmful Bacteria and Parasites
Gastrointestinal Issues
Severe Diseases
Dental Issues
Tooth Decay
Bad Breath
Gum Diseases

Your understanding of these health risks should empower you to make concerted efforts to curb the behavior in your child.

When to Be Concerned

Spotting a child engaged in coprophagia might understandably set alarm bells ringing. While occasional instances might not be harmful, frequent repetition of this habit can signal underlying health issues. So, how do you know if it’s time to intervene?

If you observe coprophagia occurring frequently or notice it becoming a habit, it’s time to step in and seek professional help. Children engaging in this behavior repetitively could be trying to satisfy nutritional deficiencies or could be dealing with gastrointestinal disorders. Recognizing these signs early will allow you to access the necessary support and treatment for your child.

One key sign to watch out for is if your child displays signs of sickness. This can include abdominal pains, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. Their immune system could be compromised due to ingesting bacteria or parasites that are often found in feces, which can lead to various severe diseases.

In addition to physical symptoms, another sign of concern could be changes in your child’s behavior or mood. If they start to display signs of distress, anxiety, or hyperactivity, they might be doing so because they’re dealing with underlying physical discomfort caused by coprophagia.

Further, be cautious if you observe additional oral issues. Feces consumption can lead to dental problems like tooth decay due to the harmful bacteria. If you notice bad breath or swollen, reddish gums, these could be signs that your child’s dental health is at risk.

Act upon noticeable changes, whether they’re physical or behavioral. Spotting these signs early and seeking professional help can prevent any long-term impact on your child’s health. Be it mental health professionals or pediatricians, the right support can effectively address and manage this issue, ensuring your child’s well-being.

Tips for Handling Coprophagia

Managing coprophagia involves more than facevalue reactions. It’s crucial to approach this concern with understanding, patience, and effective strategies.

Understanding Disgust Reaction is the first strategy to remember. You might be repulsed by your child’s act. But expressing anger or disgust may only worsen the situation. So remain calm and assertive. Discuss the dangers of this habit gently without shaming or embarrassing the child.

Moving to the next tactic, Promoting Cleanliness, instill the importance of cleanliness. Encourage frequent hand washing. Make sure your child knows to wash up after using the restroom — a key habit for curbing coprophagia.

Provide a Balanced Diet is another strategy not to be overlooked. Nutritional deficiencies might be the reason behind the behavior. So, ensure that your child is eating a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet. This can help eliminate their urge to consume feces.

One might think frequent supervision can remedy this problem. But Promoting Independence goes a long way here. In the case your child is engaging in this habit for attention, giving them more opportunities for independent play can help decrease the behavior.

Professional Help is the final area to consider. If the behavior persists despite your efforts, don’t hesitate to seek a professional’s help. A health care provider or a pediatric psychiatrist can offer valuable insight.

Each of these points aims to provide the knowledge and practical approach needed to manage this situation. These strategies play a crucial role in helping your child overcome coprophagia and equipping you with the necessary tools to handle this sensitive topic effectively.


You’ve got this. Coprophagia in children may be alarming, but it’s a hurdle you can overcome. Remember, your reactions matter. Stay calm, promote cleanliness, and ensure a balanced diet. Your child’s independence is key, so encourage it. If the behavior persists, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. You’re equipped with the tools and strategies for handling this. So, take a deep breath and tackle this challenge head-on. You’re not alone in this journey, and with patience and understanding, you’ll see progress.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best approach to manage coprophagia in children?

The most effective approach involves understanding, patience, and a consistent application of strategies like promoting cleanliness through handwashing, ensuring balanced nutrition, encouraging independence, and seeking professional help when necessary.

How should parents manage their disgust reactions?

Parents should strive to manage their disgust reactions calmly. Their understanding and patience significantly affect the child’s ability to overcome coprophagia.

How important is a balanced diet in managing coprophagia?

A balanced diet plays a critical role as nutritional deficiencies can sometimes contribute to coprophagia. Ensuring your child receives all necessary nutrients can help address the issue.

How does encouraging independence help?

Promoting independence can be beneficial in reducing attention-seeking behavior, which may be tied to coprophagia.

When should professional help be obtained?

If the strategies mentioned have been consistently applied with little to no improvement, it may be necessary to seek professional help to manage the issue effectively.