in domestic species
Defaecation (defecation) is the passing of faeces, passing of a stool or, literally-cum-euphemistically, the ‘business of doing one's business'. The reason we have a page on this is that it is an important life function, animals differ in the process and some important issues come up for each domestic species. Normal defaecation is a health indicator, so it is important to know your animal's particular variant. Any variation from your animal's normal pattern may be an early-warning signal of health disturbance.
Cats: Cats normally pass a firm but very smelly stool. They need to take up a crouching posture with tail held up. If they are unable, as a result of injury etc., to gain the correct posture, they may not be able to defaecate without great difficulty. If they sustain a tail injury, they may be completely unable to pass faeces. They are prone, for unknown reasons, to paralysis of the rectum or colon, which can lead to serious retention of a large mass of solid faecal matter. It is possible that this may a cumulative effect of insecticide application. Cats can usually be ‘toilet trained' or ‘house trained', such that they don't defaecate in the house except in a litter tray. They like to be able to bury their stool, if possible and will dig a hole first, if on soil or in a litter tray (or out in a garden).
Dogs: Dogs normally pass a firm, smelly stool. They need to take up a crouching posture with tail held up. If they are unable, as a result of injury etc., to gain the correct posture, they may not be able to defaecate without great difficulty. Dogs can usually be ‘toilet trained' or ‘house trained', such that they don't defaecate in the house. Some will not defaecate on a lead, some won't except on grass, some won't soil their own garden, some like to defaecate neatly upon particular objects or up against a tree (almost certainly territorial – foxes will also do this). Inappropriate defaecation in the house can be a result of emotional disturbance. A dog's stool can be very dry and chalky if it consumes a lot of bone or very yellow if it eats a lot of rice. Some dogs will eat faeces (coprophagy), which may be their own of another dog's. This may be a result of malnutrition or of too many nutrients escaping digestion and appearing in the stool. This habit is very infrequently (if ever) encountered in dogs fed a natural diet. Some eat cat faeces. Most will consume herbivore dung with relish, which must be a normal dietary process for wild carnivorous animals like the dog.
Horses, Ponies and Donkeys: Horses alone among our domesticated herbivores take care to pass dung in a particular place or area and in a particular way. Some are extremely tidy and careful, others less so. Some will choose objects on which to defaecate (possibly territorial). All will usually select an area of a field, on which to pass dung. Their normal dung is firm, very fibrous and formed into clumps of balls. They will almost never pass dung while walking and often make a grunting noise during the process. Becoming used to your horse's pattern and frequency of dunging is important, since a break in routine could herald an attack of colic.
Pigs: These omnivorous animals are very particular about dunging, if permitted. They will dung in a particular area, away from their bed and feeding area. The ‘filthy pig' image stems from unsuitable and crowded farm accommodation, that does not permit normal behaviour. Their normal dung is fibrous and firm, in clumps.
Cattle: Cattle do not appear to take any notice of how, when or where they defaecate. They even defaecate when lying. They can pass dung while walking and while eating. It is not unknown for a cow to pass a dung pat on the head of a sucking calf. Their normal dung, on a healthy diet, is fibrous, firm and clumped. On ‘concentrate' feed, the dung becomes much looser and can soil their hind quarters. On fresh grass, the dung becomes loose and green. They will usually pass dung on becoming anxious.
Sheep and Goats: Neither species appears very particular where or when they dung. They do sometimes defaecate when lying. Their normal dung is firm, dark and formed in separate small balls (sometimes called ‘bumbles'). They can pass dung while walking and while eating.
Rabbits: Their normal faeces is usually formed into discrete small balls or pellets (sometimes called ‘bumbles') and comes, broadly-speaking, in two types. There is a dark, more shiny form (caecotropes/cecotropes), which they will usually eat for a second time, in order to gain valuable vitamins and nutrients. There is a dry, friable and greenish form, which is dung from the second eating and which will usually be deposited away from the nest. When cleaning out a rabbit hutch, it is important not to prevent the ingestion of the first type of ‘dung'.*
Birds: Birds have one shared opening for urine and faeces, called the cloaca. Their urine tends to be a chalky white paste or liquid and the faeces is a solid or semi-solid coloured (often greenish or dark) accumulation within the urine pool. Birds of prey (raptors) also bring up a pellet (or cast) by mouth, discarding fur and other debris from their prey. This is called ‘casting' and is just as important a health function as defaecating..
Diarrhoea (passing excessive amounts of loose stool) is an important indicator of ill health.
It is important to be aware of the routine defaecation pattern of your animal(s). Variations from these normal patterns can be an early indicator of impending ill health. It can also be an important indicator of the suitability of diet and nutrition.