Scottish Foxes Eating Dog Poop; Experts Unsure About Possible Effects Of Humans And Their Pets On Wildlife

It started as a study of the diet of red foxes living in Scottish pine forests, but researchers discovered something unexpected that may have an impact on many forms of wildlife.

According to the BBC, the research discovered that dog poop was as much as the number two source of nutrients in these animals diet. A whopping 40% of the content of the fox poop was from dog poop.

red fox
Red foxes are reddish as the name implies. They have also adapted well to human proximity so farPhoto by Ralph on

What to make of it?

Researchers at first thought that it was an error because dog poop and fox poop can be pretty similar. But they ruled that out. It may be that the foxes are using poop as a go to when food is scarce as it is nutritious and it is easier to eat than a prey animal.

The study now raises other questions that investigators will start to answer. First, it has been known for a while that many animals eat their own poop. Rabbits are well known for this. They eat huge volumes of low-nutrient food and often consume their waste to redigest it.

raw meat on beige wooden surface
Steak is rich in protein and protein is rich in nitrogen, So is dog poop which may be why foxes eat it.Photo by Lukas on

This is the first time, however, when wild animals have been observed eating the droppings of another animal. It raises questions about how common the practice is. Previously nutrition studies lacked sufficient capability to test fecal DNA. The ability to test decal DNA may lead to surprises if it is found this practice is more common in the wild than realized.

The researchers are worried that dependence on eating feces may have a negative impact on foxes in the long run. It may increase human-fox interactions as they move closer to populated areas in search of easy food. Dog feces are also potentially harmful and may lead to the transmission of bacteria and disease to and from foxes and dogs and their owners. Although dog poop is compostable it is not safe for use on food crops. Although it is rich in nitrogen, a prime ingredient in protein, it also can contain long-lasting worms and other parasites. Dog poop has to be subjected to high heat over a long time to render it neutral. That said, it can be composted for garden use on ornamental plants.

The researchers asked dog owners to be certain they pick up the dog feces. Even if it is “good” for some animals the smell, risk of disease transmission and other negatives mean responsible owners need to collect the waste and dispose of it.

Image courtesy Outforia

The good news about red foxes is that they are for the most part rather abundant, Red foxes inhabit most of the northern hemisphere. They weigh in at up to 24 pounds. Their diet is similar to a coyote but they tend to prey on smaller animals such as mice and rats. They also eat insects, fruit, birds and anything they can consume out of bodies of water. Internationally there are">">">Outforia 23 varieties of fox, some of them quite rare.

The study was a collaboration between scientists at Scotland’s University of Aberdeen, the University of Grenoble Alps in France, Forestry and Land Scotland and Cairngorms Connect and has been published in the Ecology and Evolution journal. Cairngorms Connect is a project of Scottish landowners to preserve and protect the Scottish environment.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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