Contaminated food, a child accidentally eating animal or human feces, or other accidents may mean that a person accidentally eats poop.

While this is a concerning occurrence, it usually doesn’t result in a medical emergency. Although you’d ideally not eat poop, here’s what could happen if you do and how to treat it.

What happens to a person when they eat poop?

According to the Illinois Poison Center, eating poop is “minimally toxic.” However, poop naturally contains the bacteria commonly found in the intestines. While these bacteria don’t harm you when they’re in your intestines, they’re not meant to be ingested in your mouth.

Examples of bacteria commonly present in poop include:

  • Campylobacter
  • E. coli
  • Salmonella
  • Shigella

These bacteria can cause you to experience symptoms such as:

  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • fever

Parasites and viruses like hepatitis A and hepatitis E are also transmitted via poop. You can become ill by coming in contact with these through other measures, such as kissing an unwashed hand. Therefore, if you eat a larger amount of poop directly, you’re at greater risk for adverse symptoms.

Sometimes you may accidentally ingest poop, such as eating contaminated foods. This will cause symptoms that are similar to those of food poisoning.

Time and drinking plenty of fluids can usually help reduce most symptoms associated with accidental poop ingestion.

Children ingesting poop

Children can sometimes eat their own feces or that of a pet, such as a dog, cat, or bird.

If your child has eaten poop, it’s not usually cause for concern. However, there are still some steps parents or caregivers should take:

  • Give the child water.
  • Wash their face and hands.
  • Observe them for symptoms that are usually similar to food poisoning.

Symptoms similar to food poisoning include:

  • diarrhea
  • low-grade fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting

If you’re concerned about your child’s symptoms, call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

If symptoms persist or even begin a few weeks later, call your child’s pediatrician. They may recommend taking a stool sample to identify the presence of organisms such as parasites or bacteria.

This is especially true if a child ate animal feces. Animal feces may have other parasites present, such as roundworms.

Fecal transplants

There are some instances when poop has medical uses (although not for eating). This is true for the fecal transplantation procedure. It’s also known as bacteriotherapy.

This procedure treats the condition C. difficile colitis (C. diff). This infection causes a person to experience severe diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and fever. The condition occurs in those taking long-term antibiotics. As a result, a person may not have enough healthy bacteria in their stool to fight off other infections, like the C. diff infection. If a person has chronic C. diff infections, fecal transplantation may be an option.

The process involves having a fecal “donor” provide their feces. The feces are tested for parasites. The donor is also usually asked to submit a blood sample to test for the presence of fecal-transmitted diseases, such as hepatitis A.

The person receiving a fecal transplant will usually consume a liquid diet or laxative preparation before receiving the transplant. They’ll then go to a gastrointestinal (GI) lab where a doctor will insert a special instrument called a colonoscope through the anus that’s advanced to the colon. There, the doctor will deliver the donor stool to the colon.

Ideally, receiving the fecal transplant will provide the colon with healthy bacteria that can fight off C. diff and reduce the likelihood it’ll come back.

It’s important to note that a person with C. diff shouldn’t eat poop, even if they experience chronic C. diff infections. Fecal transplantation involves delivering highly tested poop in a controlled setting. Simply eating poop isn’t a substitute treatment for fecal transplantation.

The bottom line  

While eating poop shouldn’t usually cause severe symptoms, there are some instances when immediate medical attention is needed. See a doctor if you or a loved one experience these symptoms after ingesting feces:

  • dehydration
  • bloody diarrhea or blood in stool
  • sudden difficulty breathing
  • acting disoriented or confused

Call 911 and seek immediate medical treatment if these symptoms occur. Otherwise, the person should be closely observed to ensure no further adverse reactions occur.