Ask a Bear: Do You Go to the Bathroom While You’re Hibernating?

You've got questions. Our staff bruin has answers.

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Andy Rogers

Q: Do you have to wake up and use the bathroom while you’re hibernating? I know you don’t eat anything all winter, but four to six months still seems like a really long time to hold it. – Ethan Currin

A: Oh, boy. I hope you weren’t looking for a polite yes or no answer. As a bear, I enjoy discussing the finer points of pooping in the woods, or, in this case, not pooping in the woods. So without further ado, I’m going to get right into it with the two words I know you were just hoping to hear: fecal plug.

That’s right. I might drop my heart rate down to just a few beats per minute and survive primarily by metabolizing my own fat while I hibernate, but that doesn’t mean my digestive system calls it quits. In fact, I’m continually producing urea (which my body recycles into protein to help maintain my muscular physique) and processing food and waste, which then work their way slowly into my large intestine. There, that waste is accompanied by other indigestible material, like hair and bits of bedding, that I gulp down prior to hitting the hay for the season. As you know, the job of the large intestine is to extract moisture, so after a couple of weeks in there, well, all that goodness gets pretty rock-hard, which prevents me from soiling my fur mid-nap. In spring, I wake up and leave a deposit either in or outside my den, which is, as you might expect, a huge relief. After that I get back to my (pardon the pun) regular programming. – BEAR 

From 2023