Photo: TS|Unsplash


Question: How can I stop my bunnies from eating their poop?
My bunnies eat their poop every time they are about to poop. How should I stop this?
-- Mavis

Answer:
Dear Mavis,

Rabbits are herbivores, meaning they eat fibrous plant material for the bulk of their calories. It’s amazing that they can maintain their beautiful fur and lightning-fast running speed on such a diet. So, how can a rabbit do all this eating mostly grass or hay? They’ve managed to become the wonderful creatures they are by developing some special physical adaptations.

Rabbits’ digestive tracts are similar to humans’, dogs’ and cats’ in some ways. They have an oesophagus for swallowing, a stomach to break down chewed food and a small intestine to absorb nutrients from the food.

But that’s where the similarities end. A rabbit’s large intestine is more similar to a horse’s than a human’s. Between the small intestine and the large intestine lies the cecum.

The cecum is an adapted part of a rabbit’s large intestine that acts as a fermentation vat for partially-digested plant material. The normal bacteria in the cecum work on the plant material, breaking down the indigestible fibre and producing nutrients that can be used by the rabbit’s body. But they don’t absorb those nutrients directly through the cecum.

You see, rabbits produce two kinds of faeces. One kind is in the form of dry, round pellets most people think of as rabbit poop. The second kind of rabbit faeces, are wetter and look like a dark brown, tiny bunch of grapes or a brown mulberry. These are called cecal pellets, or cecotropes, and are eaten directly from the anus. 

You may remember seeing your rabbit leaning over as if to clean himself, then sitting up and chewing something. You’ll rarely see cecotropes left laying uneaten if your rabbit is healthy.

Cecotropes are loaded with vitamins, fatty acids and proteins produced by the bacteria in the cecum. By ingesting cecal pellets, rabbits benefit from nutrients they would not otherwise absorb from their food.  

Some rabbits may produce excessive quantities of cecal pellets or even eat the dry form of faeces when they eat a low-quality diet with too little protein and too many carbohydrates. Rabbits need to eat a lot of fibre in the form of hay. A pelleted diet is not ideal for many house rabbits. You can learn more about house rabbit care and feeding at the House Rabbit Society website.

So, don’t try to stop your bunnies from eating poop! As gross as it seems to us humans, cecotropes are an important source of nutrition to keep rabbits healthy. If your rabbits are eating all their hard feces or producing excessive cecotropes, their diet may need improvement.

Don’t make any sudden changes in their diet or they could have trouble adapting. A gradual introduction of grass hay and other safe plants can help your bunnies stay happy and healthy for many years.

Sincerely,

TB Thompson 
DVM
Pet Life Today

Dr. TB Thompson: Practicing as a veterinarian since 2000 in general practice and emergency pet hospitals


Disclaimer: Content is for informational and educational use only and should not replace professional veterinary advice.

 

 

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