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Rabbits eating their feces
Do rabbits eat poop?
It is normal for you to notice your bunny, eating its poop, especially early in the morning or late at night, and there is nothing wrong with it. It is a healthy and important bunny behavior that should not worry anyone.
This habit is known as coprophagia or coprophagy noticed in some lagomorph, young ones of koalas, hippos, elephants, giant pandas(which eat feces of their mothers), among others as well as some invertebrates.
These are not the ordinary droppings but caecotrophs (night droppings or cecal feces or pellets) which are a special kind which Vetstreet.com states to be produced “through fermentation of food in the part of the rabbit’s digestive tract called the cecum.” They are only passed out once a day and the rabbit will eat them afterward.
How do caecotrophs look like?
To help distinguish these night feces with ordinary droppings, the night feces are often softer, moist and passed out just like normal stool or feces. However, they are not as hard as the normal bunny droppings and not feces.
Regarding their appearance, the San Diego House Rabbit Society describes them as resembling “dark brown mulberry, or tightly bunched grapes… composed of small, soft, shiny pellets, each coated with a layer of rubbery mucus, and pressed into an elongated mass.”
Their smell is pungent (a kind of smelly rabbit poop), and have a high amount of cecal bacteria that are beneficial. The mucus that coats them protects these beneficial bacteria from the digestive enzymes in the stomach.
Why do rabbits eat caecotrophs
These feces are often rich in nutrients especially high protein levels, vitamins especially vitamin B with little amounts of fiber. Therefore, your rabbits often eat them again so that all these nutrients can be absorbed into their body.
Rabbits and other lagomorphs are hind-gut fermenters, yet all food is absorbed in the stomach and small intestines. Therefore, any food that goes past the small intestine to the cecum cannot be absorbed.
According to Cynthia Alvarado, a clinical veterinarian at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, “the lagomorphs overcome this design flaw by producing cecotropes, which are products of the cecum that are very rich in nutrients.”
When rabbits chew and swallow their food (hay, leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, water, and some high-quality pellets), they go down to their stomach, then small intestine for nutrients absorption.
From their smaller intestine, the food goes to the caecum where the fermentation process aided by bacteria breaks the food down releasing more nutrients.
Since no food absorption happens after the small intestines, the food goes to the colon then out of their body. The rabbit will eat it again for these nutrients to be absorbed in their small intestines.
Rabbit not eating cecotropes
Whereas it is normal for rabbits to eat the cecotropes, there is an instance when they do not eat them. This is known to cause dietary insufficiencies and it can be due to giving your bunny diets rich in proteins such as alfalfa.
Also, according to House Rabbit Society, “rabbit may not eat cecotropes due to dental or other oral pain as well as obesity or restricted movement (e.g., spondylosis) that prevents the bunny from physically reaching the anus to eat the cecotropes.”
Not all soft feces are caecotrophs
Improper diets, digestive system problems (diseases and conditions) can cause diarrhea in bunnies. This should not be confused with the ‘night feces’ we are talking about and your rabbits will not eat these feces.