Why Do Rabbits Eat Their Poop (Little Known Facts)

Why Do Rabbits Eat Their Poop
Why Do Rabbits Eat Their Poop

Animals often have weird habits. Rabbits although cute and furry have an especially bizarre habit that seems quite offensive. I do recommend that rabbit owners understand the reason behind their rabbit’s strange behavior. In fact, I get many people asking me on regular basis if it’s true that rabbits eat their feces.

So, why do rabbits eat their poop? Rabbits don’t really eat feces. Instead they eat cecotropes. These are small, dark brown clusters of fiber, protein and vitamins created in the rabbit’s gut. Rabbits get more nutrition from eating cecotropes than from the food they eat. They provide the rabbit with the necessary nutrients and vitamins to live.

What Is A Rabbit’s Poop Called?

Rabbits produce two kinds of poop. One kind of rabbit poop is made from partially digested foods which the rabbit reingests. This unique poop, called cecotropes, is produced as the rabbit’s food ferments in his digestive tract. A rabbit actually gets more nutritional benefit from eating cecotropes than his the first digestion of his food.

The rabbits other poop is fecal pellets. Fecal pellets are round, dry poop you    might see in your rabbit’s cage or litter box. Rabbits do not eat these.

Inside the rabbit’s digestive tract is section called the cecum which contains a balance of bacteria and fungi that’s needed to produce the cecotropes. The cecotropes that rabbits eat are soft, small greenish looking pellets clustered together like grapes. They are sometimes called “soft feces” because they’re moist and covered with mucus.

Cecotropes are not fecal poop. Instead, they are important nutrients from food that your rabbit needs to survive. Your rabbit produces cecotropes at different times of the day. Some produce cecotropes in the late morning or afternoon, other rabbits produce them at night. For this reason, they are often called “night feces.”  

Why Are Cecotropes So Important To A Rabbit?

Coprophagy is the term used for eating feces. It’s sometimes called hindgut fermentation. Whichever term you choose, rabbits eat their homemade cecotropes to survive. The cecotropes are filled with nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin B12, fiber and protein. After the rabbit eats his cecotropes, all the nutrients get reabsorbed into his small intestine. If a rabbit didn’t eat his cecotropes most of the nutrients would be lost into his regular feces. Repeating this digestion of cecotropes gives the rabbit more nutrition from his food.

Do Other Animals Swallow Their Food Twice?

Rabbits aren’t ruminating animals, but ruminating animals eat their food and swallow it twice. This helps them get extra nutrients from their food. Cows, goats, sheep, buffalo and deer are what is called ruminating animals. This means they chew their food once, swallow it, then store it in a stomach called the rumen. In the rumen bacteria and fiber begins to break down the food. This partially digested food in the rumen is called the cud. The cud is then brought back up into the animal’s mouth and chewed. Then the cud gets swallowed. So basically the same food is swallowed twice.  Like rabbits, this digestive process actually gives the animals more nutrients from their food.

What Do Healthy Cecotropes Look Like?

Healthy cecotropes look like a cluster of shiny, dark brown tiny grapes or a mulberry. They are soft and coated with a layer of mucus. They have a strong odor due to the intestinal bacteria in it.  A rabbit eats them as they come out of his anus. Most of the time you won’t realize this. If you see your rabbit duck his head down under his body then sit up and chewing, he’s eating his cecotropes.

What Are Problems Related to Cecotrope?

  • Excess amount of cecotrope-Too many cecotropes are a sign of an unhealthy diet. t’s caused by an imbalance of carbs and sugar in your rabbit’s diet. Too many treats or too little hay(fiber) will result in an excess of cecotrope. Then sanitation issued develop in your rabbit’s cage because the cecotrope get smashed in the bottom of the cage instead of eaten immediately. They stink and stick to your rabbit’s fur. Excess cecotrope attract flies which could be dangerous for your rabbit.
  • An overweight rabbit–If your rabbit is too fat he can’t reach around to get the cecotropes. He might stop eating them altogether which means he’s not getting an important amount of nutrition.
  • Runny cecotropes- Liquid or mushy looking cecotropes aren’t healthy. This means your rabbit isn’t getting enough hay which supplies the fiber for his diet. Typically, a rabbit should eat a bundle of hay the size of his body every day. Limit the amount of pellets and treats your rabbit gets so he will want to eat more hay.

Why Isn’t My Rabbit Eating His Cecotropes?

If you find lots of cecotropes laying in the bottom of your rabbit’s cage or hutch, it could be a sign he’s eating too many treats. Treats like fruit, too much leafy greens or too many pellets cause a rabbit to produce too many cecotropes which in turn cause your rabbit to stop eating them. Too much alfalfa will also cause your rabbit to produce lots of cecotrope. Another reason could be that your rabbit is sick or is in pain. Check with your vet if you aren’t sure what’s causing your rabbit to not eat all his cecotrope. Infections can occur quickly in rabbits, so it’s best to be proactive about his health.

Best Diet To Produce Healthy Cecotrope

Here is a list of what you should look for in a rabbit food to guarantee your rabbit will not produce too many cecotrope.

  • Fiber- Choose the highest fiber content, nothing less than 18%, for best digestion.
  • Protein-An adult rabbit needs around 12% to 14% protein in his diet. Younger rabbits need more, around 16% for growth and development.
  • Calcium and Phosphorus- Your rabbit needs .5% to 1% calcium and .4% to .8% phosphorus in their diet.
  • Fat-Fat should be at least 2.5% to 5% for a healthy rabbit.
  • Vitamins- Your rabbit needs an adequate amount of vitamins such as Vitamin K, Vitamin B, Vitamin D and Vitamin A. Read the label on the rabbit food to be sure he’s getting these vitamins in a good amount.
  •  Hay-Your rabbit needs at large percentage of his diet to be hay, about 50% isn’t too much. Rabbits can’t eat too much hay. They need to fiber.
  • Grass- Your rabbit can graze eating grass or other plants especially at dawn or dusk. Just be sure the grass and plants aren’t treated with any chemicals or pesticides.

At What Age Do Rabbits Eat Cecotropes?

Baby bunnies eat their mother’s cecotrope around 10 to 12 days old. The cecotropes give the baby bunnies the important nutrients and actually inoculate their gut with important flora their digestive tract needs to offset illness plus provide other functions. As their diet changes from milk to solid foods, cecotropes are an essential part of their diet.

Can You Collect Cecotrope From Other Rabbits?

If your rabbit is ill and unable to eat his own cecotrope for a while you can collect  cecotrope from a healthy rabbit to feed your rabbit. These will help keep the bacteria and fungi growing in his gut. Eating cecotrope from a healthy rabbit will increase your rabbit’s chances of getting healthy quickly. Harvesting the cecotrope from a rabbit isn’t as easy as it sounds. Here are a few tips to follow when collecting cecotropes.

  • Put a cone collar on the rabbit you’re harvesting cecotrope from so they he won’t try to eat them as soon as he poops them. You can harvest the cecotrope as they fall on the floor.
  • Another method is a little more invasive. If you see the rabbit that you’re collecting the cecotrope from bending down towards its tail, quickly distract him and get the fresh cecotrope as it leaves his anus.

Rabbits are unique.No other animal makes cecotropes except the rabbit. These little clusters of fiber and protein look strange, but to a rabbit they are essential for a healthy life.