My Rabbit is Eating Their Own Poop
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Rabbits are sensitive, sweet and tender animals. It is no surprise they have become such beloved pets by people over the world. They are also considered hygienic as they devote a lot of time throughout the day to cleaning themselves. Devoting such time to cleanliness may mean you get quite a shock when you see a rabbit eating their own poop. Not only does it seem contrary to good hygiene, but rabbits eating their own feces also implies they have a health problem, whether physical or psychological.
If you wonder why my rabbits eat their own poop, AnimalWised explains this behavior by revealing its purpose. Although it may imply disease, this seemingly strange habit is much more beneficial that would first appear.
Reasons why rabbits eat their own poop
The term for eating feces is known as coprophagia or coprophagy. Some animals such as flies and other insects will eat feces as a means of sustenance, but it is not as common a practice in vertebrates. Some mammals will eat feces on rare occasions, such as dogs. Although it is not well understood in dogs, it is believed to be a practice which helps digestion. However, it some animals it can be a sign of disease or dietary insufficiency.
Rabbits are herbivorous animals. Their diet is mainly made of fibrous hay, supplemented by vegetables and fruit. However, their diet is so rich in fiber and cellulose that it can be difficult to digest. Although the food may have reached the end of the digestive tract, not all of the nutrients have been absorbed by the rabbit's body. The fiber in hay for rabbits makes intestinal transit efficient, but in some ways, too inefficient.
It is for this reason lagomorphs, a category of mammal including rabbits, hares and pikas, eat their own poop. In doing so, they are able to fully digest their food and reduce waste. Although we may think of eating their own poop as being unpleasant it is purely practical. Rabbits eat their own poop to digest nutrients they were unable to process the first time round.
However, a rabbit cannot eat all of their poop. Not all types of rabbit poop are digestible, something we explain further below.
Types of rabbit poop
Rabbits are prolific poopers. They have the ability to egest between 200 to 300 individual pellets per day. These pellets are small torpedo shaped droppings which are dark and about the size of a squashed pea. Rabbits will leave two types of poop:
- Hard droppings: harder in consistency, but crumbly if a little pressure is applied. They are the most common type of rabbit poop and they are inedible as they do not have nutritional value.
- Cecotropes: a softer consistency, these types of feces are created through hindgut fermentation. This process is common to all lagomorphs. Although commonly excreted, you may not see cecotropes since they are usually eaten soon after they are excreted. You may never have even seen them being eaten by your bunny.
These two types of excrement are the most common and the ones that indicate that the animal is healthy. Although technically a type of coprophagy, it is also known as cecophagy or cecotrophy. On the other hand, when the stool is deformed or not completely formed, it indicates that the rabbit is suffering from stress, a health problem or a poor diet.
Other types of rabbit poop
In addition to the two aforementioned types of rabbit feces, we can also highlight other types of excrement in rabbits that can occur in certain situations. They include:
- Feces with hair: some of the rabbit droppings may be linked together with hair. If the rabbit has ingested too much fur due to hygiene or even have been tearing out their fur, it will affect their poop. The latter is one of the reasons they may be losing fur. It may indicate there is a problem with their digestion or they have formed trichobezoars (hairballs in rabbits).
- Pellets linked in pairs: it is possible you will also see the rabbit's feces is connected in pairs. This occurs more often in older rabbits due to a slowing of intestinal transit. This causes two pellets to connect. However, it can also be caused by psychological stress or physical suffering due to illness. This is why we need to assess whether they are receiving the right level of care as well as take them to a veterinarian if we fear they are suffering physically.
- Diarrhea or bloody stools: finally, we must be concerned if we observe diarrhea or bloody stool. This is a situation that will require an visit to the veterinarian and will be considered an emergency.
Below we show some images with the two main types of rabbit poop. The image on the right is from the Conejos Discapacitados website.
Should I be concerned if my rabbit eats its poop?
You should not be worried if you see your rabbit eating their poop. It is a healthy and necessary part of their digestive process. The only real issue is whether or not the rabbit is eating the right type of poop. Since only cecotropes contain nutritional value for the rabbit, if they are eating their hard droppings, it implies there is an issue.
The rabbit will usually only eat cecotropes in their hutch or cage since these areas are quiet. You may notice your rabbit cleans themselves more often when they have eaten their poop, but this is usually because the soft feces can more easily stick to their fur. The area around the tail is particularly susceptible.
The feces your rabbit excretes during the day is usually the hard inedible droppings. It is not normal for them to be eaten by the rabbit. If they do, it is a clear sign they need to be taken to the veterinarian.
One of the most common reasons for this is a nutritional deficiency. If the rabbit is not getting all of their nutrients, they not only eat the cecotropes, but the hard droppings as well. This could be due to us not providing the right kind of food for them. We may even be providing them with inappropriate food. This is why we should only give them the appropriate fruit and vegetables for rabbits.
However, some of the common rabbit diseases affect their gastrointestinal system. In these cases, the rabbit may physically be unable to absorb the nutrients they require. If this is the case, we need to take the rabbit to the veterinarian for diagnosis. The problems could be anything from an infection to abnormal tooth growth which prohibit them from eating other food.
Physiological problems can result in the rabbit eating their own poop out of stress. Since the rabbit is a sensitive animal, we can cause them serious anxiety if we do not provide the right level of care. If their living conditions are insufficient, this can cause psychological problems. For example, if we leave the rabbit's hutch somewhere loud or near another pet which intimidates them. Also, picking the rabbit up and trancing them is a common cause of stress many rabbit owners are unaware of.
If you want to best avoid psychological and physical problems in rabbits, take a look at our rabbit care guide video:
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Rabbit is Eating Their Own Poop, we recommend you visit our Intestinal problems category.
- Cheeke, P. (2012). Rabbit feeding and nutrition . Elservier. ISBN: 008057078X