One of the most random and disturbing facts you can learn is that rabbits eat poop. Yes, your cute and fluffy pet eats its own feces and they are actually quite good for them.
What Poop do Rabbits Eat?
Rabbits do not eat any type of poop, they just eat “cecotropes” which are usually produced at night. Cecotropes are very small clusters with a dark brown shiny mucus coating. The texture of cecotropes is squishy and sticky, with a strong odor that is released when the membrane is broken.
Many rabbit owners do not even notice when rabbits eat poop, since they double over like they are cleaning their rear ends. You will notice what they are actually doing only if you are paying close attention. Rabbits eat poop as soon as it comes out from their anus and will swallow it entirely. Neurological signals are sent to your rabbit’s brain for it to know which kind of poop is coming out.
If you find a lot of cecotropes it’s a sign that something is wrong, because your rabbit cannot fulfill its nutritional requirements without consuming them. Usually, it means there is as lack of fiber in their diet or that they are consuming too much sugar.
Rabbits eat poop throughout their life, but it may be hard for them to reach their butts when they are old, as they may suffer from arthritis, or if they are too fat. So you may have to collect cecotropes and feed them. Stop feeding pellets to obese rabbits and focus on hay and grass.
Rabbit Fecal Pellets
The other type of poop is called fecal pellets, which are the indigestible material that has no nutrients. This is what you see in your rabbit’s cage or house. If touched it resembles sawdust.
Fecal pellets are separate poop balls that are between the size of a pea to a chickpea, all pellets must be around the same size. Verify they have consistency, no smell and a texture which hardens with time. All these conditions will let you know if your rabbit is healthy. Rabbits usually do not eat this type of poop, but they may eat it and it is not harmful for them. If you see them eat too much fecal pellets, simply scoop it out from their litter boxes.
Rabbit fecal pellets are a great fertilizer and can be used to feed your composting red worms.
Why do Rabbits Eat Poop?
Rabbits eat poop because they have a special digestive system which evolved from wild rabbits. Most of their diet needs to be fiber based (read my article on what to feed rabbits) so they eat hay, grass and bark. They get little nutrients the first time they pass these materials through their body. Which is why they have to pass the food twice through their bodies to be able to digest it properly and get all the nutrients.
A rabbit processes food by splitting what they eat into digestible and indigestible categories. The digestible food is send to the rabbit’s caecum where is fermented by bacteria and formed into cecotrope droppings. Cecotropes help rabbits balance their gut flora and enhance good organisms, thus helping the hindgut fermentation process.
While the indigestible content keeps the digestion process moving and prevents gastrointestinal (GI) statis. This condition is mostly caused by antibiotics or a diet too rich in carbohydrates and low in fiber, which causes the peristaltic muscular contractions (responsible for pushing food and liquids through the intestines) to slow down. Fiber in the diet is what causes the fecal pellet poop you see.
Without the ability to process and digest food twice, wild rabbits would not have been able to extract nutrients. This is why its very important that rabbits eat poop.
Do Other Animals Eat Poop?
While humans do not eat poop, this is quite common in the animal world. The term is called “coprophagia” and it is done by many species including rabbits, rodents, beavers, hippopotamus, elephants and dogs. Non-human primates such as orangutans and gorillas also eat poop.
For most types of animals, poop eating is usually a sign of boredom or lack of nutrients. Rabbits eat poop, as well as hares and pikas which all have the same types of digestive systems. Some large herbivores, such as hippopotamus and elephants, have to eat their parents poop when young to get their gut bacteria ready to eat vegetation.