Why do rabbits eat their own faeces?
You may have noticed your rabbit eating their faeces and naturally questioned whether this is normal. However, it’s not just normal, but vital to your rabbit’s health.
Petplan explains the process of this second ingestion, and why it’s so important…
What exactly are the droppings your rabbit is eating?
Your rabbit produces two types of faeces – hard, dry waste pellets, and soft, moist droppings which contain nutrients. The latter is the one they choose to eat again, and all for good reason (despite what you may think). This happens once a day, either at morning or late at night.
The faeces which you see your rabbit consuming is actually a special type called caecotrophs. Unlike typical droppings, caecotrophs are full of protein and B vitamins, but have significantly less fibre.
Your rabbit completes a natural process by re-ingesting the caecotrophs, maximising the nutrients they can obtain from food. The digestive process is similar to a cow chewing its cud, and is called caecotrophy.
You should never prevent your rabbit from eating their faeces as it’s perfectly normal rabbit behaviour, and those bunnies who are deprived of these nutrients can die from deficiency diseases.
How are caecotrophs created?
Rabbits are herbivores, meaning that they only eat plants which are particularly difficult to digest.
When your bunny eats, the first part of digestion is the mouth, where the food is chewed and swallowed. The food then moves through a digestive path into the stomach, and then through the small intestine. At this point, the rabbit absorbs the maximum amount of nutrients it can – however, the food has not been broken down enough to release all the nutrients.
After passing through the small intestine, the food reaches a part of your rabbit’s digestive system called the caecum. Here, during a process called fermentation, bacteria break down the plant further and this enables the release of even more nutrients.
However, after the small intestine, the rabbit cannot absorb nutrients, so the caecotrophs enter the colon and are then eliminated, despite being full of vitamins.
Therefore, when your rabbit eats their faeces – or caecotrophs – they pass through the digestive system for a second time. But when they reach the small intestine, the remaining nutrients can be absorbed instead of wasted.
For best rabbit nourishment, a healthy diet is vital as this is the food which will be digested twice to extract maximum nutrition from it. A nutrient-rich diet includes:
- Fresh water
- Grass/ hay
- Root vegetables or fruit (in small amounts)
- A small amount of good quality pellets
Try to avoid feeding your bunny museli-style foods, as these are often associated with dental and digestive problems. If you’re concerned about your rabbit’s diet in any way, contact your vet for dietary advice. You can find out more about what to feed your bunny here.
With regards to your rabbit eating their faeces, remember this is natural and will have a big impact on their health! However, if their droppings lessen, or become too soft and stick to their fur, you should consult a vet immediately as they could be ill.
Have you had any problems with your bunny’s digestion? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below…