Your rabbits' toilet habits may not be your favourite subject, but it's one you're likely to be familiar with. Still, do you know why bunnies might like to do their business in strange ways? Our expert gets to the bottom of some perplexing behaviours.
Caring for bunnies can be rewarding, even if their toilet habits might be a bit confusing and can cause a bit of a stink. This is especially true of rabbits' tendency to eat their first poo of the morning.
'It sounds disgusting, but it's entirely normal,' says Catherine Thomas, a veterinary surgeon and director at Suffolk Exotic Vets. 'Rabbits' first poo in the morning is known as a caecotroph, and is softer and squishier than normal faeces. This is necessary as rabbits' digestive systems work in a strange way: bacteria in their guts break down partly digested poo and produce nutrient-rich caecotroph, which rabbits eat as it contains important vitamins that they can't get any other way.'
As most rabbits produce caecotrophs in the morning and eat them directly from their behinds, most owners will never have to set eyes on the unique, shiny droppings unless something is wrong. 'If you notice uneaten caecotroph, your rabbit could be unwell,' Catherine explains. 'Healthy rabbits shouldn't have any problems, but obese rabbits may find it difficult to reach their bottoms. Their teeth should be comfortable, too - it shouldn't hurt them to eat.'
Apart from eating these droppings, rabbits are extremely clean animals and like to have their own 'bunny bathrooms' - dedicated areas in their hutch for sleeping, eating and toileting. But some rabbits, like Kate Cullinane's indoor rabbit Kisa, may develop a preference for doing their business on anything soft, such as a duvet or sleeping bag.
'Kisa has always preferred to wee on soft places, although he's fine to use his litter tray for number twos,' Kate says. 'If he needs a wee, he'll jump on the sofa and will then happily hop back to his cage when he's finished.'
There are many reasons why this type of behaviour could be going on, but a common cause could be the position of your rabbits' litter tray. As prey animals, rabbits need to feel secure, especially when going to the toilet, and if the litter tray is positioned in a way that leaves your bunnies feeling exposed it might prevent them using it all together.
'Rabbits are always wary of possible predators, so if their litter tray is placed where they don't feel safe, they won't use it,' Catherine explains. She suggests observing the area your rabbits naturally use for toileting, and placing a litter tray there instead. Placing some of your rabbits' usual faecal pellets in the clean litter tray can help them become accustomed to it, too.
Keep track of toilet habits
While cleaning up and examining your rabbits' poo is no one's idea of fun, it does pay to keep track of their toileting habits. By doing so Natasha Dyer noticed that her Lionhead Rabbit, Rory, was no longer going to the bathroom in the way that he used to. 'He started using the floor, even though he'd been happy to use his litter tray before then,' she says.
'Rory could be experiencing general stress,' Catherine explains. 'A change in his litter material, cleaning products or a new pet or family member could be upsetting him and might be what's preventing him from using his litter tray in the way he used to.' If you notice a change in your bunnies' usual routine, speak to your vet about ruling out the possible causes.
Stelle Jenner, who owns French Lop Lilo, says she'd advise all owners to contact their vet as soon as possible if they suspect something might be amiss. 'I noticed that Lilo's litter tray was getting wetter, while her water bottle was emptying faster,' Stelle says. 'When it didn't settle down in a few days, I took her to my vet to be checked out. I'm so thankful I did as a blood and urine test showed that she had kidney disease.'
'Although there's no cure for kidney disease, medication can slow down the deterioration of the kidneys and the disease process, so it's vital to catch it as early as possible,' says Catherine. 'Thanks to her owner's prompt action, Lilo is now very happy and living a good quality of life.'
If your rabbits seem to poo or wee more often, not as often as they once used to, or if there's a change in the consistency of their poos, contact your vet straight away.