Why do rabbits eat their own faeces?

You may have noticed your rabbits eating their faeces and naturally questioned whether this is normal. Not only is this process of second ingestion normal, it is actually vital to your rabbits’ health.

Your rabbits produce two types of faeces: hard, dry waste pellets, and soft, moist droppings that contain nutrients. The latter is the one they choose to eat, and all for good reason (despite what you may think). This happens once a day. While owners may notice their rabbits eat their droppings in the morning or late at night, it can and does happen at any time.

Why do rabbits eat their faeces?

The faeces you see your rabbits consuming are a special type of faeces known as caecotrophs. Unlike typical droppings, caecotrophs are full of protein and B vitamins, but have significantly less fibre.

Your rabbits complete 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 rabbits from eating their poo, as it’s perfectly normal rabbit behaviour, and those bunnies who are deprived of these nutrients can become very ill with deficiency diseases.

How your rabbits digest their food

Rabbits are herbivores, so they only eat plants that are particularly difficult to digest.

When your bunnies eat, 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, rabbits absorb the maximum amount of nutrients they 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 rabbits’ 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.

Rabbits can’t absorb nutrients after food has passed through the small intestine, so the caecotrophs enter the colon and are then eliminated, despite being full of vitamins.

So, when your rabbits eat their poo – or caecotrophs – they pass through the digestive system for a second time. This time when they reach the small intestine, the remaining nutrients can be absorbed instead of wasted. This absorption of nutrients feeds the caecum with the new bacteria it needs to carry out fermentation and continue the process.

A healthy rabbit diet

For best rabbit nourishment, a healthy diet is vital, as this is the food that will be digested twice to extract maximum nutrition from it. A nutrient-rich diet includes:

  • Fresh water
  • Grass/hay – this should make up 85-95% of their diet
  • Green, leafy vegetables such as cabbage and kale
  • A small amount of good-quality pellets

Try to avoid feeding your bunnies muesli-style foods, as these are often associated with dental and digestive problems. If you’re concerned about your rabbits’ diet in any way, seek dietary advice from your vet.

With regards to your rabbits eating their faeces, remember this is natural and will have a big positive impact on their health. However, if you start to see more caecotrophs, or if your rabbits’ 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? Share your experiences with us on social media using the tag #PethoodStories

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