Why Do Rabbits Eat Their Own Poop?

Rabbit poop – it elicits giggles and gross-outs, yet is a key piece of the puzzle in understanding the biology of these endearing creatures. There’s more to rabbit droppings than meets the eye. Delve into the curious world of cecotrophy to uncover the science behind why rabbits eat their own poop! Learn how their unique digestive system enables specialized fermentation to produce nutrient-packed cecotropes. Discover the tricks rabbits use to ID the poop they need to eat. Get answers to common questions like “Why did my bunny stop eating cecotropes?” Unravel the mysteries of rabbit digestion and gain fascination for one of nature’s most peculiar cycles – all revealed in our comprehensive guide to cecotrophy!

How Does a Rabbits Digestive System Work?

Rabbits have a unique digestive system that allows them to get nutrients from fibrous, low-calorie foods like grass and hay. Here's an overview of how a rabbit's digestive system works:

The rabbit's teeth are constantly growing, which allows them to grind down tough plant materials. Food passes through the esophagus and into the stomach. The stomach is relatively small and food only stays there for a short time before moving on to the small intestine.

In the small intestine, enzymes break down food molecules into simpler compounds that can be absorbed. The majority of nutrient absorption happens in the first part of the small intestine, known as the duodenum. From there, material passes into the large intestine, which is made up of the cecum and colon.

The cecum is a blind-end pouch connected to the colon that contains a large amount of bacteria and fungi. Here, fermentation takes place. The microorganisms in the cecum break down and digest fiber that wasn't digested in the small intestine. This is what allows rabbits to extract nutrients from fibrous plant materials.

The fermentation process produces compounds called volatile fatty acids that rabbits can absorb and use for energy. Specialized proteins called cecal transport proteins actively absorb volatile fatty acids and deliver them to the rest of the body.

Material then passes from the cecum into the colon where water and minerals are absorbed. The colon also compacts and forms fecal pellets, which the rabbit excretes.

However, rabbit digestion isn't quite finished when the fecal pellets exit the anus the first time. Rabbits produce two types of droppings – fecal pellets and cecotropes. Fecal pellets are the regular waste pellets that most people associate with rabbit poop. Cecotropes are soft, nutrient-rich pellets that rabbits ingest directly from the anus. This second round of digestion allows them to maximize nutrient absorption from their food.

What Is Hindgut Fermentation in Rabbits?

Hindgut fermentation refers to the process of microbial fermentation that occurs in a rabbit's cecum and colon. As mentioned above, the cecum houses a large microbial population including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and archaea. Together, these microbes break down and digest fiber through fermentation.

During fermentation, microbes digest and metabolize compounds that the rabbit wasn't able to digest on its own. This releases nutrients like volatile fatty acids, vitamins B and K, and amino acids. By ingesting cecotropes, the rabbit is able to capture these nutrients released by hindgut fermentation.

Some key points about hindgut fermentation in rabbits:

  • Fiber makes up the bulk of a rabbit's diet. Rabbits cannot digest fiber on their own, but microbes in the hindgut (cecum and colon) can digest fiber through fermentation. This allows rabbits to utilize the nutrients locked inside plant fiber.

  • Volatile fatty acids are a major byproduct of fiber fermentation. Rabbits rely on volatile fatty acids (mainly acetic acid, propionic acid, and butyric acid) as a significant energy source.

  • Microbes synthesize certain vitamins. B vitamins and vitamin K are produced by bacterial fermentation and absorbed by the rabbit.

  • Hindgut fermentation provides a significant percentage of a rabbit's nutritional needs. Experts estimate anywhere from 30-50% of a rabbit's nutritional requirements are met through cecotrophy and hindgut fermentation.

  • Each rabbit has a unique hindgut microbiome. The types and ratios of microbes present can impact digestive efficiency. Diet, antibiotics, and other factors influence cecal microbiome composition.

Overall, the rabbit's utilization of hindgut fermentation allows it to thrive on a high-fiber, low-calorie diet. The cecotrophy process lets them maximize the nutritional yield from their food through two passes of digestion.

How Do Rabbits Know Which Poop to Eat?

Rabbits produce two different types of droppings: regular fecal pellets and cecotropes. Cecotropes are soft, greenish, nutrient-rich pellets that rabbits eat directly from their anus. So how do rabbits know which poop to eat and which to let fall to the ground?

There are a few key differences that allow rabbits to differentiate between regular waste pellets and the cecotropes they want to reingest:

  • Location – Cecotropes form in a different part of the intestine. Regular fecal pellets form in the colon, while cecotropes form in the cecum where fermentation occurs.

  • Texture & moisture – Cecotropes have a soft, mushy texture and higher moisture content than regular dry rabbit poop. This texture and moisture content comes from the cecum.

  • Smell – Cecotropes have a stronger odor that is distinct from regular pellets. Rabbits use this smell to locate the cecotropes.

  • Timing – Cecotropes are produced at a different time than regular poop. Rabbits typically pass cecotropes at night or in the early morning, while regular pellets are passed throughout the day.

  • Color – Cecotropes usually have a darker greenish color compared to the brownish waste pellets. However, color is not the most reliable indicator.

  • Nutrient content – Cecotropes contain more protein, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients than regular poop. The high nutrient content makes them worth ingesting again.

So in summary, rabbits use factors like texture, smell, timing, and location to identify the soft, nutrient-rich cecotropes from the regular fecal pellets they want to void. This allows them to practice cecotrophy and maximize nutritional intake from their food.

What Are the Two Types of Rabbit Poop?

As mentioned, rabbits produce two types of droppings – fecal pellets and cecotropes. Here's an overview of the two types of rabbit poop:

Fecal pellets:

  • Produced throughout the day

  • Form in the colon

  • Round/oval hard pellets

  • Consist of indigestible fiber, ash, and debris

  • Brownish color

  • Little odor

  • Rabbits let these drop to the ground


  • Produced at night/early morning

  • Form in the cecum/lower intestine

  • Soft, mushy texture

  • Greenish color from bile pigments

  • Strong odor

  • Coated with a mucous layer

  • Contain beneficial cecal bacteria

  • High in nutrients – protein, vitamins, minerals

  • Rabbits eat these directly from the anus

The key difference is that fecal pellets are mostly indigestible waste, while cecotropes contain nutrients produced by hindgut fermentation. By ingesting the cecotropes, rabbits are able to extract additional nutrition from their food during a second pass through the digestive system.

Why Is My Rabbit Not Eating Cecotropes?

It's normal and healthy for rabbits to eat their cecotropes to obtain additional nutrients. However, sometimes rabbits stop consuming their cecotropes. If your rabbit isn't eating cecotropes, here are some potential reasons why:

  • Dental problems – Misaligned or overgrown teeth can make it painful to chew cecotropes. Rabbits may avoid eating them if chewing causes discomfort.

  • GI tract issues – Diarrhea, stasis, or other digestive issues may alter cecotrope formation. The cecotropes may be abnormal in some way that deters the rabbit from eating them.

  • Pain – Arthritis, sore hocks, or other sources of pain can prevent a rabbit from properly contorting to reach the anus. This makes cecotrophy difficult.

  • Obesity – Excess fat deposits around the anus and on the back can get in the way and make it physically challenging for an obese rabbit to reach and eat cecotropes.

  • Scent change – Issues like dysbiosis or antibiotic use can alter the scent of the cecotropes, causing the rabbit to not recognize them as a food source.

  • Environment – Unsanitary housing conditions may deter rabbits from practicing cecotrophy. Lack of privacy may also inhibit the behavior.

  • Behavioral – Sometimes rabbits mysteriously stop eating cecotropes for no apparent health reason. This may occur due to old age or behavioral quirks.

If your rabbit stops eating cecotropes, have your vet examine them to rule out potential health issues. Getting to the root of the problem is key to getting rabbits back on track with cecotrophy.

Why Is My Rabbit Eating Poop (Not Cecotropes)?

While eating cecotropes is normal and healthy rabbit behavior, eating regular fecal pellets is not. If your rabbit is consuming their regular droppings, it's cause for concern. Some reasons rabbits eat their poop include:

  • Hunger – Rabbits lacking hay or other roughage may eat poop due to hunger or nutritional deficiencies. Cecotropes are not a balanced diet replacement.

  • Boredom – Inadequate mental stimulation and housing enrichment can cause rabbits to develop abnormal behaviors like eating poop.

  • Stress – Anxiety, fear, or environmental stressors may trigger poop eating as a coping mechanism.

  • Medical issue – Dental disease, GI issues, and parasites can cause rabbits to eat poop. Nutrient deficiencies may also be a factor.

  • Cecotrope confusion – Rabbits who can't differentiate between cecotropes and regular poop due to old age, poor eyesight, or other impairments may eat all droppings indiscriminately.

  • Cecotrope unavailability – Lack of cecotropes due to digestive issues or an abnormal hindgut environment can lead to poop eating.

  • Behavioral habit – Sometimes rabbits develop a habit of eating poop even when their diet and environment seem healthy. Breaking the habit may take time.

If your rabbit starts eating their poop, get them evaluated by a rabbit-savvy vet. Proper diet, housing enrichment, and addressing potential health issues can usually resolve poop eating behavior in rabbits.

In summary

Rabbits eat their own poop, specifically cecotropes, as part of their normal digestive process. They have a specialized digestive system that allows them to pass food through the gut twice to maximize nutrient absorption. Hindgut fermentation by bacteria in the cecum produces nutritious cecotropes rabbits recognize and eat. This behavior, called cecotrophy, provides rabbits with essential nutrients and should be considered normal, healthy rabbit behavior. However, if rabbits start eating regular fecal pellets, it may signal an underlying health or environmental issue that requires attention. By understanding cecotrophy and a rabbit's digestive system, we can better care for the nutritional needs of these affectionate, quirky pets.

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