Have you discovered that your rabbit eats his poop? In humans, the elimination of stool is part of the basic principles of hygiene. So it makes perfect sense that you should feel disgust at the idea of your pet swallowing its feces. Rest assured, this is not a disturbance in your rabbit’s behavior. On the contrary, it meets basic needs. Here is the explanation.
Coprophages and animals practicing cecotrophy
The fact of eating its poop is not the only fact of the rabbit. It is a behavior shared by other animals.
Among these animals, there are the “coprophages”. This term is made up of two ancient Greek words: kopros which means “excrement” and phagos which means “who eats”. “Coprophage” therefore literally means the one who eats his excrement. Coprophagous animals are mainly insects, beetles or dipterans. The best known of these is undoubtedly the dung beetle.
Other animals practice the “caecotrophy”(Pronounced sekotrofi). This word is formed from a first Latin term, caecum, which means “blind gut” and a second ancient Greek term, trophy, which means “food”. Most shrews, groundhogs, beavers, chinchillas, koala bears, rabbits and hares fall into this category.
The essential difference between coprophages and those who practice cecotrophy is that the former feed on feces produced by other animals, while the latter eat only some of their own feces.
Why does the rabbit practice cecotrophy?
Among its droppings, the rabbit selects those which are moist and therefore soft: they are called “cecotrophs”. The process of life unfolds according to well-regulated mechanics. Let us study a little more closely that which presides over the digestion of the rabbit and which justifies that it eats its poop.
The rabbit is a herbivore. The food of a domestic rabbit is mainly hay which it can eat at will. This hay consists mainly of fibers. This means that the rabbit produces energy and cells, among which are muscle cells, from fibers. Therefore, a special chemical treatment is required to successfully produce protein from fiber. Man, for example, is not capable of this, which is why his diet must include protein.
Everything in the rabbit is adapted to the herbivorous diet, from the dentition to the cecum (part of the intestine representing a pocket to allow fermentation of the food absorbed), passing through the particle separation system at the level of the proximal colon which leads to the formation of soft faeces.
It is during fermentation that proteins and nutrients, absent from the rabbit diet, are produced. Those are the bacteria present in the cecum which perform this function.
At the exit of the cecum, in the colon, a sorting takes place between the digestible fibers and the non-digestible fibers because they are too big. This is done by a peristaltic movement (automatic muscular contractions) which makes the former rise towards the cecum, while the latter are evacuated in the form of dry and hard droppings. The expelled soft faeces are ingested by the rabbit for processing in the small intestine. This double process leads to speak of double digestion.
Wet faeces are coated with mucus whose role is to protect them from the acidity of the stomach to send them intact to the small intestine. If it wasn’t for this protection, the nutrients would be destroyed.
Since the cecum is located at the end of the digestive system, the rabbit’s organism does not have enough time to assimilate the nutrients. It is for this reason that the rabbit has a real need to ingest its soft faeces as soon as they are produced. These stools are usually passed at the end of your rabbit’s night, after a long period of sleep. The rabbit contorts to catch them directly at the exit of the anus. If he didn’t, he would be deficient.
Evolution of the rabbit diet
The baby rabbit heads its mother, on average once every 24 hours, sometimes twice.
Between 4 and 6 days of life, the young rabbit consumes, in addition to suckling, hard faeces which have been deposited in the nest by the mother. The aim is to stimulate the development of the bacterial flora of the cecum.
The ingestion of solid foods does not begin in a meaningful way until the young can easily access the mother’s feeder and the water pipette. This usually occurs between 17 and 20 days of life.
Weaning is done when the young rabbit can ingest dry food. In the wild, this occurs around 3½ weeks of life, when the mother is pregnant again and preparing for the next litter. In the following days, the rabbit absorbs between 25 and 30 solid and liquid meals per 24 hours. It is between 22 and 28 days of life that the caecotrophy behavior takes place.
The domestic rabbit is only weaned between 4 and 5 weeks of life. It is between weaning and 8 weeks of life that the growth rate reaches its highest level.
When the rabbit does not eat his poop
Before 3 months, the rabbit has not acquired the habit of eating its soft faeces. On the other hand, after this age, it is not normal for the rabbit to abandon them, that he does not eat them. It is an anomaly whose cause must absolutely be found.
An obese rabbit, for example, will have difficulty catching its soft faeces when it comes out of the anus. This is an important reason to quickly treat a possible overweight. He may also experience pain in his back such that he cannot take the correct position.
A food inappropriate can also cause digestion disturbances. The domestic rabbit often suffers from a diet too high in sugar, because it is offered too many treats. This lowers the pH of its digestive tract, which can lead to the disappearance of the bacterial flora in the cecum and therefore to the cessation of the fermentation process. This can also lead to the development of bad bacteria then can grow and cause sudden death of the rabbit.
The cage of a healthy rabbit is therefore a cage where there are no cecotrophs. Occasionally, the rabbit may not grab them immediately because he was distracted. However, once fallen to the ground, these droppings smell very bad, even for the rabbit which will therefore abandon them.
You need to differentiate between caecotrophs and normal looking but soft droppings that are sometimes produced by the rabbit to mark its territory. The first are really shiny because of the presence of the mucus.