Updated: Jan 9
It might seem like a taboo subject, but when you care for animals, poo is a really important issue to be aware of! Just a small change in an animal’s poo can be an early indication of digestive disruption and a decline in health, so it is vital to understand what is normal and what is not so that we can act fast.
Rabbits are animals commonly kept as pets but frequently misunderstood, often sold as easy to care for and good for children as a “starter” pet, but you probably couldn’t get further from the truth. These wonderful animals are in fact a very complex species, and a huge part of this is their amazing digestive system!
Did you know that rabbits eat their poo? This might sound unpleasant to us, but this is a crucial step in the digestive process for our long-eared friends!
Wild rabbits are foraging herbivores, with a diet consisting mainly of grasses and weeds, which is why it is so important that you ensure that the majority of your pet rabbit’s diet is made up of high-quality hay and grasses rather than simply commercial pellets. However, this high-fibre, cellulose-rich diet certainly isn’t easy to digest, and by the time this has made its way through their intestines it still contains many of the nutrients they require.
Rabbits (and their cousins, the hare) beat this problem with a special kind of digestion known as hindgut fermentation. Rabbits eat their poo and digest it a second time to obtain the nutrients they missed out on the first time around! Those of you with rabbits may have noticed they make two different kinds of droppings: the small, dark, round ones they are most famous for which contain the waste indigestible fibre, and softer black ones known as caecotrophs – you may not have seen these, as these are the ones that are eaten straight away. This process is known as coprophagy and functions the same as our sheep and goats chewing their cud.
It is so very important for a rabbit’s digestive system to keep moving. If anything becomes stuck in a rabbit’s oesophagus or intestines, this is a veterinary emergency as they can enter something we call GI (Gastrointestinal) Stasis which causes a rabbit’s digestive system to slow down, creating a build-up of bacteria which results in gas. In minor cases, this is uncomfortable for your rabbit and if treated quickly, it can be resolved. However, in more serious cases, it can become excruciating and lead to a critical condition.
Rabbits are also incapable of vomiting. In a nutshell, if your rabbit stops eating, call your vet – you could save their life. And don’t be alarmed if you witness coprophagy, it’s completely normal, it’s not a dirty habit; it’s simply a happy, healthy bunny.