The Mystery of Rabbit Poop
By Dana Krempels, Ph.D.
Unlike most other mammals, lagomorphs (including domestic rabbits) produce two types of droppings, fecal pellets (the round, dry ones you usually see in the litter box) and cecotropes. The latter are produced in a region of the rabbit’s digestive tract called the cecum. The cecum contains a natural community of bacteria and fungi that provide essential nutrients and possibly even protect the rabbit from harmful pathogens.
How does the rabbit get those essential nutrients? They eat the cecotropes as they exit the anus. The rabbits blissful expression when she’s engaging in cecotrophy (the ingestion of cecotropes) will tell you that she finds this anything but disgusting. In fact, rabbits deprived of their cecotropes will eventually succumb to malnutrition.
Cecotropes are not feces. They are nutrient-packed dietary items essential to your companion rabbit’s good health.
Each individual rabbit usually produces cecotropes at a characteristic time of the day, which may vary from rabbit to rabbit. Some produce cecotropes in the late morning, some in the late afternoon, and some at night. In any case, they usually do this when you’re not watching, which might be why some people refer to cecotropes as “night droppings.”
Normal Intestinal Products:
Anyone who lives with a bunny has seen a FECAL PELLET (aka: poop). These are the small, brown “cocoa puffs” that we all hope end up mostly in the litterbox. They are round, relatively dry and friable, and composed mostly of undigested fiber. Rabbits do not ordinarily re-ingest fecal pellets, though a few bunnies seem to enjoy an occasional fecal pellet hors d’ouevre.
A normal CECOTROPE resembles a dark brown mulberry, or tightly bunched grapes (see below.) It is composed of small, soft, shiny pellets, each coated with a layer of rubbery mucus, and pressed into an elongate mass. The cecotrope has a rather pungent odor, as it contains a large mass of beneficial cecal bacteria. When the bunny ingests the cecotrope, the mucus coat protects the bacteria as they pass through the stomach, then re-establish in the cecum.