Did you know that rabbits often pretend they are healthy – even when they are not? Luckily, there’s one sign that they really can’t hide. Can you guess what it is? Yup – it’s their poo. Get to know all about your rabbit’s poo and how you really can help keep them healthy and happy.
Rabbits and their habits
Rabbits have to eat their own poo to stay healthy. Yes you read that right. The first time foods go through the digestive tract not all the nutrients are absorbed so rabbits need to eat the poo to send it through the gut for a second time. This allows the nutrients to be extracted and used in the body.
Getting to know poo, getting to know all about poo…
Rabbits have two different kinds of poo. The first type of poo is called a caecotroph and this is the poo that rabbits eat – most often nibbling them directly from the bottom and then giving them a light chew before swallowing. Sounds horrible but totally essential and normal for rabbits.
Caecotrophs look like sticky pellets all gathered together in a grape-like cluster – so they are much larger than the pellet-poo you commonly see. Often a caecotroph is black and shiny. The second kind of poo is the single rabbit pellet poo that is commonly seen in hutches and runs – it tends to be light brown, smaller and drier than a caecotroph.
If you are a rabbit owner you need to learn to look for poo because it tells you a lot about the health of your rabbit. This is important because rabbits tend to hide any signs of illness. This is a protective act that would normally save them from becoming prey in the wild.
Look out for caecotrophs because if you are seeing lots of them in your rabbit’s surroundings it can be a sign that something isn’t right. Normally, you won’t see many or even any caecotrophs. This is because rabbits are usually successfully nibbling them directly from their bottoms as they are being passed. Definitely don’t try this at home though – it’s just for rabbits.
You should also look for the presence of normal second pass poo. If you don’t see normal single pellet poo or it is greatly reduced, this can also be a sign of a serious condition where the rabbit’s digestive system stops moving – this is called gastric stasis. Do contact your vet if you suspect this condition.
Too much of a good thing?
The presence of lots of caecotrophs lying around a rabbit hutch can be a sign that rabbits are eating too many treats and ‘concentrate’ food and not enough hay. Hay provides long fibre that is essential for a rabbit’s gut to work properly. The presence of caecotrophs can also indicate that your rabbit is not feeling well and doesn’t want to eat the caecotrophs, so if in doubt always check with your vet but if your rabbit seems well, sometimes simply feeding more hay and cutting back on concentrates will help sort this out.
How to help your rabbit produce more ‘good poo’
Rabbits need a lot of hay to produce normal caecotrophs and pellet-poo. A good guide is to equally match the bundle of hay to the rabbits overall body size – they’ll need that much every day. A handful of fresh leafy greens daily will also help keep your rabbit healthy –broccoli, cabbage, spinach and fresh herbs are all good choices.
Keep a clean bottom
Soft or sticky poo can get stuck to your rabbit’s bottom, which can attract flies that may lay eggs that later hatch out as maggots causing a serious condition called Flystrike. If you see maggots on your rabbit always consult a vet as soon as possible. If there are no maggots but the area is dirty, gently clean it with warm water then dry well.
So why else could a rabbit’s bottom be covered in matted poo? As well as not feeding enough hay, another common cause is sugary treats. In fact some main meal foods can also contain hidden sugars in the form of molasses and syrups that bind the pellet together. Choosing a food such as Supreme Selective that contains no added sugars and is high in fibre is a good step forward but make any changeovers slowly so your rabbit’s digestive system gets the chance to adapt to the new food.
Sugary treats should also be phased out or restricted and keep a close eye on any food that seems to upset your rabbit’s poo production. If your rabbit isn’t keen on eating hay, experiment with different varieties. Chances are your rabbit’s a bit of a hay gourmet and the grasses used and freshness of the hay can make a big difference to how it tastes. Stuffing hay into a cardboard tube and hiding some kibbled food inside is also a great way to make eating hay more rewarding.