Why Do Rabbits Eat Their Own Poop?

If you’ve seen your bunny eating its own poop, don’t be worried.

Although it may seem disgusting to you, it’s completely normal for a rabbit to do this.

Why Do Rabbits Eat Their Own Poop?

Rabbits eat a mostly plant-based diet, feasting on grass, long-stemmed plants, weeds, and raw vegetables.

This high-fiber diet isn’t easy to digest, and by the time it has made the first pass through the rabbit’s digestive tract, the partially processed food still has many nutrients left in it.

That’s the reason rabbits eat their poop.

Rabbits have a special kind of digestion called hindgut fermentation. They eat their poop and digest it a second time (as it’s half-digested and still has some nutrients).

But bunny droppings aren’t all the same.

Rabbits make two kinds of droppings. They produce softer black droppings called cecotropes that they eat.

The process of a rabbit eating its own poop is called coprophagy.

After second digestion, they release harder, smaller black droppings that remain on the ground or in the litter box.

Rabbits mostly release hard droppings during the day.

In nature, they would spread them around wherever they would happen to be, but most rabbits train themselves to poop hard pellets into their litter box.

Rabbits eat soft pellets directly from their own anus, mostly at night when no one is around to watch.

It’s very important for your rabbit’s health to keep its digestive tract moving smoothly.

If anything gets stuck in your rabbit’s esophagus or farther down the line, your rabbit is unable to eat poop to extract the vital nutrients that weren’t extracted on their first pass through your rabbit’s digestive tract.

If something gets stuck in your rabbit’s throat, they may starve, because they are incapable of vomiting.

Eating Poop Is More Common in Animals Than You May Know

Coprophagy isn’t unique to rabbits. It also occurs in mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, young horses, pigs, dogs, beavers, and some monkeys and apes. 

Animal scientists somehow never managed to observe this phenomenon until the 1880s, but it probably has been around as long as there have been animals.

In rabbits, one of the benefits of coprophagy is absorbing nutrients made by probiotic bacteria. You are probably familiar with products that advertise Lactobacillus for digestive health.

In humans, these friendly bacteria create the bulk that makes bowel movement easier and also create some useful fatty acids and vitamins.

In rabbits, probiotic bacteria produce a cellular fuel called butyric acid. This fatty acid keeps the cells lining the intestines healthy.

Sending food through the digestive tract twice gives the probiotic bacteria in a rabbit’s gut a second chance to turn cellulose into fats and sugars.

When food is scarce, this process prevents starvation. Even if you give your rabbit a generous, healthy diet and lots of treats, eating poop is part of what gives your rabbit the nutrition she needs.

Another strange fact about digestion in rabbits is that not only do rabbits eat their own poop, they poop both forward and backward.

Rabbits have a fold in the middle part of their intestine, the cecum, that receives digested food from further down for additional digestion to concentrate protein.

This process helps rabbits and other animals that have this digestive characteristic like koalas, geese, donkeys, ponies, chinchillas, and hamsters, get the protein they need from plants that don’t naturally contain very much protein.

Setting Up the Litter Box for Rabbit Poop

The good news about house training your rabbit is that, once they have been spayed or neutered, almost all rabbits will teach themselves to use their litter box.

This can seem like a challenge because grazing animals like rabbits naturally pee and poop while they are eating, but you can work with their instincts to keep their area clean.

What takes some getting used to is the fact that your rabbit’s litter box is also its place to feed on hay. Hay becomes both pee and poop catcher and your rabbit’s lunch.

Choosing and Filling Your Rabbit’s Litter Box

The first thing you will need to train your rabbit to use a litter box is a litter box.

A new, large, plastic litter box from the pet store like the ones used by cats is fine, but don’t recycle a litter box that has been previously used by cats.

You can’t wash away their scent, and your rabbit will not frequent any location where it can smell the scent of a predator.

Buy the largest, deepest litter box you can fit in the area where it is to be placed.

The only time you might want to use a shallow litter box is when you have an older rabbit that has trouble hopping into a bigger box.

For these bunnies, you can use a specially made litter box that has one lower side.

You will also need fresh hay and absorbent bedding made from the unsent paper pulp (like CareFresh) to line the bottom of the box.

Not Every Kind of Hay Is Suitable for the Litter Box

The hay you use in your rabbit’s litter box is the same hay you should be giving your rabbit for most of their diet, hay made from timothy grass, bromme (Bermuda) grass, oat hay, or orchard hay.

You shouldn’t use just orchard hay in your rabbit’s litter box. It is too high in calories to be your pet’s only source of grass.

Alfalfa hay is also too high-calorie for all but young, growing rabbits less than six months old and rabbits that grow wooly coats, like Angoras.

Line the bottom of your rabbit’s litter box with one-quarter to one-half inch of absorbent paper to capture urine.

Clean Your Rabbit’s Litter Box Every Day

Now comes the hard part.

You need to change the hay and the absorbent paper at the bottom of your rabbit’s litter box every day.

Only if you have a smaller bunny, under 7 pounds (3 kilos), can you get away with changing the absorbent paper in the litter box every other day, but the hay needs to be changed every day.

The reason you need to change the hay in your rabbit’s litter box every day is to prevent the growth of molds.

Molds can make your rabbit sick, and they can make you sick.

Any time you see any kind of black or white coating on your rabbit’s hay, you should throw it out to keep your rabbit from feeding on it

If you are not sure whether your rabbit’s hay is moldy, sniff it. If it smells moldy, it probably is moldy.

It’s better to throw away mildly contaminated hay than to take the chance of making your rabbit and any mold-sensitive people in your household sick.

How to Store Your Bunny’s Hay

You will need to buy hay a bale at a time to avoid constant trips to the pet store for more.

It’s OK to store hay in a garbage can with a lid to keep mice and rats out, but don’t use a garbage can that has ever been used for trash.

The important thing is to keep your hay dry so it does not grow mold.

More Tips for Managing Your Rabbit’s Litter Box

  • Completely remove the hay from your rabbit’s litter box every time you clean it. Check the bottom of the box for urine residue. Dried rabbit urine is very caustic, and will build up if it is not cleaned out every time you see it. To remove any buildup of dried urine, use a mixture of equal parts of water and vinegar to clean up the residue.
  • Throw out the absorbent paper in the bottom of the litter box along with the hay if you see urine buildup. Otherwise, change the paper at least every other day.
  • Never use household cleaners on your rabbit’s litter box. Remember, this is also your rabbit’s box for feeding on hay. The chemicals in household cleaners and disinfectants are extremely irritating to your rabbit’s eyes, ears, and mouth. The only cleanser you should ever use on your rabbit’s litter box is dilute vinegar.
  • Every time you clean your rabbit’s litter box, make sure it is dry, and then place a layer of bedding all the way across the bottom of the box. The larger your rabbit, the thicker the bedding. Then place several large handfuls of hay across the lining you placed in the bottom of the box. You should give your rabbit all the hay she wants to eat plus some extra to dig in.
  • Place a little grate between the bedding and the hay in your rabbit’s litter box. This way, your rabbit cannot dig down into the bedding and destroy it. You will also only have to replace the bedding that has become soaked with urine.
  • Another reason for having a grate underneath the hay in your rabbit’s litter box is keeping your rabbit from standing in his own urine. If you notice your rabbit has yellow feet, you need to change the litter box more often and use more absorbent material. Unlike dogs and cats, rabbits do not have protective pads on their feet, just skin underneath fur.
  • Your rabbit needs to bathe or be bathed if she gets urine on her skin. Prolonged contact of skin with urine can cause your rabbit’s fur to melt into smelly mats.
  • Never use a wire-bottom cage to take care of urine problems. Rabbits in wire-bottomed cages often get their toes caught in the wire and develop hard-to-treat sores. Rabbits sometimes lose an entire leg to a sore that begins when they get their toes caught in wire mesh.

What to Do When Your Rabbit Poops or Pees in the Wrong Place

If your rabbit ever makes a mistake and pees on your carpet, remove the stain as quickly as possible with a mixture of water and vinegar.

Rabbit urine can quickly cause a permanent stain.

If your rabbit is peeing in a specific area other than his litter box, put together a second litter box and place it there.

Sometimes rabbits need three litter boxes to get an idea about where to go when they are being trained.

Litter box training only works on rabbits that have been spayed or neutered.

Sexually intact rabbits will pee and poop indiscriminately as part of the instinctive way they attract a mate.

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