Caecal Pellets and Rabbits - Rabbits eat their Feces?
You may have heard that rabbits chew a cud, or that rabbits
eat their feces. Both statements are both true and false.
Rabbits don't have a cud in the strict sense as a cow does,
but they do produce two types of fecal pellets, one of which
is re-eaten and re-digested for the same reason that cows
chew cuds, because the heavy roughage that makes up most of
their diet is hard to digest and needs to be fermented and
re-digested in order to release the nutrients in a way that
the animal can use them.
Rabbits and hares (Lagomorphs) normally produce two
different types of fecal pellets, hard and soft, at
different times of the day. When the rabbit or hare is
active and eating it products the hard pellets so familiar
to anyone who has kept rabbits. Rabbits and hares must be
able to eat their soft pellets in order to be properly
nurtured. They don't, however, eat their hard pellets.
When the rabbit is resting it produces a different, soft
pellet that it normally eats as soon as it passes. Science
says that rabbits eat from fifty to eighty percent of their
feces, and that they swallow the soft pellets whole, without
The Lagomorph's hard pellets are normal feces, produced in
the normal fashion. But the soft pellets are created in a
special pouch at the beginning of the large intestine and
are composed mainly of special bacteria with a little plant
material, and covered and sealed with a protein rich
membrane that only dissolves about six hours after the
rabbit has re-eaten the pellet.
So the plant material in the pellet continues to ferment via
the enclosed bacteria, creating needed amino acids and
protein, as well as vitamins and minerals. This unique
digestive process is in fact similar to a cow's cud chewing,
but without the special stomach (rumen) of the cow.
The two types of pellets look different. The normal fecal
pellets are fairly hard, dry round balls. These pellets will
normally be left in one particular corner of the cage. (This
is why it is fairly easy to litterbox train a pet rabbit).
You should see a fair number of these every day. If they
suddenly stop or are greatly reduced in number you should
phone your veterinarian, it may be a sign of digestive
problems in your rabbits, and digestive problems in rabbits
can be quickly fatal.
The soft pellets, or Cecotropes, are clumps of very tiny
balls, like grape clusters, covered in shiny mucus. They are
very dark brown and don't smell very good due to the
fermentation. You may not ever see these pellets as the
rabbit normally eats them immediately, but if you do see
your rabbit eating them, know that it means that your bunny
is getting its vitamins and minerals.
Last but not least, if you find clumps of unformed feces
stuck in your rabbit's fur or the cage floor, that is a sign
that the rabbit is having a digestive upset of some kind.
Check its diet and make sure it is getting enough good hay
and is not getting too much greens or vegetables. If the
problem persists or gets worse, get the rabbit to a