Why do rabbits eat their feces?

Companion Animals June 15, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF
Though it seems like a strange practice, eating feces, or corprophagy, is an essential behavior for maintaining health in rabbits. Rabbits are hindgut fermenters, which means that a significant portion of digestion occurs in the cecum and large intestine or at the end of their digestive tract after nutrient absorption has already occurred. This is unlike humans, dogs, and cats who absorb most of their nutrients in the small intestine, or upper portion of the digestive tract. Unlike ruminants such as cows, rabbits do not regurgitate their food or chew a cud to extract the maximum amount of nutrition from their high-fiber diet. For rabbits to extract all the nutrition from their feed, they create two kinds of feces: the firm pellets we normally see and think of as feces and a softer version called cecotropes. These cecotropes are high in nutrients, such as high-quality proteins and vitamins, and are readily consumed by rabbits, as they leave the body. In fact, if they are prevented from ingesting these cecotropes, rabbits may not be eating enough of certain vitamins (B complex) and other nutrients and could eventually become malnourished. Typically, these cecotropes are created and ingested at night, lending to their common name as “night feces.”

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.