One of the earliest signs that your pet isn’t healthy is the sight, smell, shape, and consistency of rabbit droppings. Knowing the differences between normal and abnormal rabbit poop is vital for quickly assessing health issues. It can also indicate the severity of an underlying problem.
Rabbits have two different types of poop: round, fibrous pellets and glossy clusters of dark cecotropes. Normal pellets should be round, firm, and have almost no smell. Applying pressure to a pellet should cause it to split apart and reveal a grainy, sawdust-like interior. Normal cecotropes are small, dark, round, and shiny poops that stick to each other. These have a strong smell, especially if the mucus membrane coating them is punctured.
Rabbit poops need to be monitored for consistency in size, shape, smell, texture, and color. Abnormal pellets will be different from the rabbit’s previous droppings in one or more of these areas. Additional and abnormal cecotropes will remain uneaten by the rabbit, and are usually malformed and lacking in structure. Pay attention if the rabbit stops pooping entirely.
What Does Rabbit Poop Look Like?
Rabbit poop pellets look like round, fibrous balls. They will be scattered in little clusters, and should be hard to the touch and not at all sticky. Pellets should crush under pressure (and not mush), revealing a grainy, sawdust-like interior. This interior looks like crushed up hay.
As all rabbits have diets comprised largely of grass hay, their poop should carry these characteristics. Any variation from this is cause for concern. Soft poop, unformed poop, or watery poop are worrying signs, especially in young rabbits.
There are a few other different cues to search for when determining normal rabbit poop from abnormal rabbit poop. Gastrointestinal problems are one of the most common ailments seen in rabbits. This means being able to tell when droppings are abnormal is important for all owners.
Normal Rabbit Poop Color
Rabbit poop color varies between different rabbits. One rabbit may have darker brown poop, whereas another might have light brown poop. What matters in rabbit poop color is consistency. A healthy rabbit will produce pellets of the same color. However, there may be some slight change if you change the rabbit’s diet on a large scale.
Rabbits in the same household and fed exactly the same diet may also have poop of vastly different colors. One may have tan pellets, whereas the other may have darker brown pellets.
Opening up a healthy pellet should reveal an interior that is lighter in color than the exterior. Occasionally, the interior will also be faintly green.
Normal, healthy rabbit poop should have little to no variation in color. Drastic changes in color between pellets and pellet piles are a huge sign that there could be some internal upset. Very dark, almost black poops are an indicator that there is too much protein in your rabbit’s diet.
Normal Rabbit Poop Smells
Rabbit poop is probably one of the least smelly pet poop types that you’ll ever have to deal with. The same can’t be said for rabbit urine, however, which can be quite strong smelling.
Healthy rabbit pellets will have a very mild smell. Pungent or notably odorous pellets are a sign that there is an underlying health issue. Do not mistake normal pellets with cecotropes though, which do have a stronger odor but are a healthy bowel movement.
Normal Rabbit Poop Size
Pellet size isn’t always relative to the size of the rabbit itself. A small rabbit may have quite large pellet poops, and a large rabbit may have smaller pellets that you’d expect.
It’s worth noting that abnormally small or oddly shaped pellets can be a sign of multiple issues, including pain, appetite loss, and intestinal problems.
So long as the size of the pellets remains consistent, the poop can be considered normal.
Abnormal Rabbit Poop
There are many causes for a rabbit to develop abnormal poops. All rabbits have very delicate internal systems, and are sensitive animals in general. Abnormal poops are one of the first signs that there is potentially something wrong with your rabbit. This is because a rabbit will hide its pain or hide away when in pain. It can’t hide its poop, though, so it is important to monitor its leavings.
Abnormal poops can be an indicator of everything from the rabbit having an upset stomach to intestinal impaction.
Rabbit Poop Smaller Than Usual
Rabbits are flighty prey animals that can very easily be frightened or stressed. Being in such situations can cause a bowel movement to produce smaller than usual pellets. Within a movement or two, the pellets should return to their normal size. If the pellets remain small, or are incredibly small, this can be a sign of intestinal issues or chronic pain. Intestinal impaction is also a possible cause for small pellets.
If the pellets are small and misshapen, and possibly intermingled with larger pellets, it is a sign that your rabbit isn’t getting enough food. In this case, it is important to determine why it isn’t eating. Rabbits with dental issues or inner ear infections may struggle to eat. An underlying health issue can cause it to lose its appetite too.
Your rabbit may have small misshapen poops if it is recovering from a loss in appetite. A rabbit’s digestive tract is normally working constantly throughout the day. Any interruptions of food intake can cause pellet production to be odd, given the lack of matter to form the pellets. As its eating habits return to normal, so too shall the size and shape of the poop pellets.
Rabbit Poop Clumped Together
Normal daytime rabbit pellets should be single, round balls. At times, when matter is moving slowly through the intestine the pellets can smush and clump together. One or two of these pellet clumps on occasion isn’t much of an issue. If these clumps appear frequently or in a concerning quantity, then it’s time to look at the rabbit’s diet.
A lack of fiber can cause the rabbit’s system to slow down. Stress can also cause poop clumps to form as the digestive system responds to the heightened anxiety levels.
Poop clumps can also be a sign of ageing. Chat with your vet about what dietary changes you can make to keep your older rabbit in tip top shape.
Rabbit Poop Lighter Than Normal
Poop can become lighter in color due to a change in diet. This is normal, especially when making a switch to different, lighter-colored grass hays. Naturally, the color of the rabbit’s poop will somewhat change depending on the food and the quality of the food. How fresh the food is will also affect the poop’s color.
If your rabbit’s diet was high in protein beforehand, it will lighten in color as you provide it with a more balanced diet. Conversely, a diet too high in protein will result in very dark poop. Very dark poop isn’t ideal, as rabbit’s fed too much protein can suffer a number of health issues.
True Diarrhea In Rabbits
True diarrhea in rabbits is cause for alarm and immediate action. Especially if the rabbit is young. Not only can dehydration very quickly become deadly, diarrhea in rabbits is a symptom of very serious problems.
Unlike with cats or dogs, diarrhea is not going to be caused by a change in diet. Diarrhea is a symptom of poisoning, parasites, antibiotics, or serious infections. At times, diarrhea can be the only visual sign of a seriously underlying problem. The Canadian Journal of Comparative Medicine notes of one such instance, where a number of rabbits died from fatal diarrhea caused by E. coli infections.
In rabbits, diarrhea appears as watery, unformed fecal matter. Take your rabbit to the vet as soon as possible if it has diarrhea.
Rabbit Poop Strung Together
It can be a little odd to find rabbit pellets strung together. Thankfully, this isn’t uncommon or abnormal if it happens on occasion.
Rabbits are fastidious groomers. A rabbit will groom itself several times a day, and such a habit results in the rabbit regularly ingesting its own fur. Naturally, the rabbit needs to pass this hair, as, unlike cats, rabbits can’t cough up a hairball. At times, as hair passes through the intestine, it becomes entangled with pellets. This results in poop pellets connected by strings of fur.
Ingesting carpet fibers or other inorganic matter can also cause poop strings.
Increasing your rabbit’s access to fresh hay and grooming it more regularly can cut down on how frequently your rabbit passes poop strings. If it passes poop strings frequently, it may need you to take these steps to prevent internal blockages from forming too.
Mucus in Rabbit Poop
Mucus in rabbit poop is an immediate cause for concern. It is not normal and should warrant a trip to the vet, especially if it is a recurring event.
Mucus in rabbit poop is easy to spot. Thick, slimy goop that is pale in color will be strung between rabbit pellets. It may even completely enclose the pellets. Generally, mucus production happens when there is intestinal upset or irritation. The cause of either could be parasites, cecal impaction, mucoid enteropathy, or antibiotics disturbing gut flora.
Mucus can also be a clear, jelly-like substance. It may also be passed as a movement without pellets at all. No matter what the mucus looks like, take a sample of this mucus and poop to the vet as soon as you can.
It’s worth knowing that a rabbit may have mucus in its droppings as it recovers from gastrointestinal upset. Your vet will likely discuss the likelihood of mucus in the rabbit’s droppings beforehand, however.
Dry Crumbly Rabbit Poop
Rabbit pellets naturally dry out over time. Pellets that are dry, misshaped, and crumbly immediately after being excreted are a sign of dehydration. Naturally, a body that isn’t getting enough water is going to save what liquids it can, resulting in dry droppings. Being drier, even fresh droppings will crumble under pressure. These droppings may also be a different color than the rabbit’s usual pellets.
Dry rabbit poop can also be caused by a lack of fiber in the diet, a loss of appetite, or intestinal upset.
Cecotropes In Rabbits
Experienced rabbit owners know that rabbits will pass two types of fecal matter naturally: pellets and cecotropes. Cecotropes are little balls of dark and shiny fecal matter; they look somewhat like a cluster of black tapioca pearls or grapes. Cecotropes have a strong smell compared to pellets, especially if the mucus membrane bursts. It is normal for cecotropes to be quite pungent.
Cecotropes are a normal and healthy bowel movement for all rabbits. The reason why you may never have seen these droppings is because rabbits are coprophagous.
Coprophagy is the practice of animals eating feces, either their own or that of other animals. A rabbit will only eat its own droppings, with the exception being rabbit kits when they begin to wean from their mother’s milk. However, the Journal of Animal Science states that what a rabbit kit eats is not its mother’s cecotropes, but rather the hard, fibrous pellets.
Why do rabbits produce two different types of poop though, and why do cecotropes get eaten? Rabbit kits will eat the mother’s hard pellets as a means of establishing colonies of healthy intestinal bacteria. Once old enough, all rabbits will begin producing and consuming cecotropes. This practice allows a rabbit to pass food through its system twice, thereby extracting all the nutrients it can from its food.
Nature states that cecotropes are typically nocturnal droppings, and that rabbits will eat these directly from the anus. As such, you should rarely, if ever, see cecotropes in the rabbit’s litter box or enclosure. That is, when the cecotropes are whole and healthy. Abnormal cecotropes are a sign of an underlying problem, and the rabbit may refuse to eat them.
Cecal dysbiosis is when the cecotropes don’t form properly and are excreted as mushy piles of dark poop. Rabbits will not eat these droppings, resulting in quite the smelly mess. The droppings can be mashed into the floor, or in your rabbit’s fur. Lots of people mistake this as diarrhea.
Cecotropes are produced in the cecum, where a delicate balance of beneficial bacteria thrives. Delicate as a rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract is, it doesn’t take much to upset this bacterial colony. This is troublesome, as the cecum is vital to a rabbit’s day to day life. Cecotropes are formed here and coated in a thin layer of mucus. This coating makes the droppings more palatable, and also protects the good bacteria from harsh digestive acids in the mouth and stomach.
Basically, the cecum is a fermentation chamber that packages cecotropes in mucus. When the delicate balance of bacteria is disturbed, it can’t function as normal. There are a variety of underlying problems that can trigger cecal dysbiosis, including:
- Improper diet
- Dental problems
- Respiratory infections
- Urinary tract disorders
A number of these aren’t serious and can be resolved with changes to the rabbit’s diet. Others will require medications. Regardless, all should be treated seriously. Rabbits get a great deal of nutrition through coprophagy, and being unable to eat cecotropes deprives rabbits of essential nutrition.
Cecal dysbiosis is also referred to as intermittent soft cecotropes and unformed cecotropes. A rabbit may suffer cecal dysbiosis and still pass hard pellet poops as normal.
GI Stasis And Cecal Impaction In Rabbits
Just as important as it is to monitor rabbit’s droppings for any abnormalities, a sudden lack of poop is also cause for concern. A rabbit will normally poop a number of times per day, producing anywhere between 100-300 individual pellets (this number will change depending on the size of the rabbit).
Cecal impaction is when matter stops moving in the cecum, where cecotropes are formed, due to a blockage. Gastrointestinal stasis refers to slowed or prevented movement of matter throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Both are caused by impaction and present themselves through similar symptoms. Internal impactions are usually caused by a combination of:
- Ingestion of inorganic matter (carpet fibers, fur, clay litter)
- Lack of fiber
- Improper diet
Impaction is uncomfortable for a rabbit. Not only does the blockage cause fecal matter to build up in the gut, but the bacterial colonies are also thrown into disarray. This causes gasses to build up as well, causing even more painful bloating and harmful bacteria to overthrow the beneficial bacteria.
Signs of Impaction
Asides from a lack of poop, or oddly small amounts of poop, there are a number of signs indicating impaction. Most rabbits will adopt a hunched posture that keeps pressure off of the abdomen, which is a sign that there is an internal blockage causing discomfort. Rabbits will also avoid eating or drinking and become quite lethargic or reluctant to move. A rabbit may also show signs of being in pain depending on the level of bloating.
Severe bloating and fecal impactions can sometimes be seen or felt. It is best to not apply pressure to your rabbit’s abdomen if you suspect gastrointestinal stasis or cecal impaction, as this can be quite painful.
At times, GI stasis can also result in diarrhea or sloppy poops. In this case, the impaction could be causing an imbalance of bacteria in the gut.
If your rabbit hasn’t pooped at all over a 10-12 hour period it needs to see a vet. Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents stated that gastrointestinal stasis can rapidly become lethal. Treating it can be tricky. Preventing it largely involves ensuring that your rabbit has a stress-free environment and a proper diet full of fresh grass hay.
Rabbit Producing Too Many Cecotropes
Rabbits can produce too many cecotropes. However, the first thing to determine is if the rabbit actually is producing too many cecotropes, or if it is just not eating them. There are many reasons why a rabbit will not eat cecotropes, and a few of them are signs of an underlying illness.
Rabbits will naturally produce more poop when fed an improperly balanced diet. Specifically, rabbits will produce too many cecotropes when fed a diet high in protein. This is because high-protein diets are full of matter that rabbit’s cannot easily process, and thus more cecotropes are created. The rabbit may choose to only eat a portion of the cecotropes.
Rabbit Not Eating Cecotropes
A rabbit may choose not to eat its cecotropes if they have not formed correctly as a result of cecal dysbiosis, or other digestive issues. Such issues can cause the cecotropes to have abnormal smells and textures, making them undesirable to eat. Uneaten cecotropes can make quite the smelly mess, and should be cleaned up quickly.
Refusal to eat cecotropes doesn’t always mean that there is something wrong with the cecotropes themselves. It could be an indicator of other problems, including:
- Obesity: Overweight rabbits can’t bend forward far enough to eat the cecotropes
- Pain: Older rabbits with arthritis or joint issues will be unable to bend forward and eat cecotropes
- Dental issues: A rabbit with overgrown teeth will be unable to properly eat the cecotropes without busting the mucus coating
- Infections: Oral and inner ear infections can make eating painful
A rabbit may also not eat cecotropes if it isn’t hungry. Although a rabbit grazes throughout the day, over-feeding a rabbit may encourage it to not practice coprophagy.
Monitoring your rabbit’s poops is an important part of rabbit ownership. Often, the first visible signs of health issues in a rabbit will be found in its poop. Highlighting the importance of knowing the difference between normal and abnormal poops.