THE SCOOP ON POOP
Caecal pellets (aka caecotropes) are a special food made by bunny, just for bunny. They are partially digested foods that are passed from the bunny and then reingested. You may not see bunny do this, but when she appears to be bathing her belly and she comes up chewing, she’s probably just taken up a caecal pellet. It is from these caecal pellets that a rabbit gets the majority of her nutrition, not from the first passage of food through the gut.
Unlike most other mammals, rabbits produce two types of droppings, faecal pellets (the round, dry ones you usually see in the litterbox) and caecotropes. The latter are produced in a portion of the rabbit’s digestive tract called the caecum. The caecum contains a wild brew of bacteria and fungi that are normal and beneficial for the rabbit. In fact, the rabbit cannot live without them, since the caecal flora produces essential nutrients (e.g. fatty acids and vitamins) that the rabbit cannot produce on her own.
How does the rabbit get those vitamins? She eats the caecotropes as they exit the anus. Sound disgusting? Not for a rabbit. When she’s enjoying her favourite, home-made snack, she’ll tell you how delightful it is with that blissful, soft-eyed face and bottom-twitch that signals all is well with the world.
Caecotropes are not faeces. They are nutrient-packed dietary items essential to your rabbit’s good health. A rabbit usually produces caecotropes at a characteristic time of the day, which may vary from rabbit to rabbit. Some produce caecotropes in the late morning, some in the late afternoon, and some at night. In any case, they usually do this when you’re not watching, which might be why some people refer to caecotropes as “night droppings.”
Normal intestinal products
Anyone who lives with a bunny has seen a faecal pellet. These are the small, brown “cocoa puffs” that we all hope end up mostly in the litterbox. They are round, relatively dry and friable, and composed mostly of undigested fibre. Rabbits do not ordinarily reingest faecal pellets, though a few bunnies seem to enjoy an occasional faecal pellet hors d’ouevre. A normal caecotrope resembles a dark brown mulberry, or tightly bunched grapes. It is composed of small, soft, shiny pellets, each coated with a layer of rubbery mucus, and pressed into an elongate mass. The caecotrope has a rather pungent odour, as it contains a large mass of beneficial caecal bacteria. When the bunny ingests the caecotrope, the mucus coat protects the bacteria as they pass through the stomach, then re-establish in the caecum.
HRS San Diego