Rabbit Health - Pee & Poop

,Knowing what your rabbits healthy Urine and Feces will help you to recognize signs of illness and GI disturbances.  Our information should not replace the advice of a Veterinarian, but help you to know when it is time to bring your furry friend in for a check up.  If your rabbit has diarrhea, bring them to a Vet immediately.  

The Scoop on Poop

Feces

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Hard round feces of intestinal origin are rich in small pieces of hay and other debris. They can be seen around or in the rabbit litter-box .   Picture shown is of normal round hard fecal feces. Their color can vary from light brown to almost black. 


 Small dry droppings are an indication of dehydration, decreased appetite, onset of stasis, lack of fiber in the diet, disease, or medication. 


 Irregular long shaped fecal droppings (right) due to dehydration, lack of fiber in the diet, ingestion of hair, disease, or medication. 

Cecotropes

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 Smelly soft grape-like cecotropes (also called soft cecal pellets) coated with a thin layer of mucus that are produced in the cecum. They are rich in minerals, vitamins, proteins, water, and bacteria. To avoid the loss of these precious nutrients, the rabbit will re-ingest them as soon as they pass the anus, without chewing, to avoid breaking the outer coats of the grains. This enables the continuation of fermentation and the survival of bacteria inside the grains while passing the acid hostile environment of the stomach. 


 

When on medications, the shape of cecals and feces can change too, e.g., the administration of oral enrofloxacin can lead to the production of “excellent quality” large hard fecals, while long term injected penicillin hard feces may cause the formation of small and dry droppings.

Cecal feces are frequently ignored when a rabbit is sick and/or gets medication. Their quality or smell has changed and the rabbit will abandon them, rather than re-ingest.

 

Cecotropes that are not eaten will dry out rapidly. The grains decrease in size and the cecotrope will fall apart when touched. The grains become flat hard disks once totally dried out. 

Poop Problems

rabbit poop, illness stringy rabbit poop

Gastro Intestinal Problems 

Any disturbance of the intestinal environment can lead to a change of feces shape:

·  small and dry when the rabbit is dehydrated or sick, or when there is lack of lack of fiber in the diet;

·  big and elongated.


No droppings – if your rabbit stops producing droppings of any kind, her digestive system may have stopped processing food either because it is clogged or infected.  This is a life threatening emergency!  You should seek immediate veterinary care! 


Strange shapes – fecal pellets should be round & fairly uniform in size (about the size of a pea).  If your rabbit’s poop is suddenly small, misshapen or really hard it usually means he is not getting enough fiber in his diet.  Make sure unlimited hay is available and plenty of cool, fresh water

String of poop – especially common in long haired rabbits, if they ingest too much fur, the fecal pellets can occasionally come out strung together like a necklace.  Finding an occasional string isn’t concerning when keeping long haired rabbits (especially during a shedding period).  If you find more than one a week, you should step up your grooming schedule.  Rabbit cannot vomit. As a result, ingested fur or carpet material (arrows) will pass through the intestine and will coated by fecal material. As a result, hard feces become linked to each other. 


Cecal (Cecotrope) Problems

loose cecal, excess cecotropes, bunny poop

 

Excess cecotropes – in a healthy, adult rabbit, you likely won’t see many cecotropes because they eat them as they come out.  A diet too high in carbs or sugar can upset the balance in the caecum and cause your bunny to produce too many.  This is usually the result of offering unlimited pellets or too many treats.  Not only should you take this as your cue that something is amiss with your rabbit’s diet, but from a sanitary standpoint you don’t want excess cecotropes around.  They usually end up smooshed onto the floor or stuck to your rabbit’s fur – yuck!  It is totally normal to find them from time to time, but it shouldn’t be the norm. click here for tips on feeding your rabbit

If your rabbit can not reach all the way around to eat their cecotropes, it could also cause you to find them in the cage.  Rabbits seem to prefer to eat them right as they are produced, rather than save them for later.  If your bunny is too chubby to be able to reach all the way around, it could stop her from eating them altogether.  In older rabbits, arthritis could be the cause.  See your vet about weight loss options or pain medications.  Uneaten cecotropes mean your rabbit is missing out on the extra nutrition, they can smell up your rabbit enclosure, and can clump onto your rabbit’s fur.  Dried on cecotropes not only smell gross & cause uncomfortable matting, it also attracts flies, which could lead to fly strike.  click here to read more about fly strike

Runny cecotropes – ideally, they should be soft, but not runny, and bunched together like a blackberry.  Runny or mushy cecotropes are usually caused by not enough fiber in the diet.  Offer hay in unlimited amounts. Each rabbit should eat a bundle about the size of their body each day.  You can try limiting the treats & pellets to encourage them to eat more hay.  When the cecotropes are runny it could also be a sign your rabbit is sick or in pain.  When the rabbit is under stress from illness, a normal physiological response is the slowing of the GI tract.  Common issues to look for would be: urinary tract issues, respiratory infections or dental problem 

Diarrhea

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 Diarrhea – actual diarrhea (watery feces with no normal stools being produced) is pretty rare in rabbits. It can be a sign of internal parasites like coccidia or tapeworms.  In baby rabbits, diarrhea can occur when they have been weaned too early from their mom (before 8 weeks).  Nursing provides natural antibodies they need to protect them from parasites.  Especially in babies, but really for any rabbit, this is a life threatening emergency.  As soon as diarrhea is discovered you should take your bunny to the vet.  Even waiting a couple hours could be disastrous. 


 

A common complaint of rabbit owners is having their pet produce normal dry stools along with soft, semi-liquid droppings that stick to the rabbit and to the surroundings. The condition can last for months or even years. Affected rabbits are often still bright, alert and eating well. The soft droppings stick to the rabbit’s hindquarters, causing irritation and a foul odor. Defecation and urination can be hindered if there is sufficient buildup of feces. The soft stools range in consistency from a thick “pudding” to large semi-formed “blobs.” This material becomes smeared on the cage, carpeting and ultimately ends up caked on the bottom of the rabbit’s feet. Despite these soft droppings, however, there is evidence of normal, dry, round stools being produced daily as well. Some owners observe that the soft droppings occur only at certain times of the day or night. This condition is the cause of numerous euthanasias and surrenders to shelters due to the high maintenance involved in cleaning the pet and the environment on a daily basis.  In a nutshell, the problem is not the production of soft stool (the waste material that makes up the round, dry droppings) but that the cecotropes, the nutrient-rich droppings produced by the cecum, are abnormally liquid and cannot be eaten.  We will refer to this condition as intermittent soft cecotropes (ISC) in this article.

It is important to differentiate this condition from true diarrhea. In true diarrhea (which is rare in rabbits), there is an absence of any formed stool and the consistency of the fecal material is watery. True diarrhea in a rabbit is a sign of a serious and often fatal condition. It is usually caused by an alteration in the flora (microorganisms) of the cecum, which is the fermentation area of the rabbit’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Overgrowth of inappropriate bacteria such as Clostridium spp. or E. coli can result in the production of iota toxins. Iota toxins are absorbed into the bloodstream and produce a toxic condition commonly known as enterotoxemia. This condition can be fatal in 24 to 48 hours, particularly in recently weaned rabbits. Mucoid enteropathy is felt to be a less severe form of enterotoxemia seen in mature rabbits. In mucoid enteropathy there is production of clear mucous stools followed by gradual wasting, which if left untreated will lead to death.Clostridium sppand E. coli bacteria are normally found in small amounts in the cecum and do not cause a problem. It is only when their populations grow abnormally that enterotoxemia occurs.

Some common causes for true diarrhea in a rabbit include:

  • Diet (overload of carbohydrates and/or insufficient indigestible fiber)
  • Inappropriate antibiotic use (many antibiotics are not safe for the rabbit’s GI tract)
  • Toxins from the environment such as heavy metal, toxic plants, etc.
  • Environmental stress
  • GI neoplasia (cancer)
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Severe metabolic disease (such as kidney or liver disease)
  • Infection with coccidia and/or rotavirus may contribute to the stress in the gut by causing mucosal damage but are not considered to be the major causes of diarrhea in rabbits.*The most common causes of true diarrhea in a pet rabbit are an inappropriate diet and inappropriate antibiotic use.

Diarrhea in rabbits differs from diarrhea seen in dogs, cats or humans. In rabbits the watery stools are caused initially by a decrease in intestinal motility and in dogs, cats and humans it is caused by an increase in motility. In rabbits, as the intestinal motility decreases, the material in the cecum is retained for excessively long periods of time, which then changes factors such cecal pH and volatile fatty acid production resulting in alterations in the flora. This is when Clostridium spp. and E. coli can overgrow, produce iota toxins and thus wreak havoc on the body.

Diet/Transitioning Food & Effects on Poop

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Issues with feces and GI disturbance is a sign of a problem and not the problem itself.  The most common cause of GI Issues is an inappropriate diet that is too high in carbohydrates and/or too low in indigestible fiber. Other, more uncommon causes of GI issues include: partial intestinal obstruction particularly in the area of the junction of the cecum with the small and large intestine, internal abscesses, neoplasia (cancer) and other systemic disease that causes changes in the cecum, such as kidney or liver disease. 

Treatment of these issues  are based on converting the rabbit to a healthy diet that is high in indigestible fiber, which normalizes the motility of the GI tract and lower in carbohydrates, which helps normalize the flora in the cecum. A healthy diet for a house rabbit consists of unlimited grass hay as its primary component with additional green foods and limited high fiber/low energy pellets.  This is not a difficult diet to feed, but it requires a commitment to removing high carbohydrate foods from the diet and never giving them again. 


 

Part 1:  Improving the Diet with Dietary Restrictions

Grass Hay

For Rabbits already Eating Grass Hay

The most important part of the treatment of uncomplicated GI disturbance is to feed grass hay to your pet. This should be the only food given until the stools return to normal. You must remove all other food items from the diet including pellets and treats. Provide the grass hay in unlimited amounts and have it available at all times to your pet. In this way your pet will never have to worry about going hungry and will have healthy food to eat.  Use several containers for the hay to encourage your pet’s interest, such as hayracks, boxes or baskets. Avoid the use of legume hays such as alfalfa because they are much higher in carbohydrates and may not work as well to resolve the ISS problem. Appropriate grass hays include timothy, orchard, brome, oat and mixed grass.  It is preferable, if possible, to feed more than one type of grass hay for variety.  If this is not possible, any of the hays mentioned may be used.


 

Part 2:  Adding in Other Foods

Once the soft droppings have resolved for at least week, it is time to try adding in some additional foods.  Although technically a rabbit could survive on good quality mixed grass hay, it is likely that it will not be complete for the life of the rabbit and will be missing some trace nutrients.  In addition, rabbits are used to eating a wide variety of textures and tastes and it is much healthier mentally to have a variety of foods in their daily lives.  We need to add these foods back in carefully though, because your bunny has a history of GI unbalance and we don’t want to return to that state.  Remember that from here on out, your rabbit should ALWAYS have grass hay available as the basis of a good diet.

Green Foods

After your pet’s cecotrops have returned to normal for at least a week, it is time to introduce green foods into the diet. These foods provide a variety of nutrients as well as moisture. We suggest adding one new green food every 48 hours to make sure no soft stools are being formed. You can easily determine which items are problematic if you only feed one green food every 48 hours, then remove the offending item if needed. Once you have tested several green foods, then you should feed at least three types daily to your pet  Feed a maximum of about  1 packed cup of green foods per 2 pounds of body weight at least once a day or this amount divided twice a day.

Examples of Green Foods

Baby greens
Basil
Bok choy
Borage
Broccoli (leaves and top)
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage (red, green, Chinese)
Carrot/beet tops
Celery (leaves are good)
Chickory
Collard greens  Dock
Dandelion greens (and flower)
Endive
Escarole
Kale
Leaf lettuce
Mustard greens
Parsley (Italian or flat leaf best)
Radicchio
Romaine lettuce
Swiss chard (any color)
Water cress

Healthy Treat Foods

When your rabbit returns to normal stool production and after the introduction of green foods you can try feeding small amounts of fruits and other vegetables as treats. As with the green foods, if you see any soft stools, remove the item from the diet. The maximum amount of a treat food is one tablespoon per two pounds body weight of any combination of the following:

Apples
Bean or alfalfa sprouts
Blackberries
Blueberries
Cactus fruit
Carrots
Cherries
Cranberries
Edible flowers from the garden (organically grown and NOT from a florist) such as roses, nasturtiums, day lilies, pansies and snap dragons
Green or red bell peppers
Kiwi Fruit
Mango
Melons
Papaya
Pea pods (flat, NO peas)
Peach
Pear
Pineapple
Raspberries
Squash
Strawberries

Pellets

After introducing greens and fruits and vegetables back into the diet for two weeks without any relapse to soft cecotropes, then it is time to try pellets again.  It is important that you only use the grass-based pellets and not alfalfa-based pellets because you increase the likelihood of a problem with the high calorie alfalfa-based pellets.  You can try adding in about 1/8 cup per 4 lbs of body weight initially and go up to no more then ¼ cup of pellets per 4 lbs body weight per day maximum.  If the soft cecotropes return, remove the offending pellet and you may try a different brand of grass-based pellet.  If the soft cecotropes return no matter what brand you feed, then you may have a rabbit that simply cannot tolerate pellets.  In this case you can increase the consumption of greens to twice the amount listed above per day.  This happens in a small population of rabbits and if necessary they can live successfully on a free-choice grass hay and moderated greens/vegetable/fruit diet without pellets.

Forbidden Foods

Never again feed commercial rabbit treats or high carbohydrate snacks which include those found in the following list:

Beans (of any kind)
Breads
Cereals
Chocolate
Corn
Nuts
Oats
Peas
Refined sugar
Seeds
Wheat
Any other grains

Vitamins

Your veterinarian may prescribe a vitamin supplement during the initial treatment for GI Issues, particularly if this has been a long-standing problem. If a rabbit cannot eat the cecotropes, then she may be missing vital nutrients those special droppings provide. Vitamin supplementation should be short term and need not continue once the pet is on a healthy diet and is producing normal cecotropes. Some veterinarians feel that giving vitamin C during the treatment of ISS is helpful in improving the integrity of the wall of the cecum and decreasing toxin absorption into the body. Most rabbits will readily take chewable vitamin C tablets, should they be prescribed. The dose is 100 mg per 5 pounds of body weight one to two times daily. Vitamin C should also be discontinued once the cecotropes return to normal.

Research Credit

Credit for information above goes to  Susan Brown, DVM  of rabbit.org, medirabbit.com and thecapecoop.com