What is coprophagy and does my rabbit need it?
Coprophagy is a long, fancy term for the consumption of feces. Sometimes it is referred to as hindgut fermentation.
And, yes, coprophagy is something your rabbit needs. Let me explain why.
You have probably heard it said that rabbits consume their own feces. It is true, they do, and it is perfectly normal and necessary. It is essential to your rabbit’s healthy digestion system and weight gain/maintenance.
Rabbits do not have a complex ruminant digestive system. They extract extra nutrition from grass by giving their food a second pass through the gut. So, how do they accomplish this? Rabbits produce cecotropes which are called “soft feces’ or ‘night feces’. The cecotropes are the material resulting from the fermentation of food in a part of the digestive system called the cecum. Rabbits also excrete another kind of feces which is their typical hard fecal pellet, but they do not normally consume that.
Cecotropes are nutrient-rich and are passed out of the body, like feces, but are re-ingested by the rabbit so that more nutrients can be absorbed. Cecotropes have twice the protein and half the fiber of their typical hard fecal pellets. They also contain high levels of vitamin K and B vitamins (Vitamin B 12 in particular). After ingestion, on the second pass through, the extra nutrients are absorbed by the small intestine. Without this process, many of the nutrients in the food would be lost and passed through the colon, and out as typical feces.
Rabbits are herbivores, eating only vegetable foods. And they do well on fiber diets. The rabbit’s cecum goes to work digesting the food. At night, the contents of the cecum move rapidly through the colon because very few nutrients are absorbed there and then cecotropes are formed. These cecotropes are the soft feces consumed by the rabbit straight from the anus. That is how the rabbit is able to consume the feces before it falls through the wire mesh of the cage and onto the floor of the hutch. The fecal pellets you see on the floor of the hutch are the ‘hard feces’ I mentioned earlier.
You will generally never see the cecotropes, but if you did they would be smaller, softer, more moist, and covered in a greenish mucus (compared to the hard feces that is round and hard).
In a way, cecotrophy (cecotropes passing through the system a second time) is similar to the process of ruminant animals chewing their cud. Cows, goats and other ruminants chew their food once, swallow it, and then the digestive process continues in the rumen where the fiber starts to be broken down by bacteria. When these animals chew their cud, the material from the rumen is brought back up through the esophagus to the mouth where it is re-chewed and swallowed. By repeating this portion of the digestive process, ruminants, too receive more nutrition from their food.
I hope this helps you understand one of the natural body processes of the rabbit. For more rabbit tips check out our Rabbit Tips & Tools page on our website. You can also get information about our Hubbard Life Rabbit Feeds at www.hubbardlife.com/rabbit.aspx
Posted on 9/24/2014 by Amy Brown | Category: Rabbit
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