Normal and abnormal fecal and cecal feces of rabbits

 

 

Esther van Praag, Ph.D.

 

Healthy rabbits produce two types of feces:

·      Hard round feces of intestinal origin are rich in small pieces of hay and other debris. They can be seen around or in the litter-box.

·      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.

 

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Zippy, an alert 4 month’s old neutered rabbit, bending down to take a cecotrope directly from the anus. The cecotrope is lightly chewed and swallowed. Zippy bends down a second time to take another cecotrope, after which another rabbit jumped over the back of the person taking the video…

Healthy hard feces and cecotropes

Viktoria S.

Normal round hard fecal feces. Their color can vary from light brown to almost black.

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Normal cecotrope, with a grape-like shape

Gastro-intestinal trouble

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.

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

Viktoria S.

Hard feces (middle) from a healthy rabbit. Their color can vary from light bronw to almost dark.

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

Ingestion of fur or carpet

 

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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.

"Peas on a string"

After stasis

After suffering (ileus), the fecal production of the rabbit will be irregular and hard feces are coated with mucus.

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After a period of stasis, the first feces are either small, dry, with unusual shapes, and coated with large amounts of mucus (arrows)...

Sandy Minshull

or huge...

Plug made of fecal material and mucus that was expelled by a 0.9 kg (2lb) rabbit after a bout of stasis (left). Its size, as compared to a ball pen.

Sediment deposit

The urine of rabbits is naturally rich in calcium and crystal sediments (struvite, calcium carbonate, more rarely oxalate). When a rabbit urinates on top of its hard feces, a white deposit can be observed.

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Feces covered with a white layer: sediments contained in the urine

Parasites

An infestation by parasites like worms (nematodes, tapeworms or trematodes) in the gastro-intestinal tract is characterized by the presence of mucus threads among the feces, rarely diarrhea. The presence of live pinworms or tapeworms can be observed in freshly excreted hard feces, when infestation is severe. This can be accompanied by stasis, cecal impaction, severe pain, and attempts to treat the disorder as GI stasis often fails.

Depending on the stage of the parasitic worm (growing phase or population overgrowth), fecal flotation tests can fail to reveal the presence of gastro-intestinal parasites.

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Threads of mucus (arrows) excreted among fecal material can be indicative for the presence of intestinal parasites like coccidia or intestinal worms

Viktoria S.

 

The presence of tiny pinworms 8arrows) is rarely observed feces. The worms dry out rapidly, and cannot be seen after a few minutes.

Effect of medication

Administration of drugs can affect the fecal production. Several antibiotics will cause bacterial dysbiosis and severe diarrhea when given orally.

See: Antibiotics endangering the life of rabbits

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Soft fecal

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Adar and Flora caring for their sick friend Stampi, suffering from watery diarrhea (arrows)

The shape of 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.

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Abandoned cecotrope. The rabbit took it apart and re-ingested only part of the grains. The white threads are hairs.

 

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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.

 

 Thank you to Viktoria S. (Finland) and Sandy Minshull (Canada) for their help with illustrations

 

  

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