Normal and abnormal fecal and cecal feces of rabbits
Esther van Praag, Ph.D.
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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.
Healthy hard feces and cecotropes
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.
Ingestion of fur or carpet
After suffering (ileus), the fecal production of the rabbit will be irregular and hard feces are coated with mucus.
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.
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.
Effect of medication
Administration of drugs can affect the fecal production. Several antibiotics will cause bacterial dysbiosis and severe diarrhea when given orally.
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.
Thank you to Viktoria S. (Finland) and Sandy Minshull (Canada) for their help with illustrations