Cecotropes, also known as cecotrophs, caecotrophes, caecotrophs, cecal pellets, cecals, caecels or night feces, are a second type of rabbit poop produced by the cecum. These are different than the dry fecal pellets that a rabbit more commonly produced and left in litter boxes and around their area. Cecotropes are not commonly seen by the rabbit owner unless there are rabbit health or dietary issues, and rabbits commonly eat them directly from their anus as they are produced.
How nutritious are cecals for rabbits?
Cecotrophs contain around 28-30% crude protein and up to 30% of the total nitrogen intake of rabbits. They are high in nitrogen, short-chain fatty acids, microbial protein, B vitamins, sodium, potassium, water, lysine, the sulfur amino acids, and threonine.
The short-chain fatty acids in their cecals provide an additional source of energy, and the B vitamins provided can be in excess of the rabbit's needs. It is estimated that B12 is synthesized 100x the daily requirement.
Cecotropes also aid in the replenishment of cecal microflora, and thus the products of bacterial growth are made available to rabbits either by direct absorption in the cecum and colon or the small intestine by consumption of the cecal contents.
Excessive cecal production
Generally, rabbits on a low-protein or low-simple carbohydrate and low-fat diet will consume more cecotropes to try and obtain adequate amounts of needed nutrients. Rabbits on a higher protein diet will consume less of their cecals.
If your rabbit is not consuming all of their cecals and causing poopy butt, try reducing the amount of protein in your rabbit's diet. The easiest way is to reduce the rabbit's daily portion of pellets or changing to a lower protein brand, although if vegetables are a significant portion of your rabbit's diet, it may be wise to evaluate their daily portion there as well. See Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Data for more information. Some rabbits may also create excess cecals if they are sensitive to a certain type of vegetable. Try keeping a strict food diary if the issue is inconsistent to narrow down the reasons.
In other instances, rabbits with a flattened dwarf or lop face may have difficulty reaching their behind to directly eat their cecals due to their face and body shape. These rabbits will not have their poopy butt problems resolved with diet changes. Senior rabbits may also have difficulty bending over due to arthritis. Please confirm their health with your local rabbit-savvy veterinarian. These rabbits may need regular checks to confirm that their bottoms are not too dirty to prevent blockage of their anus and flystrike, a much bigger health issue. Trimming down any long fur around their rear end with a sanitary shave may also help with keeping the area clean.
However, note that young baby rabbits can be very bad at eating all their produced cecals and will usually grow to have better consumption habits as they get older. It is important not to be too stingy with their alfalfa hay and pellets while the baby rabbits are growing as the nutrients are essential to help them develop muscles and grow strong teeth and bones for good future health.
- House Rabbit Society, Marie Mead, Disorders of the Cecum
- VeterinaryPartner.com, Susan Brown, DVM, Intermittent Soft Cecotropes in Rabbits
- Dana Krempels, Ph.D., The Mystery of Rabbit Poop
- Bright Eyes Sanctuary, Rabbit Medical Gallery > Cecals - Logs and Overproduction
- San Diego House Rabbit Society, What is a Cecal Pellet?
- Moore, L. (2013). Rabbit Nutrition and Nutritional Healing. (2nd ed.).
- Quesenberry, K & Carpenter, J. (2012). Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. (3rd ed.).