Rabbits are not rodents, but many people think of them as the same category of animal. Because of this common misconception, people also think rabbits spread diseases the same way rodents do. But that fear is simply incorrect. Rabbits are among the best types of pets to have if you’re afraid of catching a disease because it is so rare for any interspecies transmission to occur.
In general, rabbit poop is not harmful to humans, cats, dogs, or other animals. The diseases that can be transmitted through their feces are species specific and would only pose a threat to other rabbits. Even then, it’s likely that if your rabbit is healthy, they will not spread anything through their poop.
I’ve been volunteering at animal shelters for many years now, and I’ve come across the poo of so many different animals: cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, rats, hamsters, mice, chinchillas, and even various breeds of birds. I always say that rabbits have the least-gross type of poop out of any I’ve had to deal with. This is because their feces are not squishy or smelly, but also because there is virtually zero chance of contracting a disease through your rabbit’s poop.
Does rabbit poop spread diseases?
Rabbit poop is not known to transmit diseases to humans, dogs, cats, or other animal species. It’s among the safest types of animal droppings you can come across. Rabbits simply aren’t the carriers of any zoonotic diseases that get transferred through their feces.
E. Cuniculi and rabbit urine
The one thing that can realistically be passed from a rabbit’s litter box is actually in their urine. This is a microorganism called E. cuniculi. Since most rabbits will urinate in the same places that they defecate, it’s possible for this to be transmitted when touching rabbit poop as well. However, it is incredibly rare for E. cuniculi from rabbit urine to cause problems for humans. Unless you are severely immunocompromised, this is not something that you need to worry about.
E. cuniculi is a microscopic parasite that can affect a rabbit’s brain or kidneys. Symptoms of E. cuniculi in rabbits include:
- Head tilt
- Eye tracking (flicking back and forth horizontally or vertically)
- Paralysis or weakness in hind legs
- Spinning or rolling
- Drinking or urinating excessively
It’s estimated that about 50% of domestic rabbits live with E. Cuniculi in their system, but most show no symptoms. This means it is possible for even a healthy rabbit who shows no symptoms to shed E. cuniculi in their urine. However, as mentioned earlier, the risk to humans is extremely low and is generally something that can be disregarded.
Bacterial infections in the intestines
Some people worry that harmful bacteria could be transmitted from rabbit poop if they have a bacterial infection in their intestines. This type of transmission occurs with the feces of many other species, so I suppose it’s theoretically possible with rabbits. However, the chances are extremely low. In fact, there are no known outbreaks of bacterial infection caused by rabbit fecal transmission.
The chances of you getting a bacterial infection from touching rabbit poop are so low that it’s virtually a zero percent chance. There is a bigger chance of getting an infection from a rabbit bite, but even that is uncommon compared to other animals like cats or dogs.
Tapeworm is another common thing that I’ve seen mentioned about rabbit poop. However, you can only contract tapeworm from rabbits by eating infected rabbit meat, not from rabbit feces. Tapeworms cannot go through their full life cycle within a rabbit’s digestion, so they cannot infect anyone through the rabbit’s fecal pellets.
Is rabbit poop harmful to humans?
Neither wild nor domestic rabbit poop is known to be harmful to humans. They are safe to keep as pets, even around children, and there is no need to worry about disease transmission if you have a lot of wild rabbits in the community.
Is it okay to touch rabbit poop?
Personally, I have no reservations about touching rabbit poop. Even though my rabbits are litter trained, it’s pretty common to find a couple of fecal pellets scattered here and there. I will simply pick them up and toss them back into my rabbits’ litter box.
I understand this seems like a pretty gross question to people who don’t have rabbits, but rabbit poop is not like the feces of other animals. Normal rabbit poop is just a little ball that’s made up of a sawdust-like material (really just condensed particles of hay and fiber). They are not smelly or squishy at all and many pet rabbits manage to get these little cocoa puff poops everywhere. Once you live with a rabbit, you realize it’s a lot more practical to just pick them up and throw them away as you find them.
Obviously, it’s still good practice to wash your hands after touching rabbit poop. But it’s good to know that you are not going to get sick or spread a horrible disease around after touching a rabbit’s fecal pellet.
Is there any other way that rabbits can make humans sick?
The most common way that people get ‘sick’ because of rabbits is actually due to allergies. A small percentage of people are allergic to rabbit dander or saliva, and others will be allergic to hay, which is a rabbit’s main food source. For most people, this will just be mild allergies, but for others, there is a chance of asthma developing due to the allergies.
If we’re talking about diseases and infections, most of the ways humans can get sick from rabbits are through a bite or scratch, an insect (such as a tick or a flea) that transmits disease, or through eating contaminated rabbit meat. However, even in these cases, the chances of contracting a disease from a rabbit are quite small. There is a higher chance of a disease being transmitted from a wild rabbit over a domestic rabbit who is kept in hygienic housing.
- Pasteurella is a respiratory bacterial infection common in rabbits. It can cause an infected cut if an affected rabbit bites or scratches you. This is usually a very minor infection in humans.
- Mites and ringworm can spread from rabbits to humans through direct contact.
- Ticks and fleas can spread disease from rabbit to human through their bites. The most common disease transmitted from rabbit to human in this way is tularemia, but it’s still pretty uncommon, especially among domestic rabbits.
- Consuming bad rabbit meat can spread a bacterial infection, such as tularemia. It can also spread other parasites, such as tapeworms, mentioned earlier.
Is rabbit poop harmful to pet dogs?
Rabbit poop is also not harmful to pet dogs. Rabbit fecal pellets even have the potential to be beneficial because they are dense in enzymes and vitamin B. However, most pet dogs have a balanced diet with enough vitamins and nutrients, so the rabbit poop is just extra.
Occasionally, a dog might develop a slight upset stomach or diarrhea from eating rabbit poop, but this is generally because they ate too much. The sudden new food to their diet can cause some digestional discomfort.
I’ve seen a lot of common misconceptions about the type of parasites that are in rabbit poop. Dogs cannot get giardia or coccidia from rabbit poop. These are species-specific microorganisms, so the type of giardia and the type of coccidia that infect rabbits are different from the type that infect dogs. As mentioned earlier, dogs also cannot get tapeworms from rabbit feces.
Is it okay for a dog to eat rabbit poop?
There is nothing wrong with allowing a dog to eat rabbit poop. However, there’s not much benefit to it either. If you have both a dog and a rabbit in your home, you might want to keep the dog away from the rabbit’s litter box so that they keep their appetite for regular food too. Keeping the dog away can also help the rabbit feel safer while they’re doing their business and can help maintain good litter box habits.
If your dog is sniffing out rabbit poop in your yard, there is also no need to stop them unless they’ve had a bad reaction to the poop in the past. You may want to keep your dog from eating too much rabbit poop, so they don’t have any digestive issues due to over-eating.
Are there other ways that rabbits can make dogs sick?
The respiratory bacteria, B. bronchiseptica, can be transmitted between dogs and rabbits, but this is transmitted through respiratory droplets, not feces. It’s also an infection that is much more dangerous to rabbits (where it can be life-threatening) than it is to dogs (where it usually only causes a mild cough).
Rabbits and dogs can also spread insect parasites to each other, such as fleas, ticks, and mites. Dogs can catch these by coming into close proximity with wild rabbits, or they can be spread among household pets.
The biggest chance of a rabbit disease spreading to dogs is actually if they eat a rabbit. If this happens, there is a chance of contracting tapeworm, tularemia, or a bacterial infection if the rabbit was infected.
Is rabbit poop harmful to pet cats?
As you may have guessed by now, rabbit poop is not harmful to cats. If your pet cat is sniffing your rabbit’s fecal pellets, they are highly unlikely to catch any kind of harmful disease. While rare for a cat, it’s also okay if they end up eating a few rabbit fecal pellets. But it’s best to keep your cat from eating too many because it can cause digestive discomfort.
This question comes up a lot less often with cats because, unlike dogs, cats don’t usually go out of their way to eat a pile of rabbit poo. But if you do have a cat and a rabbit in your home, it could happen. If you see the cat likes to play around in the rabbit litter box, rest assured that they’re not likely to catch a disease from the rabbit poop.
Is it okay to use rabbit poop as fertilizer?
If you like to do some gardening in your yard and you see rabbit poop around, you can also use it as a nutrient-dense fertilizer. Because rabbit poop does not contain transmissible diseases, it’s even safe to use as fertilizer with edible plants in your garden.
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- Hoelzer, K., Moreno Switt, A.I. & Wiedmann, M. Animal contact as a source of human non-typhoidal salmonellosis. Vet Res 42, 34 (2011).https://veterinaryresearch.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1297-9716-42-34
- Kazacos, Kevin R. Just Ask the Expert: The zoonotic threat of rabbits and other wild animals.” DVM360. July 2010. https://www.dvm360.com/view/just-ask-expert-zoonotic-threat-rabbits-and-other-wild-animals
- “Pet Rabbits and Your Health.” Rabbit Welfare Association. https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-care-advice/ownership/pet-rabbits-health/
- “Zoonoses Associated with Rabbits.” IACUC. January 2021. https://iacuc.wsu.edu/zoonoses-associated-with-rabbits/