Cecotropes are the second type of rabbit dropping that they need to re-ingest in order to gain proteins and nutrients from their high-fiber diet. Most of the time, rabbits will eat these dropping directly out of their anus. You may occasionally see a cluster of cecotropes that your rabbit didn’t eat, but it should be a rare occurrence.
If you do start to see cecotropes in your rabbit’s litter box regularly (whole or squished and malformed), that can indicate that something is wrong. Usually, the rabbit isn’t eating the cecotropes because they are producing too many due to an imbalance in their gut health. If too many cecotropes are being produced, your rabbit won’t feel the need to eat all of them, so you end up finding them in the litter box (or around the room).
If you notice your rabbit is producing too many cecotropes, I recommend contacting your vet for specialized advice. While there are some common reasons for cecotrope over-production that I’ll go over in this article, I can not tell you exactly what is causing the problem in your specific rabbit. And since digestive health is very important to a rabbit’s overall health, ignoring this could eventually lead to a serious illness, such as GI Stasis.
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1. Too many treats
Diet is usually the culprit for the overproduction of cecotropes. One of the biggest factors is when a pet rabbit is given too many sweet treats. Foods that contain a lot of sugar promote the overgrowth of bacteria within the rabbit’s gut, causing it to be unbalanced. As a result, the rabbit will produce excess cecotropes. Most rabbits will only eat as many cecotropes as they need, so all the extra clusters will end up in the rabbit’s litter box or scattered around the room.
Sugary treats for rabbits include many colorful store-bought brands of treats (especially yogurt treats). However, it also includes foods that we think of as healthy for humans. Sweet fruits and vegetables should only be given to rabbits in moderation. This includes fresh and dried carrots, apples, strawberries, raspberries, bananas, and just about any other fruit (or sweet vegetable) you can think of. If you notice your rabbit is overproducing cecotropes, the first step to take is to remove these sweet treats from the diet. You can opt for hay-based treats instead (such as Oxbow’s Simple Rewards).
Too many sugary treats can also lead to soft, malformed cecotropes (called cecal dysbiosis). This can look like diarrhea, but it’s different because it’s the cecotropes that are soft, not the ‘cocoa puff’ fecal pellets. These soft cecotropes can get stuck to the fur around the rabbit’s bottom, causing a ball of poop to form (a condition called poopy butt).
2. A sudden change in diet
The rabbit digestive system is highly sensitive. Too much change at once, even if it’s a healthy change, can lead to a gut imbalance that results in too many cecotropes. If you recently switched the brand of food you give your rabbit or started giving them more leafy greens than they used to get, that could be the cause you’re looking for.
When changing a rabbit’s diet, it’s best to make a slow transition. This means if you switch them to a different brand of pellet, you should take 1-2 weeks of mixing the two types together first. Slowly increase the amount of the new brand you’re giving them until you’ve switched completely to the new food.
Similarly, if you want to increase the amount of leafy greens you give your rabbit, you should start with just a little extra every day. Do the same whenever you introduce a new type of green to your rabbit. For example, the first day they have cilantro, only give them one or two sprigs. Then give them slightly more the next day, and so on.
During this transition period, keep an eye on your rabbit’s droppings to make sure they’re adjusting to the change okay. If you notice extra cecotropes for one or two days and then the dropping return to normal, that’s totally okay. However, if your rabbit continues to have excess cecotropes (especially if they are soft), scale back the diet and proceed more slowly or contact your vet for more individualized advice.
3. Your rabbit can’t reach
In some cases, rabbits will have extra cecotropes lying around because of mobility issues. Elderly, disabled, and obese rabbits can sometimes have trouble reaching their bottom to eat their cecotropes. Since rabbits usually eat this type of dropping right out of their anus, it means that the rabbit won’t be able to eat the cecotropes until they are in the litter box (or elsewhere). When this happens, it’s pretty common for rabbits to not realize the cecotrope cluster is there, and they end up not eating it.
In this case, an overproduction of cecotropes might not be the problem. Elderly rabbits may have developed arthritis and require some pain medication from your veterinarian to help with mobility. Similarly, disabled rabbits will need help reaching their bum. You may need to collect their cecotropes and feed them to your rabbit to make sure they get the nutrients they need.
Obese rabbits, on the other hand, probably are producing too many cecotropes in addition to not being able to reach them. There is also a much higher probability that they will have mushy cecotropes that begin to form a ball around their bottom that will need to be cleaned in a butt bath. Even after cleaning, the issues with excess cecotropes and cecal dysbiosis will likely continue until you’ve helped your rabbit lose weight (learn more about how to help a pet rabbit lose weight)
4. Your rabbit isn’t feeling well
Another reason you might find extra cecotropes around is if your rabbit isn’t feeling well. If a rabbit is feeling sick, they tend to lose their appetite. This means they won’t be eating their cecotropes and will have a decreased appetite for their other foods as well. If your rabbit has not eaten anything for more than 10-12 hours, this is an emergency situation and your rabbit should be brought to a vet as soon as possible.
In addition to feeling sick, rabbits can have a decreased appetite when they are highly stressed or anxious. Dental problems are also common among rabbits. This could cause rabbits to be unable to eat properly, which will result in cecotropes being left uneaten as well.
If your rabbit is recovering from illness, you may also see some extra cecotropes lying around. Some rabbits can have a reaction to medication that causes them to temporarily produce more cecotropes. In most cases, this will resolve itself within one to two days, but it’s always a good idea to talk to your vet if you notice your rabbit has a lot of extra cecotropes while they recover from an illness.
5. Not enough hay
Last, but certainly not least, your rabbit may have excess cecotropes because they have an overall unbalanced diet. This will happen if rabbits are eating too many pellets or fresh leafy greens and not enough hay.
The main part of a rabbit’s diet should be their hay (especially timothy hay). The high fiber content keeps their digestive system running smoothly, keeping the gut bacteria balanced. Most rabbits will do fine with only about ¼ cup of pellets per day and only one to two handfuls of fresh greens. This way, the majority of what the rabbit eats will be the healthy, high-fiber hay.
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Recommended Products and Brands
Important: These are Affiliate links. As an associate to Amazon, Small Pet Select, and Chewy.com, I may receive a small commission from qualifying purchases.
The two brands that I use when buying food for my rabbit are Oxbow and Small Pet Select. These both have high quality rabbit products and are companies that care about the health of our small animals. If you are purchasing anything from Small Pet Select use the code BUNNYLADY at checkout to get 15% off your first order.
- Hay: Second Cutting Timothy Hay from Small Pet Select
- Pellets: Oxbow Garden Select Food for Rabbits
- Treats: Oxbow Simple Rewards
- Toys: Small Pet Select Natural Toys
- Enclosure/cage: A rabbit exercise pen
- Rabbit carrier: SleepyPod Mobile Pet Bed