Understanding rabbit digestion

A rabbit’s digestive system may not be the first thing on your agenda when you’re preparing to bring your sweet floofs home. But did you know that digestive issues for bunnies can turn life-threatening in the blink of an eye?

Yep, it’s essential that your little nibblers keep grazing and receive the right diet to keep their digestive system ticking along nicely, and prevent any health issues!

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about rabbit digestion (and poops!). Read on to better understand your floofs and what they need to lead a hoppy and healthy life. 

Rabbit eating food from a food bowl

A Deep-Dive Into Rabbit Digestion

Rabbits are herbivores, and so eat a strictly plant-based diet. To make this work for their tummies, bunnies have a specialized digestive tract designed to extract all the vital nutrients from this type of food.

Let’s take a look at what goes on in a little more detail! 

Understanding a Rabbit’s’ Double Digestion’ System

What makes a bunny’s digestive system so unique, is the fact that rabbits digest food not once but twice.

Step 1: The first part isn’t dissimilar to us hoomans. A rabbit eats food, which then enters their stomach. In the stomach, food is mixed with digestive juices and gets broken down.

Step 2: This is where things get a little more interesting! After food leaves the stomach, the next stop is a special pouch known as the ‘cecum’. The cecum acts as a recycling center, fermenting helpful bacteria, further breaking it down and extracting more nutrients

Step 3: This is then pooped out, and the droppings known as ‘cecotropes’ are immediately re-eaten (yes, you read that correctly!). This may sound a bit gross, but it’s completely normal for bunnies as it helps them assimilate all nutrients from their food!

Rabbit eating greens on a bed of hay

The Need for a High Fiber Diet in Rabbits

As you can imagine, such a unique digestive system calls for a very specific diet. Acting a bit like a conveyor belt, fiber is essential for keeping things moving in a rabbit’s gut, which is why grass-based hay should make up as much as 85% of their diet. A good amount of fiber helps with:

  • Healthy digestion - prevents food from getting stuck and causing problems like GI stasis (more on this later).
  • Dental health - chewing on fibrous foods grinds down a bunny’s teeth (which grow continuously throughout their lifetime).
  • Providing nutrients - keeps a bunny’s body and digestive system healthy.
Rabbit eating a pile of hay

How the Right Rabbit Diet Aids Digestion 

Understanding rabbits allows us to tailor the perfect diet to their specific needs. In short, a balanced diet for your an adult bunny consists of:

  • Unlimited grass-based hay, or at least a daily bundle as big as your bunny’s body, which will aid digestion and keep their teeth in check.
    • 1-2 handfuls of fresh leafy greens, which will provide essential fiber, vitamins, minerals and hydration.
    • A tablespoon of high quality pellets, to guard against nutrient deficiencies and support overall health and well-being.
    • A tablespoon or two of fruit or veggies as treats to provide mental stimulation and variety.

    A balanced rabbit diet promotes healthy digestion and prevents serious health issues from developing like obesity or GI stasis.

    Rabbit eating a leaf

    Rabbit Digestive Problems and Their Prevention

    Digestive problems can be uncomfortable for us hoomans, but for bunnies they can sadly prove fatal if not treated quickly. Gastrointestinal Stasis (or GI Stasis for short) occurs when a rabbit’s digestive system slows down or stops working altogether.

    This can be caused by stress and illness, but it’s also commonly caused by a lack of fiber in your bunny’s diet. To try and prevent this issue, always encourage your bunny to eat as much hay as possible by giving them unlimited quantities.

    When GI Stasis hits, food gets stuck in the stomach and intestines, leading to serious discomfort and a medical emergency. If your rabbit stops eating and pooping, we can’t stress how important it is to take action and immediately bring them to a bunny-savvy vet.

    Rabbit being visited by the vet

    Understanding Rabbit Droppings

    We get it - rabbit droppings are not something you want to be analyzing in too much detail, thank you very much! But in truth, it’s important to understand the weird and wonderful world of poop to better monitor your rabbit’s health.

    There are two different types of droppings - fecal pellets and cecotropes - and each serves a different role in rabbit digestion.

    • Fecal Pellets - These are hard, round droppings that anyone who’s cleaned a rabbit’s cage will be very familiar with! Fecal pellets contain undigested fiber and other waste products a rabbit can’t use, so they are eliminated from the body.
    • Cecotropes - These soft droppings have a much different appearance, and are often shiny and clumped together. Unlike fecal pellets, rabbits tend to eat cecotropes directly from their bottom (so if you’ve noticed this before, no need to panic!). Although it sounds pretty disgusting, cecotropes are nutrient-dense and give rabbit’s a second chance to absorb all nutrients from their food!

    The Link Between Rabbit Health and Poop

    Your floof’s bowel movements can provide you with valuable clues and insights about their health. Here are some early warning signs of health issues to look out for:

    • Consistency - Fecal pellets should be hard, dry and round, so if they become soft or runny, it could signal a problem with their digestive health.
      • Color - In general, poop should be brown. Black or very dark droppings could indicate bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, which needs immediate attention. Pale or light droppings, on the other hand, may indicate liver problems.
      • Smell - If their poops smell particularly pungent, then it could be a sign of digestive problems.
      • Quantity - If you notice that your rabbit is pooping less than normal or stops pooping altogether, this could indicate a blockage in their digestive tract, and should be treated as a medical emergency.
      • Cecotropes - Your rabbit should regularly produce cecotropes and eat them. If they have trouble with this, it could again signal digestive problems.

      Pro tip: Cage cleans are the perfect opportunity to quickly check your rabbit’s droppings! If you notice any unexplained changes or have any concerns, then it’s better to be safe than sorry and get your bun checked by a vet.

      Woman cleaning a rabbit's living environment with Kavee dustpan and brush


      So there you have it - a balanced rabbit diet is essential in order to maintain good digestive health. By providing the right mix of fiber, nutrients and hydration, your bunny is more likely to stay in peak health and fitness.

      An awareness of their unique digestive system means that you can promote gut mobility and prevent serious conditions like GI Stasis. It also helps them to produce cecotropes, which rabbits need to eat to absorb all the nutrients they need and keep their gut healthy!

      Here at Kavee, our C&C cages and accessories have been designed with rabbit health at the top of our priority list. So to encourage good eating and drinking habits in an environment that’s easy to maintain, check out our range of rabbit products today!
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