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Word of the Week: Cecotrope

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Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Wednesday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

What Do Cecotropes Mean? 

Cecotrope [SEE-Kuh-trohp](noun): Partially digested foods that are passed by mammals in the order lagomorpha (e.g.pikas, hares, and rabbits), and then re-ingested.

What are Cecotropes?

The digestive process of some mammals such as guinea pigs, and several rodents have a unique part to them because they produce cecotropes.

Cecotropes, also known as, cecal pellets or night feces are material forming in the fermentation of food in the part of the digestive system called the cecum. Cecotropes are rich in nutrients and they are eaten by the animals as they exit the anus to help them absorb the proteins. 

Cecotropes and Rabbits 

This digestive process is also seen in rabbits as well! Rabbits produce two types of droppings. The first kind is fecal pellets that are round, dry and light to dark brown in colour. When these are produced they will normally be left in a litter box. 

The second kind is cecotropes. Cecotropes are soft, glossy, squishy, and dark almost black in colour. In a way, they resemble a blackberry. They are not normally seen by the owners of rabbits unless they are not feeling well. 

How Nutritious is the Cecals for Rabbits? 

Cecotropes are very beneficial for rabbits. The cecum contains a wild concoction of bacteria and fungi that are incredibly beneficial for the rabbit. In fact, rabbits cannot live without them, since the cecal flora produces essential nutrients that they cannot produce on their own, like fatty acids and vitamins.

If they are deprived of their cecotropes, they might eventually become affected by malnutrition.

Cecotrophs contain around 28-30% of crude protein and up to 30% of the total nitrogen intake of rabbits.

They are high in short-chained fatty acids that give rabbits an additional source of energy and the B vitamins are provided to fulfill the rabbit’s needs.  

The important thing to remember here is that Cecotropes are not feces! They are nutrient-packed dietary items essential to a rabbit’s good health.

Reasons Why a Rabbit May Overproduce Cecotropes 

Too Many Treats 

One factor that can cause excess cecotropes is giving your rabbit too many sweet treats. Foods that have too much sugar promote the overgrowth of bacteria in a rabbit’s gut. This will cause there to an overproduction of cecotropes. 

Sugary treats for rabbits include many colourful store-bought treats. However, it can also include sweet fruits and vegetables such as fresh carrots, apples, strawberries and any other fruit. When giving these to your rabbit remember to give them in moderation. 

Furthermore, too many treats can lead to soft, malformed cecotropes. This can look like diarrhea however, it is not. These malformed cecotropes can get stuck to the fur on the rabbit’s bottom causing a ball of cecotrope to form. This condition is called the poopy butt. Trimming down any long fur around their rear end can also help keep the area clean. 

Sudden Change in Diet

The digestive system of rabbits is sensitive. If there is too much change in their diet at once, can possibly cause a gut imbalance resulting in too many cecotropes. When making changes in your rabbit’s diet remember to do it gradually. 

Unbalanced Diet

Generally, rabbits that are on a low-protein, or low-fat diet will consume more cecotropes to help compensate for the nutrients needed. Those on a high-protein diet will eat fewer cecotropes. 

If you notice that your rabbit is not eating all of their cecotropes, try to reduce the protein given in your rabbit’s diet. The easiest way to do this is by reducing the portions of daily pellets given or changing to a lower protein brand. 

If vegetables are a big part of your rabbit’s diet then it might be a good idea to look at the portion size given there as well. Some rabbits are also sensitive to certain vegetables, causing them to create excess cecotropes. 

They Can’t Reach

In other cases, rabbits will have extra cecotropes due to mobility issues. Senior, disabled, or obese rabbits may have a hard time bending over.

Since rabbits will eat these droppings right out of the anus, it means they won’t be able to eat it until it is in the little box or somewhere else. 

Older rabbits, with health issues such as arthritis, maybe need medication or help with mobility or if they are disabled will need help reaching their cecotropes. 

If your rabbit has a dwarf or lop face it may have trouble reaching behind to eat the cecotropes due to its face and body shape. 

Obese rabbits, however, are probably producing too many cecotropes in addition to not being able to reach them. The cecotropes may continue until you have helped your rabbit lose weight. 

Your Rabbit is Not Feeling Well

Another reason why you might see extra cecotropes is that your rabbit is not feeling well. If a rabbit is feeling sick it might lose its appetite and might not eat the cecotropes. 

When they are in the stages of recovering from an illness, you may also see extra cecotropes. Some rabbits may have a reaction to the medication given causing them to overproduce cecotropes. 

How great was it to learn more about these furry friends! If you have a pet rabbit at home, have a look out for this cool fact about them.

Always remember, to keep the diet of your rabbit in check and when needed take them to your local vet.  

Keep an eye out for rabbits on your next visit to High Park! To learn more about them check out our book club or come join one of the programs we offer. 

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