Have you spent the morning thinking “Help! My bunny has diarrhea!” Don’t panic, we’re here to help. Welcome to our guide to dealing with diarrhea in rabbits.
If your bunny has soft looking poop for the first time, then it’s probable that you have a couple of questions…“Why does my bunny have diarrhea?” or “My rabbit’s poop is soft, what should I do?”
Well, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to your complete guide to diarrhea in rabbits, causes and treatments!
Like many small animals, rabbits have a bit of a finicky digestive system. When upset due to a number of causes, may result in rabbit runny poo or soft cecotropes being caked to their bottom.
In this article, we’ll discuss the reasons for soft rabbit poop and true rabbit diarrhea.
Looking at ways to get your rabbit with diarrhea feeling better. As well as methods for preventing future rabbit poopy bottom episodes.
What is rabbit diarrhea?
So, how is diarrhea in rabbits different from the other types of waste that bunnies produce?
After all, rabbits defecate both cecotropes (not truly a waste product) and normal rabbit stool (dry pellets of actual feces).
Cecotropes aren’t actually fecal matter.
And sometimes what looks like diarrhea in bunnies may actually be loosely formed cecotropes, formally known as “cecal dysbiosis”.
They are passed in groups and consist of digested food particles and are high in vitamin B, which bunnies do not produce on their own. Unlike normal rabbit poo, they are produced in the cecum (a pouch located between the small and large intestines).
Once the bunny passes the cecotropes, he then ingests them. Seems gross to us, but it’s completely normal for a rabbit. He does this to get the nutrients from their food that weren’t digested previously.
If the bunny is producing normal fecal pellets, but has a smelly and mucousy poo clinging to their bottom and/or tail, then it’s quite likely that their cecotropes are too soft to be eaten or are unappealing due to the smell or texture.
The causes for loose cecotropes may be different than the causes of true diarrhea, though.
True diarrhea in rabbits (extremely watery, non-formed feces) in rabbits actually is not as commonly found in adults as it is in kits (baby rabbits).
We’ll dig into the causes of both rabbit loose stool and true rabbit diarrhea in the next section.
Why does my rabbit have diarrhea?
What gives rabbits diarrhea or soft cecotropes? We’ve listed a few of the most common causes for each scenario below.
True diarrhea: Rabbit diarrhea may be caused by any of the following:
- An infection caused by bacteria or a virus.
- Inappropriate use or overuse of certain antibiotics.
- Ingestion of toxins (either directly or indirectly).
- Parasitic infection (often from coccidia, roundworms, or tapeworms)
- Chronic disease.
Rabbit soft stool may be caused by any of the following:
- Feeding your bunny a diet that’s too high in carbohydrates (too many pellets or too much alfalfa hay) or too low in fiber (often caused by not feeding enough grass hay).
- Giving your bunny a diet that’s too high in fiber (more than 20% crude fiber).
- Changing your bunny’s diet too quickly.
- Feeding your bunny excessive amounts of water-rich vegetables, such as cucumber.
- Giving your bunny high-sugar fruits, vegetables, grains, or human foods.
- Hidden health problems that slow down your bunny’s digestive motility, including dental problems and any other conditions that are causing pain and/or stress.
One other item to note is that overweight or elderly rabbits who are unable to reach their anus in order to ingest cecotropes may only appear to have soft stool or diarrhea.
This is so because the bunny, unable to consume the cecotropes, simply sits on them until they are pressed into his or her fur, creating the appearance of runny poo.
In these instances, you’ll need to exercise your bunny to facilitate weight loss and/or have him checked by your veterinarian for arthritis treatments. As your rabbit will be missing out on necessary nutrients as long as he’s unable to consume cecotropes.
My rabbit has diarrhea or soft cecotropes, what should I do?
When your rabbit has diarrhea or soft cecotropes, your best course of action depends on the severity of your rabbit’s condition. Whether or not he or she is still eating, and how long the condition has been present.
We’ll discuss the appropriate treatment for rabbit diarrhea or soft cecotropes in the upcoming sections.
Rabbit diarrhea treatment
We’ve outlined the rabbit soft poop and rabbit diarrhea cures (recommended courses of action) for a few different scenarios below.
Rabbit – soft cecotropes, otherwise normal
A bunny who presents with a healthy appetite and normal fecal pellets, but with soft cecotropes more than a time or two should have their diet re-examined and then be evaluated for an underlying health condition, if necessary.
Often times, a simple change in diet or process of elimination can alleviate symptoms all together. Especially if you weren’t previously offering free-choice grass hay or fiber-rich vegetables.
Not enough fiber is one of the most common causes of rabbit diarrhea. As is giving your bunny too much of a good thing, such as pellets or starchy/sugary treats.
Soft cecotropes aren’t necessarily a medical emergency, but you’ll want to keep your vet in the loop so that they know what’s going on and can help guide you.
It’s also important to keep bunny’s hind end clean until he’s passing and consuming normal cecotropes.
If a diet change doesn’t do the trick within a few days to a few weeks at most, then a trip to the vet is in order to ensure that your bunny doesn’t have something else going on. A condition that’s slowing her cecotrope production or that’s causing her pain or stress, as these can both upset her normal digestive process.
Rabbit – diarrhea, but still eating
A bunny with diarrhea but that is still eating should still be treated as a sick pet. While it’s a good sign that she’s still eating, diarrhea in rabbits can quickly lead to dehydration if not treated quickly.
If your rabbit has true diarrhea, the first course of action may be to decrease the carbohydrates, increase the fiber, and decrease or cut back any high-sugar or starchy elements in her diet to see if the symptoms subside in a day or so.
You might also consider placing a call with your vet to alert him or her of the treatment. Additionally, keep your rabbit’s hind end clean until symptoms subside.
Should your rabbit’s diarrhea persist even with a diet change, then it’s time to take her to your veterinarian for an evaluation.
Typically, your vet will perform a thorough exam and may obtain a sample of both cecotropes and fecal pellets to identify any bacterial or viral infections. Once the underlying cause is identified, further therapy will commence.
Rabbit – diarrhea, not eating
Rabbit soft poo + not eating = a more dangerous situation.
As we mentioned in the preceding section, diarrhea can lead to dehydration, and in rabbits, rather quickly.
Therefore, a rabbit that is also not eating is in dire need of nutrients and hydration, and should be taken to the vet rather urgently.
Your vet may place your bunny on IV fluids and vitamins before obtaining a blood and/or stool sample to determine the root cause of the diarrhea.
Baby rabbit diarrhea
When a baby bunny has diarrhea, it can rapidly escalate to a life or death situation. They can become thoroughly dehydrated in as little as a few hours.
Baby bunnies that are sold in pet stores are especially prone to an overproduction of diarrhea-causing bacteria in their digestive tract.
Since many of these bunnies are taken from their mothers too soon. They cannot benefit from the antibodies and other beneficial nutrients in mother’s milk for long enough.
Since their immune systems are also fairly weak, baby bunnies are even susceptible to human intestinal bacteria, including E.coli!
They are also especially susceptible to mucoid enteropathy, which is inflammation in the intestinal tract that causes lethargy, decreased appetite, weight loss, and diarrhea or constipation.
Therefore, baby bunny diarrhea, regardless of the cause, should always be treated as an emergency situation. Take your bunny to the vet immediately!
Rabbit diarrhea prevention
Diarrhea, rabbits, cats, dogs, livestock, people…regardless of the species, a bout of diarrhea is at best a temporary nuisance and at worst a life-threatening situation.
As the common saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
With babies, the key to preventing diarrhea in rabbits is twofold:
Wait a full two months before weaning them from their mother’s milk. This will allow them to sufficiently take advantage of the antibodies and nutrients found in her milk.
Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling a baby bunny. You may unknowingly transmit human-borne digestive viruses and bacteria to your bunny if you don’t handle them with the same care as a human baby.
With adult rabbits, one of the easiest ways to help prevent diarrhea is to feed a proper diet. As we’ve alluded to a few times in this article, a diet that’s high in fiber and low in carbohydrates and sugar is ideal.
Rabbits should have access to high-fiber, nutritious grass hay at all times. This ensures that their digestive system is always moving. Alfalfa or other rich hay and an overabundance of rabbit pellets can actually slow your bunny’s digestive motility.
Furthermore, when making any addition to your rabbit’s diet, do so in small amounts that gradually increase, and slowly. The key to maintaining a healthy gut is maintaining the proper balance of bacteria.
Your rabbit will also benefit from a low-stress lifestyle and adequate exercise, both of which lend themselves positively to digestive motility. A stressed or painful rabbit is more likely to develop diarrhea.
Diarrhea in rabbits – a summary
Diarrhea in rabbits can be worrying, but there are several possible causes.
Knowing your rabbit’s poop can help you make the best decisions for him when his poop suddenly and consistently looks abnormal.
Soft cecotropes can sometimes be mistaken for diarrhea in rabbits due to their soft, congealed consistency and tendency to stick to your bunny’s rear when he’s not consuming them.
True rabbit diarrhea is often a symptom of an underlying illness or condition in adult rabbits and can quickly become fatal in baby rabbits due to their susceptibility to human digestive bacteria.
We hope that this guide to rabbit diarrhea, causes, treatment, and prevention will help you keep your furry friend happy and healthy!
- Jenkins, JR. 1999. Feeding Recommendations For The House Rabbit. Husbandry and Nutrition.
- Krempels, D. “The Mystery of Rabbit Poop”
- Noonan, B. “Cecal Dysbiosis in House Rabbits: What the Hay?”
- VCA Animal Hospital. “Rabbits – Problems”