The essential guide for anyone who has a rabbit with diarrhea. Find out why diarrhea in bunnies occurs, how to prevent it, plus home treatment and medicine.
If your bunny has soft-looking poop for the first time, you probably have some questions, such as “Why is my bunny’s poop soft?” or “My rabbit has diarrhea, what should I do?”
Like many small animals, rabbits have a finicky digestive system. For a number of reasons, rabbits may develop runny poo when they’re upset. You may also find cecotropes caked to your rabbit’s bottom. In this article, we’ll discuss what causes it and rabbit diarrhea home treatments.
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 dry fecal pellets and cecotropes. Cecotropes are not feces, but bunny-made doses of nutrients, so don’t be surprised to find your rabbit eating them.
By digesting their food twice rabbits can get nutrients that weren’t digested the first time. Bunnies pass these pieces of partially digested food in groups and ingest them. It may seem gross to us, but rabbits love them and it’s good for them.
Unlike normal rabbit poo, cecotropes are produced in the cecum, located between the small and large intestines. They are high in vitamin B, which bunnies cannot produce on their own.
Occasionally, what looks like rabbit diarrhea could actually be loosely formed cecotropes. When your bunny has diarrhea, what does it look like?
If your bunny’s feces are normal, but there’s a smelly, mucousy poo clinging to their bottom or tail, it’s likely that their cecotropes are too soft. Unfortunately, this can make them difficult to eat, or your rabbit may simply find the texture unappealing.
However, the causes of loose cecotropes are different from those of genuine diarrhea.
What Does Rabbit Diarrhea Look Like?
A rabbit with diarrhea produces extremely watery, non-formed feces. Unlike normal feces, which is hard and round with visible pieces of hay, if your bunny has diarrhea it will be soft and loose. This is more common in baby rabbits than adults.
Let’s take a look at the causes of loose stools and diarrhea in rabbits.
Why Does My Rabbit Have Diarrhea?
What causes rabbit diarrhea and soft cecotropes? We’ve listed a few of the most common causes below.
Rabbit diarrhea may be caused by any of the following:
- A bacterial or viral infection
- Inappropriate use or overuse of certain antibiotics
- Direct or indirect ingestion of toxins
- Parasitic infection, often coccidia, roundworms or tapeworms
- Chronic disease.
Soft cecotropes may be caused by any of the following:
- A diet too high in carbohydrates (too much alfalfa hay or pellets) or too low in fiber (not enough grass hay)
- A diet too high in fiber (more than 20% crude fiber)
- A sudden change in diet
- Excessive amounts of water-rich vegetables such as cucumber
- High-sugar fruits, vegetables, grains or human foods
- Hidden health problems that slow your bunny’s digestion, including dental problems and conditions causing pain or stress.
Also, overweight or elderly rabbits who are unable to reach their anus and ingest cecotropes may appear to only have soft stool or diarrhea. Unable to consume them, these bunnies simply sit on their cecotropes and press them into their fur, creating the appearance of runny poo.
If your bunny is overweight, consider facilitating weight loss through exercise. Elderly rabbits should be taken to the veterinarian for possible arthritis treatment. Because cecotropes contain necessary nutrients, it’s important your rabbit does not miss out on them.
My Rabbit Has Diarrhea or Soft Cecotropes, What Should I Do?
Well, that depends on the severity of your rabbit’s condition. Whether they are still eating and how long the condition has been present are important factors to consider.
Let’s take a look at how to help your rabbit recover from diarrhea and soft cecotropes in different scenarios.
Soft Cecotropes, Otherwise Normal
A bunny with a healthy appetite and normal fecal pellets but frequent soft cecotropes should have their diet examined. They may also need to be evaluated for an underlying health condition.
Often a simple change in diet can alleviate symptoms altogether. So remember to give your rabbit free-fed grass hay or include fiber-rich vegetables in their diet.
Insufficient fiber is one of the most common causes of rabbits with diarrhea. As is giving your bunny too much of a good thing, like pellets or starchy, sugary treats.
Although soft cecotropes aren’t a medical emergency, keep your vet informed so that they can guide you in keeping your rabbit healthy.
It’s also important to keep your bunny’s hind end clean until they’re passing and consuming normal cecotropes. This can take a few days to a few weeks.
If a diet change doesn’t do the trick, a trip to the vet is in order. Your bunny may have a condition that’s slowing their cecotrope production or causing stress. Both can upset the normal digestive process.
Diarrhea, but Still Eating
If your rabbit has diarrhea but is still eating, treat them as a sick pet. Although eating is a good sign, if your bunny has diarrhea, it can quickly lead to dehydration if left untreated.
A rabbit diarrhea home treatment is to change their diet. Decrease carbohydrates, increase fiber and cut back on high-sugar and starchy elements in their diet. Symptoms should subside in a day or so, but keep your rabbit’s hind end clean until then.
Also, you might consider talking to your vet about rabbit diarrhea medicine.
If your rabbit’s diarrhea persists even after a diet change, then it’s time to take them to your veterinarian.
Typically, your vet will perform a thorough exam. This may include taking samples of both cecotropes and fecal pellets to check for bacterial and viral infections. Once the underlying cause is identified, your vet will administer rabbit diarrhea medicine.
Diarrhea and Not Eating
Rabbit with diarrhea + not eating = a dangerous situation.
As mentioned above, diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration. This, combined with not taking in nutrients, is a dire situation. If this happens, contact your vet immediately.
Your vet will likely administer IV fluids and vitamins to your bunny before obtaining blood and stool samples to determine the cause of diarrhea.
Baby Rabbit with Diarrhea
A baby rabbit with diarrhea can quickly become life-threateningly ill. It takes only a few hours for your baby bunny with diarrhea to become dangerously dehydrated.
Baby rabbits bought from pet stores are particularly prone to diarrhea-causing bacteria in their digestive tract. This is because they are taken from their mothers too soon, depriving them of essential antibodies in their mother’s milk.
In fact, their immune systems are so weak, baby bunnies are even susceptible to human intestinal bacteria!
Also, baby rabbits are especially susceptible to inflammation of the intestinal tract. This causes lethargy, decreased appetite, weight loss, and diarrhea or constipation.
Regardless of the cause, your baby bunny with diarrhea should be taken to the vet immediately!
Preventing Rabbit Diarrhea
Diarrhea… Rabbits, cats, dogs, livestock, people – Regardless of the species, a bout of diarrhea can range from temporary nuisance to life-threatening situation.
As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The key to preventing diarrhea in baby rabbits is two-fold.
Wait two full months before weaning them from their mother’s milk. This will allow them to take full advantage of the antibodies and nutrients in her milk.
Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling a baby bunny. Otherwise, you may unknowingly transmit human-borne digestive viruses and bacteria to your bunny.
With adult rabbits, a proper diet is the easiest way to prevent diarrhea. As we’ve mentioned a few times in this article, a diet high in fiber and low in carbohydrates and sugar is ideal.
Rabbits should have access to high-fiber grass hay at all times. This ensures that their digestive system is always moving. Alfalfa and an overabundance of rabbit pellets can actually slow your bunny’s digestion.
Furthermore, changing your rabbit’s diet, do so gradually. This helps your bunny maintain the proper balance of bacteria, which is the key to maintaining a healthy gut.
A low-stress lifestyle and adequate exercise are also important in keeping your rabbit’s digestion healthy. A stressed or pained rabbit is more likely to develop diarrhea.
Diarrhea in Rabbits – a Summary
Diarrhea in rabbits can be worrying. There are several causes, but knowing which is responsible makes solving the problem easier.
Observing your rabbit’s poop will help you make the best decisions when it suddenly becomes consistently abnormal.
Soft cecotropes can be mistaken for diarrhea in rabbits due to their congealed consistency and tendency to stick to your bunny’s rear when they’re not consuming them.
Genuine rabbit diarrhea is often a symptom of an underlying condition. Because of their susceptibility to infections, such conditions can quickly become fatal in baby rabbits.
Rabbit diarrhea home treatments include changes in diet and activity level, but it’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian about rabbit diarrhea medicine.
Have you had a rabbit with diarrhea? Leave a comment about your experience!
This article was revised and updated for 2019.
- Hess, L. & Axelson, R. “Health Problems in Rabbits,” VCA Animal Hospital.
- 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?” MSPCA.
- San Diego Rabbit Society. “General Rabbit Care – Health.”