Diarrhea in Rabbits
Dr. Lani Steinohrt
It is important to distinguish cecal diarrhea from constant diarrhea. If your rabbit is having soft, liquid, bloody, or foul smelling feces, and not producing any of the normal, solid round feces, this is urgent, and should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately. In contrast, rabbits with cecal diarrhea produce occasional soft, liquid or strong-smelling feces along with normal, solid, round fecal pellets. This may be less serious, but should be evaluated by a veterinarian if it lasts longer than a week, or is accompanied by a decrease in appetite, lethargy, blood or mucus in the stool.
Diarrhea should not be confused with the normal, soft cecotropes (night feces) that are regularly produced and ingested by the rabbit primarily in the early morning hours. Cecotrophs are soft, dark-colored strong-smelling feces that may resemble shiny blackberries. They are eaten (coprophagy) directly from the anus during the night or early morning hours, so most owners rarely, or never observe them. However, if your rabbit is overweight, painful or otherwise not able to consistently reach his hind end to eat these, you may observe them. More often, the rabbit sits or steps on them, so they lose their characteristic shape. It is when they are stepped on, or stuck to the fur of the hind end, that they most often are confused with diarrhea.
One of the most common causes of diarrhea in rabbits is disruption of the cecal bacterial population (cecal flora). Rabbits can digest food that we cannot, such as hay and grasses, because they have a cecum. The distinct population of bacteria within the cecum acts as a bacterial fermentation vat to digests these foods. If the cecal bacteria are altered in any way, gas and toxin-forming bacteria overgrow. Inadequate roughage in the diet is a primary cause of disruption of the cecal bacterial population.