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Do rabbits chew their cuds? Well, sort of ... in a backwards way.

COUNTRYSIDE: Please settle a bet. My husband and I are arguing about whether or not rabbits chew their cuds. I say they do; he says rabbits don't even have cuds. Your anser determines who has to trim goat hooves!--Bette, Des Moines, Iowa

Call it a draw. While you share the hoof trimming chore, you can discuss some little-known facts about rabbits as presented in this article reprinted from COUNTRYSIDE 60/6:49 (June, 1976) via the British Fur & Feather.

The study of the rabbit is fascinating, and from periods of quiet observation we learn some of the peculiarities of its life and habits. One of the most interesting of these is coprophagy. The word comes from the Greek kopros (dung) and phago (eating).

This dung eating is not quite so revolting as it sounds at first, for the rabbit makes a special form of pellet which it takes directly from its anus. Coprophagy plays an important part in the digestive/nutritional process. The special soft pellets are produced at night or during periods of rest and are often called "nocturnal pellets" to distinguish them from the fecal pellets excreted at other times.

The process has a distinct analogy with the chewing of the cud by ruminants. Like the cow, rabbits are herbivorous and their diet contains a high proportion of crude fiber. The cellulose of the fiber has to be broken down before complete digestion and absorption can take place. The rabbit has a comparatively large caecum and colon to facilitate this.

In order to obtain the maximum nutriment from its food the rabbit has developed the habit of coprophagy, passing certain of its intestinal contents through the system twice. In addition to the improved nutrition, it is possible that the soft pellets fulfill a need to give greater bulk to the stomach contents. The rabbit's stomach and intestines are geared to bulk supplies and under some conditions the diet may lack bulk. The stomach has a comparatively poor muscular action and relies to a great extent on the pressure of successive meals to push the mass of food along the digestive tract.


The composition of the two types of pellets is interesting, the soft pellets having much more protein and less crude fiber.
Analysis % %
of the pellets hard soft
Crude prctein 11.0 35.0
Ether extract (fat) 4.0 3.5
Crude fiber 35.5 14.0
Nitrogen free extract 41.5 36.5
Ash (minerals) 8.0 11.0

The process is controlled by adrenal glands. Stress can overstrain the endocrine (ductless) glands of which the adrenals are important members, and this in turn can cause digestive upset and the slowing down or even stopping of coprophagy. Coccidiosis and disorders of the enteritis complex also cause considerable disturbance of the process.


It is quite remarkable that we keep returning to stress as a cause of trouble in the rabbity. The rabbit is a very sensitive animal, easily made hysterical, over-excited or frightened. For this reason the principles of rabbit husbandry need to place greater emphasis on the well-being of the rabbit. After that has been established, we get the higher productivity we need for success.

It has been suggested that wire mesh floors inhibit the process of coprophagy by the loss of the soft pellets through the floor. This is not so, for the rabbit takes them directly from the anus. We have known about the phenomenon of coprophagy since 1882 but it was not until 1941 that any real investigations took place.

The special pellets are formed about six hours after the last meal and are swallowed voluntarily about an hour later. Sufficient are taken to fill about one-third of the stomach, where they remain intact for a number of hours before softening and disintegrating gradually.

This should make one think seriously about uncontrolled ad lib feeding, under which scheme there is no "last meal" and as a result the process of coprophagy may be inhibited. This process is necessary to the rabbit's nutritional and general health, so man should not lightly undermine the necessary routines.

Rabbits on a continuous feed routine have been reported as suffering from reduction of soft pellet production. A figure as low as 10 percent of normal and even cessation of production has been noted.

Looking at the rabbit's digestive system as a whole must include the phenomenon of coprophagy, its place in that system, the establishment of acceptable nutritional levels and the correct timing of feed and rests. The process does not appear to be affected, adversely or otherwise, by the modern techniques of daylight patterns. Our rabbits in outside hutches, pre-commercialization, practiced coprophagy in the very short days of winter equally satisfactorily as in the long summer days. Rabbits feed in the dark, especially will they nibble hay, and I have an idea that the rabbit regulates his feed to the state of his stomach, maintaining an even presure of food throughout about 18-20 hours of the 24, which will keep the intestinal tract from stagnating as well as overloading.
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Title Annotation:excerpted from Fur & Feather magazine
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1994
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