Healthy rabbits with a good diet don’t get dirty, sticky bottoms. They produce two kinds of poo. Firstly, the more common pellets, which are large, round and dry and full of fibre. The other kind of poos are called caecotrophs (or caecal pellets) and are normally eaten by the rabbit directly from the anus, it sounds yucky, but that’s nature for you!
There are reasons why rabbits may not eat all their caecal pellets, and if these stick to the fur around the bottom and tummy, they can cause some serious problems.
Why might rabbits get dirty bottoms?
A diet that has too much sugar or starch will cause digestive problems. Every rabbit’s gut has a very delicate balance, and if they eat too many carbohydrates, there is the danger of serious problems. For most rabbits this will cause their caecotrophs to be softer and improperly formed and they won’t be eaten, instead they will stick to the bottom and cause problems. Reduce the carbohydrates to stop this from happening.
If fruit or carrot are fed (they contain a lot of sugar) then only give a very small amount, as a treat. A half-inch cube per day is enough. Too many nuggets will lead to too many caecotrophs being produced, and not all of them being eaten. They can stick to the fur around the rabbit’s bottom and lead to other problems. So keep nuggets down to no more than an eggcup full per rabbit per day. Feed nuggets rather than a muesli-type mix, so that your rabbit gets all the nutrients needed in every portion.
Rabbits that have arthritis or back problems will find it difficult to eat caecotrophs direct from the anus. If your rabbit often has a dirty bottom and you see it having to scoot around to eat caecotrophs from the floor, you should see your vet. Arthritis is more common than people realise. Rabbits will do all they can to disguise pain and stiffness, so this may be the only sign you will see until your rabbit is in a lot of pain and won’t eat.
If your rabbit has an injury to its hind legs or back, it will be difficult or impossible to reach for caecals and the bottom will become dirty. You will need to move caecotrophs into easy reach for eating as soon as they are produced. They are a vital part of rabbits’ digestion and do need to be eaten.
Overweight rabbits cannot reach around to their bottoms to eat caecotrophs, and they will become tangled in the fur. Obesity is as dangerous for rabbits as it is for humans. It puts strain on the joints, the heart and other organs and is a major cause of dirty bottoms in rabbits. If you are seeing this, then your rabbit’s diet urgently needs to be changed to unlimited hay and grass, a small amount of green vegetables and no more than an eggcup full of nuggets per day. As weight is lost, exercise will become easier, and that will help with further weight loss. A better diet will make caecotrophs taste better, so your rabbits will want to eat them and will be able to reach them once enough weight has been lost.
What might happen if the bottom is dirty?
When caecotrophs are caking your rabbit’s bottom, it will become very uncomfortable and may be infected. Skin will crack and fur will be lost. You need to keep the area clean, but only wash as much of the area as you need to and dry as thoroughly as possible to avoid further chapping. Your vet may prescribe a cream to protect the skin, as well as painkillers and possibly antibiotics if there is infection. It’s vital to break the cycle by tackling whatever is causing your rabbit to have a dirty bottom, otherwise the problem will only get worse.
Blowflies (bluebottles and greenbottles) lay their eggs on dead bodies, on wounds and on fur covered in faeces or wet caecotrophs. The maggots that hatch from those eggs eat flesh. This is a natural process, but if the maggots are on a live animal, such as on your rabbit’s bottom, they will eat it to death. It’s a truly awful condition and one you must do all you can to avoid. Keep your rabbit’s bottom as clean as possible and check every day, a few times per day, during warmer weather. Any sign of fly eggs or maggots, and you need to get your rabbit to the vet immediately. Don’t wait to wash it; just go to the vet now. If your rabbit is a good weight, gets a good diet and doesn’t have mobility problems that prevent it from eating caecotrophs directly from its bottom, then the bottom should stay clean, and the risk of Flystrike is greatly reduced.