THE RABBITS DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
I will be posting what to grow and feed your rabbit on a natural or pellet free diet. To better understand this you must know how a rabbits digestive system works. One of the most interesting aspects of a rabbit’s body is their digestive system. Rabbits can eat a wide variety of plant material. They can process nutrients from many plants that are indigestible to less adaptable herbivores or omnivores. This ability helps make rabbits highly successful in all types of environments around the world. Understanding how your rabbit’s digestive system works is important so that you can feed your rabbits the right way and one that is most efficient for the rabbits. Rabbits are herbivores ,a rabbit has an esophagus, stomach, and intestinal tract like other mammals. However, because they often dine on plants that are high in fiber, they have developed a strategy for dealing with this called hind gut fermentation. This is where the indigestible materials break down into manageable chemicals. Many other herbivores including horses, guinea pigs, and chinchillas, also have this type of digestive system.
The digestive process begins in the rabbit’s mouth. The rabbit’s prehensile lips grab the plant material first and then the front teeth called incisors — four upper and two lower — neatly slice off pieces of plant material. The food is then passed to the molars (the back teeth), where it’s chewed into small particles. A rabbit chews food about 300 cycles side to side and then it finally gets swallowed down the esophagus. The nibbling/grinding action of eating the hay keeps the teeth worn down and the calcium helps to keep teeth and jaw structure strong
The food goes into the stomach, but the real action isn’t there. The stomach stores the food and the contents are sterilized before moving to the small intestine. Rabbits have a large stomach for their body size to enable them to eat large amounts of plant material quickly. They graze primarily in the a.m. and p.m. with little else during the rest of the day, depending on what’s available, the weather, and so on. Taking a purely scientific look at the digestive system of a rabbit reveals a fascinating process. These animals have a particularly efficient way of dealing with the indigestible parts of their plant diet.
While in the small intestine up to 90% of the protein, starches and sugar are absorbed from the food. Then the undigested fiberous material moves on and is sorted. Rabbits have a very large blind sac called a cecum that is located where the small intestine and the large intestine join together. This would be in the same place as our appendix, but in the rabbit this organ is very large and contains a wonderfully diverse population of healthy bacteria, yeast, and other organisms working to help the rabbit digest his food.
When the food in the small intestine reaches the cecum and large intestine, the gastrointestinal tract knows which materials to divert into the cecum for further breakdown. The materials that were already digested in the small intestine and that don’t need to make this little side trip to the cecum pass directly into the large intestine as waste. The hard waste that bypasses the cecum is moved through the colon in a circular motion and forms perfectly round hard balls as the little round droppings you see under your rabbit’s cages. There are two scent glands on either side of the anus. This scent is deposited on the waste pellets as they pass. That is why rabbits uses their poop pellets to mark their territory.
What is happening in the cecum? The multitude of microorganisms are breaking down the indigestible fiber and turning it into digestible nutrients. Every 3 to 8 hours the cecum contracts and forces the material back into the colon where it is coated with mucus, In order for the rabbit to use these nutrients he must take this material and move it through the digestive tract one more time. So, at certain times of the day (which is within several hours after a rabbit eats a big meal) the material from the cecum is packaged up into small round moist pellets called cecotropes. The rabbits get a signal in their brain about when these little clusters of goodness are ready to be passed out of the body; the rabbit eats them the minute they emerge. Your rabbit will often look like they are grooming their hind end, but actually the rabbit is taking in these nutrient-rich cecotropes.
The various types of fiber in a rabbit’s diet is not only there to be used for nutrition, but is vital to keeping the rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract in excellent working order. The indigestible fiber is particularly important in making the intestines move along smoothly. You could think of it as sort of “caress” the lining and keeping things moving smoothly. A diet that is low in appropriate types of fiber and too high in rich carbohydrates can lead to a sluggish intestine and cecum and subsequent serious disease. Normally you don’t see any cecotropes in your rabbit’s cage; at the most, you’ll see a rare one here or there. Cecotropes are soft, green to brown, mucous coated, and have a stronger smell than the waste pellets. If you see a number of them in your rabbit’s cage, it may indicate a diet too rich in protein or another, more serious condition
Ensure that you feed your rabbit with high fiber from fresh green plants such as carrot-tops, Broccoli rabe, turnip greens, parsley, dandelion, watercress or mustard. As a treat, you can offer it pieces of pear, apple, peach or melon. A low fiber and high carbohydrate and protein diet can interfere with the rabbit’s digestive system. Low fiber can as well lead to abnormal fermentation, pH changes, changes in the population of the good bacteria, as well as slowing down the cecum and colon. These disruptions results to an environment that might favor overgrowth of bad bacteria making the rabbit prone to diarrhea and other bacteria-related conditions. Stay tuned for -GROWING AND FEEDING RABBITS NATURALLY- JOIN THE RABBIT REVOLUTION! LIKE US ON FACEBOOK! AND SUBSCRIBE TO THE BLOG to get our updates as they are posted!
Posted on April 16, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged cecotropes, cecum, rabbit digestive system. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.
Sir I heard you the other day on the survival podcast. Great show. Another great article. As a future rabbitry owner I cannot wait for your next posts.
Have more podcast to follow, with some great stuff planed this year! Glad you like it!
This is such a helpful post! We are in year 3 of raising rabbits for meat, and you are hands-down the most knowledgeable and useful site on the internet for clear, concise information. Thank you!