Dogs are known for their incredible senses, but their sense of taste is, how shall we say… a tad uncultured.
From another dog’s vomit to their own butts, from last week’s garbage to today’s freshest roadkill, it seems there’s nothing too disgusting for a dog to eat.
In fact, some of the grossest things we can think of are some of the most delicious treats a dog could ever hope to encounter.
One such delicacy: rabbit poop.
Rabbits live life in the fast lane. They eat a lot, they breed a lot and they poop a lot, and in this last way, they’re like little mobile dog food factories.
But for us humans, seeing our dogs devour a pile of rabbit droppings isn’t just gross — it’s concerning too. After all, with all the bacteria inside it, poop can’t be good to consume… right?
Let’s put on our detective hats and solve the age-old mystery of why dogs eat rabbit poop. And more importantly, let’s find out if it’s safe — or if it’s a habit that needs to be broken.
The Reality of Rabbit Poop
You may have rabbits in your neighborhood and not even know it. They tend to shy away from humans, and often the only sign that they were there at all is the poop they leave behind.
As herbivores, rabbits only eat plants, and the vast majority of their diet is grass. This diet results in a set of interesting bathroom habits that help explain why dogs love rabbit droppings so much.
A Tale of Two Poops
Rabbits actually produce two types of solid waste. And each type serves a very different purpose.
The first type of poop is known as a fecal pellet. It’s the small, brown, roundish sort that resembles dog kibble at first glance — and there’s usually a lot of it.
This poop doesn’t have much of an odor, but it’s what we usually think of as poop: undigested food compacted into a turd. Rabbit fecal pellets are usually comprised mostly of grasses and hay that the rabbit couldn’t digest.
Most rabbits don’t eat their own fecal pellets, though it’s normal for them to have a nibble on them once in a while. But most pellets are left behind where dogs and other animals can find them.
The second type of poop isn’t technically poop at all, though it comes from the same place. It’s called a cecotrope, and believe it or not, it’s designed to be eaten.
Yes, you read that right: some rabbit “poop” is actually food.
Cecotropes are shaped like small, shiny bunches of grapes and are often produced at night. They’re tightly-packed bundles of nutrients and beneficial bacteria that are covered in mucus.
When a rabbit eats a cecotrope, the mucus protects the bacteria from the digestive enzymes in the stomach. Once it reaches the cecum (the junction between the small and large intestines), the bacteria are released, populating the cecum and aiding in digestion.
The bacteria stink quite badly, but they’re absolutely essential to a rabbit’s health. They produce nutrients that the rabbit needs to survive but which are tough to obtain from ordinary food.
Rabbits that don’t eat cecotropes will eventually succumb to malnutrition, so these droppings are critical parts of their diet. Thankfully, rabbits seem to know this and usually ingest their cecotropes shortly after they’re produced.
Drawn to the Droppings
So rabbits have a good reason for eating their own droppings. But what’s your dog’s excuse for eating rabbit poop?
Turns out there’s a lot more depth to this baffling desire than first meets the eye!
Poop: Packed with Nutrients
Just as rabbits stand to gain a great deal from eating their cecotropes, dogs can benefit from eating rabbit pellets.
Rabbits don’t usually eat their fecal pellets because there’s nothing in them that they couldn’t get from a more appetizing source.
Fecal pellets are largely made up of grass and other plant matter that couldn’t be digested. A hungry rabbit could simply return to the source and eat more fresh grass instead of old, indigestible grass.
But digested or not, grass and hay contain a lot of fiber and vitamin B — two nutrients that dogs on commercial diets are often deficient in.
And rabbit poop also contains digestive enzymes from the rabbit’s stomach, which can assist in dog digestion as well. This is especially true of dogs on kibble diets, which don’t contain any living enzymes.
Dogs who are deficient in a nutrient will instinctively seek out sources of that nutrient and eat them. It’s for this reason that rabbit poop is such a doggy delicacy.
And what about cecotropes? Well, they’re packed with nutrients as well, specifically protein, vitamin B and vitamin K.
However, dogs rarely get to enjoy a snack of cecotropes, as rabbits usually gobble them down pretty quickly. When your pup does find a cecotrope, though, the extra protein and vitamins could make it an irresistible treat.
Curiosity Fed the Canine
Even dogs without nutrient deficiencies can be found gobbling down rabbit poop like there’s no tomorrow. It’s not a dietary need, and it seems to be the opposite of a dog’s ordinary carnivorous diet, so what’s the deal?
The answer likely goes back to a dog’s heightened sense of smell and, to a lesser extent, taste.
With around fifty times more scent receptors than humans, plus an extra smelling organ in their mouths, dogs perceive the world through smell. They can pick up nuances in scents that we can’t even begin to imagine.
So those odorless rabbit fecal pellets that we find in our yards and in our pet rabbits’ cages? They probably smell utterly fascinating to dogs.
The lack of meat combined with the unique digestive bacteria found in rabbit stomachs likely smells pretty different to anything else a dog encounters. And when dogs smell a curious scent, the next step is usually to taste it — to add a new dimension to the sensory experience.
Like a visually interesting object that makes you want to touch it, rabbit pellets may just smell so intriguing to dogs that they can’t help but take a bite. And since smell and taste are so intertwined, fecal pellets probably taste mighty interesting too.
Is Rabbit Poop Safe for Dogs?
So dogs love the taste of rabbit poop and seek it out due to the nutrients it contains. But does it also contain anything harmful?
Most of the time, the answer is no. Any new food, including rabbit poop, can cause an upset stomach, but that’s due to the novelty of it, not anything inherently bad about the poop itself.
And though you may have heard that rabbit poop can transmit parasites to your dog, don’t worry — that’s a myth.
Rabbit poop can contain parasites, like coccidia and giardia, but they’re species-specific and will pass through your dog without issue. They can only reproduce inside rabbits, not dogs, so while they may show up on a lab test, they won’t cause any symptoms.
Some owners are concerned about their dogs getting tapeworms from eating rabbit poop, but this is also a non-issue.
Tapeworms aren’t transmitted through poop. A dog can only get them by eating the body of a rabbit that’s infested with them, or a rabbit that’s infested with infected fleas.
If you see rabbit droppings in your yard, it’s a good idea to check it regularly for dead rabbits, as you definitely don’t want your dog eating these.
But the poop itself is no problem. As gross as it is, no harm can come from your dog eating it.
Dogs can be trained to ignore rabbit poop with the “drop it” or “leave it” commands. But most of the time, it’s totally unnecessary to do so; it’s easier if you just look away while it’s happening.
Rabbit poop eating is just another weird, unpleasant habit that comes with the territory of dog ownership — but this one, at least, is perfectly safe.