Among the many, many disgusting habits dogs have, very few are worse than their tendency to eat poop. Rabbit poop appears to be some sort of canine delicacy, judging from the number of dogs who gleefully wolf down this snack.
Difficult as it is for us humans to fathom why bunny poop is so irresistible, let us attempt to understand our canine buddies and their strange habits.
The Lowdown on Rabbit Poop
Rabbits expel two kinds of substances from their rear end: fecal pellets and cecotropes.
Rabbit fecal pellets are dry, odorless, almost perfectly round spheres the size of peas or garbanzo beans. They’re dry and have a friable consistency. This means they hold their shape well but when pressure is applied, they crumble into what resembles sawdust.
Fecal pellets consist mostly of material that has been sucked dry of nutrients. Since rabbits in the wild eat mostly grass and other plants, their feces are chockful of fiber.
Cecotropes are pungent, moist, and soft berry-like clusters of partially digested material that is extremely high in Vitamin B, healthy gut bacteria, and other nutrients. These are products of the cecum, a part of the large intestine that has microbes to help extract nutrients from food that the rabbit’s body can’t do on its own.
Cecotropes are eaten fresh off the rabbit’s butt. As gross as that may sound, bunnies who are prevented from doing this become sickly and malnourished.
For the rest of the article, rabbit poop will refer only to fecal pellets because this is what dogs are exposed to. While we are sure dogs would gobble nutrient-rich, smelly cecotropes if given the chance, rabbits make sure to keep those for themselves by eating them immediately.
Why Dogs Love A Good Rabbit Poop Snack
There are a number of reasons your dog might choose to eat rabbit poop. Here are the common ones:
Because something is lacking in their diet
Your dog may not be getting the nutrients she needs, hence she tries to look for it by eating other things.
It could be that your dog’s regular dog food is not providing the right levels of macronutrients and micronutrients needed at her particular life stage.
It could also be that your dog has a problem with her digestive system. Parasites could be stealing nutrients from her food, drugs she is taking could be decreasing gut motility, hormonal issues could be interfering with the production of digestive enzymes, among others.
Studies show that male dogs eat more poop after castration. This may be because the removal of their testosterone-producing body parts leaves them looking for other sources of the hormone.
To know for sure what the problem is, it would be best to see a veterinarian. Supplements or change of food can help address deficiencies in the diet, while treatments for digestive system issues will differ depending on what the problem is.
Because it is hardwired in their DNA
Up until a couple of centuries ago, dogs and their wolf ancestors lived in packs. Scientists believe that eating poop, whether their own or another animal’s, was a way to survive.
In times when food was scarce, dogs had to resort to eating whatever they could get nutrition from. Because beggars can’t be choosers, they had to eat poop. Though feces have already been digested and most of its nutrients absorbed by the previous animal, there may still be a little left for the dog to metabolize. Over time, it is hypothesized that dogs came to associate poop as food.
So even if our modern-day dogs are spoiled rotten by their humans and have never experienced hunger, their brain might still be hardwired to think that poop is still an acceptable snack.
Other scientists believe that eating stools may be a way to protect pack members from intestinal parasites. Eating poop that may contain harmful organisms prevents the spread to the rest of the pack. So there is a possibility that your dog could be eating rabbit poop to protect you!
Because it helps relieve stress
Some studies find that dogs with anxiety disorders are more likely to eat feces. This points to a possible correlation between eating poop and stress relief.
It may be that dogs who are bored or get little stimulation become easily excited when they find little treats left in the grass. The novelty alone makes them more likely to gobble it up.
But note that there are other, more sanitary ways to calm dogs down. Giving your dog playtime, exercise, and mental stimulation can help lessen your dog’s anxiety.
Because it’s a good way to get your attention
Dogs love to do things that make us engage with them. They love to interact with us and see our reactions. So when you scream and run to them after they eat rabbit poop, they associate the behavior with a response from you. And there’s nothing a dog loves more than attention (of any kind) from her favorite human!
Is Rabbit Poop Dangerous To My Dog?
While eating rabbit poop is pretty gross, your dog is unlikely to be harmed by eating it. Parasites that affect rabbits do not cause disease in dogs.
If your dog ingests a large amount of rabbit poop, the sudden change in diet can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. This is likely to pass within a day or two. If it persists, it would be wise to visit your vet.
But note that the presence of bunny stool means the presence of rabbits. And this is where the risk of your dog getting sick increases.
Parasites like tapeworms that lodge in the muscles of rabbits may infect your dog if it eats bunny meat. Decomposing rabbit flesh, which also appears to be a canine delicacy, could be a breeding ground for parasite eggs and bacteria.
Rabbits also carry ticks and fleas. These not only latch on your dog to suck on their blood and wreak havoc on their coat, but they also transmit diseases.
Tularemia, also known as “rabbit fever”, is caused by bacteria found in rabbits and their tick and flea hangers-on.
The bubonic plague can also be transmitted by bunny parasites. Yes, the very same plague that wiped out around half of Europe a couple of centuries ago may find its way to your dog through rabbit meat.
This is one of the many reasons why it is important to protect your dog against ectoparasites and worms. There are oral and topical drugs that deter ticks, fleas, and mites from latching on to your dog. Regular deworming helps prevent helminth parasites from multiplying to the point they cause disease.
The Dangers of Poop Eating In General
Note that rabbit poop is just one of the many nasty surprises hidden in the great outdoors. If your dog has developed a taste for it, it’s easy to assume she likes other kinds of poop as well.
The reason why rabbit poop is not particularly harmful is because the parasites that typically affect herbivores do not affect carnivores. Evolutionarily, rabbits and dogs are pretty far apart. The danger lies when your dog eats the stool of other carnivores.
Foxes hunt rabbits. So where there is rabbit poop, there is also likely to be fox poop. This can give your dog a lot more diseases than bunny feces can. This includes potentially fatal lungworm and hookworm infection.
Worse still is if your dog eats the feces of other dogs. The risk of contracting a disease is sky-high, especially if the area is frequented by strays. These poor homeless dogs tend to pick up parasites from scavenging and are exposed to pathogens in the environment. The waste they leave behind is a primary mode of transmission of many canine diseases.
How To Stop Your Dog From Eating Rabbit Poop
Rabbit poop is not necessarily harmful, but if you would rather your dog not lick your face with a mouth that has eaten another animal’s waste, then you might want to consider taking action.
The good thing is that many of these tips can keep your dog from eating poop in general, be it from the butts of rabbits, foxes, or other dogs.
Avoid or Remove Rabbit Poop
The simplest way to stop your dog from eating rabbit poop is to minimize her exposure to it. But this is much easier said than done.
If you can, avoid going to places known for their large bunny populations. If the problem is in your own backyard, considering improving your fencing to prevent rabbits from entering.
Constant Vigilance During Walks
If avoiding or removing rabbit poop is impossible to do, the next best thing is to keep an eye on your dog outdoors. Being vigilant about what your dog is doing helps prevent a lot of accidents from happening.
Keeping your dog on a leash allows you to pull her back physically when you see her gobbling something on the ground.
Teach Your Dog To Leave It
“Leave it” or “drop it” should be right up there with “sit” and “stay” for basic commands to teach your dog. These are extremely useful tricks that keep your dog from eating anything you’d rather she wouldn’t, rabbit poop included.
As with any new trick, time, patience, and consistency are essential. Set up your dog for success by starting with a familiar toy in an environment free from distractions. Your dog will want to pick up the toy, but keep her from doing it. The second she stops going for it, reward her with a high-value treat and lots of attention.
Setting aside 5-10 minute sessions a couple of times a day will help her get the hang of it. Once she’s mastered it, you can mix it up by using a different item. After she’s proven herself with leaving or dropping different things, use the command in an environment with more distractions.
With lots of practice and hard work, you will be able to walk your dog through a field of rabbit poop and come out on the other side with a poop-free mouth.
Use a Muzzle
Many fur parents have reservations about using muzzles. These not only make your dog look scary but may prevent your dog from panting and breathing properly.
Note that muzzles are best for solid objects, including rabbit poop. However, the mushy poop of other animals, liquids chemicals, and decaying matter can just pass through the sides of the muzzle, defeating its purpose.
However, there are some instances when a muzzle is beneficial. Dogs that run off-leash can be difficult to command, so physical restraint may be helpful. Dogs who have had digestive surgeries or major issues in the past may need a muzzle to make sure they don’t ingest anything that could exacerbate their condition.
Whatever your reason for choosing this option, it is important to pick a muzzle that is both secure and comfortable. It should give your dog enough space to breathe and pant while keeping her from munching on whatever tasty but dangerous thing is on the ground.
It is also important to use positive reinforcement so your dog does not fear or resent her muzzle. If used properly, a muzzle can be a helpful tool in keeping your dog safe from ingesting harmful things on the ground.
Dietary Changes and Supplements
If you suspect nutritional deficiency is behind your dog’s poop-eating habit, see a veterinarian to know what exactly is missing and how best to provide it.
Giving your dog over-the-counter supplements based on a hunch is highly discouraged. At best, it will be a waste of your money. At worst, it could further nutritional imbalance.
Your veterinarian will likely conduct a physical exam, take routine tests, and interview you thoroughly about your dog’s history. Armed with this knowledge, she may prescribe supplements or even a complete diet overhaul to better suit your dog’s life stage and individual needs.
If all your dog’s nutritional requirements are met, that’s one less reason for her to wolf down that rabbit poop.