Caecotrophagy Ethics

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Humans are responsible for the health and nutrition of all the animals they have domesticated to be their companions. This ethical responsibility involves the ability to understand the nutritional needs of companion animals. This is the case with lagomorphs such as rabbits and a variety of rodents who practice caecotrophy. Caecotrophy, also known as coprophagy, is the act of eating soft excretions, known as caecotrophs, directly from the anus for additional nutritional absorption and digestion of plant fibers (Halls, 2008). Although strange, and seemingly unhygienic, to humans, rabbit owners must allow the behavior of coprophagy because it promotes proper nutrition for companion rabbits. The phenomenon of coprophagy is performed at night and …show more content…
In fact, the consumption of caecotrophes is influenced by the amount of dietary protein and energy, meaning if there is less energy or low amount of food in the rabbit’s diet, then it will ingest more caecotrophes excretions (Halls, 2008). Coprophagy also affects the utilization and retention of nitrogen in the rabbits. When rabbits are prevented from practicing coprophagy, they experience a decrease in nitrogen and protein digestibility (Thacker & Brandt, 1954). Coprophagy plays an essential role in the development of rabbits. A 2006 study, conducted by Phiny & Kaensobath, observed the dietary consumption of plant fibers and the denial of caecotrophs in rabbits. They hypothesized that rabbits denied access to caecotrophs would have a lower feed intake and lower growth rate, but that growth rate would be improved when the basal diet of spinach and rice bran would be introduced. The study revealed that the denial/elimination of caecotrophs did not result in a lower feed intake, but did result in a 50% decrease in growth rate, even with the nutrient rich diet of water spinach and rice bran. Essentially, this means that even if rabbits are fed a proper diet while being denied access to caecotrophs, they will not develop properly. It is for this reason that owners must be aware and account for this need in their pet rabbits to provide optimal growth …show more content…
The diet of a wild cottontail rabbit consists of “brows[ing] at night on grasses and herbs and [they] are fond of garden fare such as peas and, of course, lettuce. [With their diets changing in] winter, [becoming] a bit coarse… consist[ing] of bark, twigs, and buds ("Cottontail Rabbit," 2015).” However, most pet rabbit owners opt to provide their rabbits with pet store variety feed pellets, providing a stable diet for their animals. This adjustment in the availability and consumption of feed has no effect in the practice of coprophagy. In fact, in a domestic setting, the necessity for rabbits to practice coprophagy is an undesirable act to humans, but it continues to be an essential part of a rabbit’s diet. A lack of understanding within this behavior, in turn, can lead to an assumption that the animal is sick and lead to an unnecessary trip to the veterinary office. Some pet owners may even think the caecotrophs feces being consumed is diarrhea or a sign of digestion issues and try to modify their pets diets to avoid the practice. These misconceptions in turn can lead to a diet based solely on roughage. Which could be highly detrimental if the pet owner is unaware of the proper nutritional needs of the animal and lacks knowledge of general vegetation. Unknowing

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