One of the secrets to a healthy rabbit is feeding it the right food.
A survey published last week showed that five of the top six rabbit health problems vets see in practice are attributable to poor diet.
While Bugs Bunny is famous for chomping on his favourite snack the carrot, most rabbit owners know that carrots should only be fed as an occasional treat due to its high sugar content. There are, however, many myths that still prevail around the best food for rabbits.
Misconceptions about feeding mean that across the Donaldson’s clinics our vets continue to see rabbits suffering from preventable, and sometimes fatal, health issues like obesity, gut problems and dental disease.
The problems with rabbit nutrition really sadden me. Rabbits make fantastic pets but unfortunately I regularly see rabbits suffering from completely preventable illnesses due to a poor diet.
Rabbits need a fibre-based diet packed with clean hay, grass and leafy greens such as broccoli, cabbage and kale to help prevent stomach issues as well as dental problems, which ranks among the most common rabbit complaint seen by vets. Any changes to your rabbit’s diet should be made gradually with advice from your vet to avoid dangerous digestive problems.”
Rabbits will spend hours grazing on hay or grass and good quality fodder ensures they don’t have tummy troubles or grow long in the tooth.
Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their lives, so they need to chew hay or grass to help keep their teeth to a correct shape and length.
For indoor rabbits, freshly picked grass is suitable, but avoid clippings as they ferment quickly. Alfalfa hay is high in calcium and should generally be avoided in adult rabbits.
Although muesli diets are colourful and often more attractive to rabbits than pellets, they encourage selective feeding and predispose the animals to dental disease and obesity. Rabbits should be fed a small amount of pellets daily - about an egg cup full – as they are a good complementary source of vitamins and minerals.
Vegetables such as courgettes, spring greens, broccoli and curly kale, herbs such as basil and parsley, and plants such as dandelions and burdock are some good options. Feed green carrot tops rather than the whole carrot. Avoid certain lettuces like iceberg, which contain a secretion called lactucarium that can be dangerous in large quantities.
Finally, for a less attractive rabbit trait but one that is very important nutritionally rabbits produce two types of faecal pellets, although you may only ever see one type. The ones you will see are hard round faecal pellets that are passed throughout the day.
The ones you don’t see are usually passed at dawn and dusk, and are a soft faeces called caecotrophs which contain proteins, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
Rabbits eat these themselves and they serve as an additional source of nutrients.