Are you feeding your rabbit correctly?
Unfortunately, often the answer is 'no'. Rabbits are a species in which the correct diet is of paramount importance in maintaining good health. The majority of unwell rabbits seen by vets have problems caused by or exacerbated by an incorrect diet!
Think about wild rabbits. Their diet consists of grass (fresh and dry/dead) and a wide variety of weeds and leaves. They spend most of the day chewing and exercising.
Wild rabbits almost never suffer from Obesity, Dental problems or Digestive upsets.
So...our pet rabbits, (who very frequently suffer from the above problems) will be healthier if they are fed more like wild rabbits. Obviously most pet rabbits will not be able to run around grazing all day, so we have to make a few adjustments.
These are the essentials of feeding pet rabbits
The majority of a rabbit’s diet should consist of good quality hay and grass. Grazing on grass (i.e. a run on the lawn) for some time each day is ideal, as exercise is very important for digestive health and to prevent obesity. However, if grazing is not possible, pick grass for your rabbit daily!! Hay and grass contain indigestible fibre, which is extremely important for the normal functioning of a rabbit’s gastro-intestinal tract and keep the constantly growing teeth worn down.
A wide variety of vegetables, weeds, and leaves can be fed daily. Examples include broccoli, cabbage leaves, spring greens, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cauliflower leaves, carrots and carrot tops, green beans, parsley, and pea-pods. Weeds and leaves include fruit-tree leaves and twigs, hazel leaves, dandelions, brambles, clover and dock. Avoid over-feeding sweet or low-fibre fruit and veg such as banana, apple, iceburg lettuce or tomato – feed these at most once or twice a week. Avoid sugary treats if possible.
Commercial rabbit foods have 2 problems – over-feeding and selective feeding
Over-feeding – rabbits should have no more than 2-3% of their body weight in commercial pellets or ‘muesli’ daily. This is about 50 grams for an average rabbit. Giving more can lead to obesity, and a reduction in fibre intake. This then leads to further issues: dental disease (overgrown teeth) and digestive problems.
Selective feeding – many commercial rabbit foods contain a mixture of ingredients, some of which are preferred over others. By feeding ‘selectively’ in this way, rabbits will often become deficient in certain nutrients, particularly calcium. Calcium deficiency can lead to dental disease. The best types of commercial rabbit food are those in which all the ingredients are the same.
When changing your rabbit’s diet, even if changing from a poor diet to the above regime, new foods must be introduced gradually. Change the diet over a period of at least one week. Sudden dietary change can induce digestive upsets.
Certain individuals will need slightly different foods and quantities, for example, rabbits with certain diseases, pregnant or nursing females, or young growing rabbits. Please consult one of our Veterinary Surgeons or Veterinary Nurses for advice in these cases.