Feeding your rabbit properly
Feeding your rabbit is easy. Grass or good quality hay and a selection of fresh food (or a nutritionally balanced complete rabbit food) and a constant supply of fresh water are all that’s required.
Rabbits have a unique dental and digestive system. For these to function properly, your rabbit must have a diet that is high in fibre, low in protein and low in energy. As pet owners, we like to think that we are doing the best for our rabbits and are all too ready to provide them with a diet that is too rich and contains insufficient roughage.
*Without the fibre, you will have constant teeth and digestive problems which mean a very poor quality of life for your pet rabbit.
*A diet of scientifically prepared rabbit food with a constant supply of grass or hay together with a small selection of fresh fruit and vegetables and a constant supply of water is all that a rabbit needs. Anything beyond that is a ‘treat’ and should be given in limited quantities, completely avoiding sweets and chocolates which build up harmful bacteria in the rabbit gut and can kill.
*Rabbits in the wild are grazers. If the diet is inadequate, these are the problems you may see:
chronic soft faeces instead of hard normal pellets
teeth problems which can be so severe as to form an abscess. If this happens, it may be too late for treatment to be successful
eye or tear duct infections which are secondary to teeth problems as the tooth roots grow abnormally and affect the tear duct.
To prevent these problems, it is vital to feed a simple diet that is almost the same as that of a wild rabbit. Rabbits are rodents which mean that their teeth grow continually. They are adapted to a life of grazing and chewing and therefore constant wear on the teeth. A diet lacking in fibre will mean that less time is spent chewing food, less wear on the teeth and so overgrown teeth will be the end result.
*Rabbits have a digestive tract that is similar to a horse. The food they take in is digested in their hindgut and so they are adapted to digest a high fibre diet consisting mainly of grass.
*A complete rabbit food is only complete if your rabbit eats it all. If you feed a complete food and your rabbit is continually leaving the same ingredients each day, then don’t keep throwing them away and refilling the bowl. Offer a small portion and leave the discarded ingredients in the bowl until they are all eaten. Only by doing this will your rabbit get a truly balanced diet.
*One thought is not to leave concentrate feed down for any longer than 8 hours a day. Try to buy pellets that are high in fibre (18% or more). The best food to buy are the pellets where all the nutritious ingredients are blended together so that the rabbit eats all the food and does not become a selective feeder.
Rabbits are able to receive all the nutrients they require from hay and fresh foods.
A rabbits diet should consist of plenty of grass, good quality hay and lesser quantities of leafy vegetation.
Grass and hay
*In the wild, rabbits spend many hours each day devouring grasses, the availability and nutritional value of their diet slowly changing with the seasons. Not only does a wild rabbit’s diet provide most of the nourishment and roughage they require, it also helps keep their teeth trim.
*A scientifically developed complete rabbit food will contain ingredients such as alfalfa which is high in fibre and will make your rabbit work at digesting its food. However, you should also provide a constant supply of grass or hay for your rabbit to eat whenever it wishes.
*Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to allow a rabbit access to grass is by using a portable run which can be moved around an area of fresh, medium length grass, although in practice this often proves difficult in the average garden.
*There’s nothing wrong with having a portable run on the lawn, but you will need to guarantee that it is free from weedkillers and chemicals. You should also introduce your rabbit to grass slowly, allowing it no more than 10 minutes grazing on the first day and building up the time slowly over a period of a week.
*Good quality hay is a totally acceptable alternative, but you should make sure that it is fresh and sweet smelling as old hay tends to be low in calcium and can often be laden with mites and fungal spores. Your nose will tell you when it is off!
*You could also try your rabbit with commercially prepared dried fresh grass. It is made for feeding to horses and can be bought from agricultural feed merchants or a good pet superstore.
*Look to provide your rabbit with a small amount of different leafed and rooted vegetables, but stay away from beans and rhubarb.
*Never give vegetables that have come straight out of the fridge as they can cause quite a shock to your rabbit’s system. Always wait until they are at room temperature.
*Many rabbits have too little calcium in their diet which can result in brittle bones and teeth.
*Feeding green stuff such as fresh grass, cabbage leaves and dandelion leaves can help correct this. However, feeding too much green stuff invariably results in soft stools indicating an imbalance in the gut flora. If this happens, stop feeding the vegetables immediately, clean your rabbit’s bottom and be prepared to visit your vet if it doesn’t clear up in a couple of days.
*It’s only natural to want to give your sweet little whiskered pet a treat and pet stores are full of them. But think before you rush out and buy them. Treats, made of seeds and grains held together into sticks with honey and other sugars are bad for rabbits if they are given too frequently.
*Seeds are high in fat and are important for wintering animals. Your rabbit has no such need. A rabbit’s metabolism is geared for a low fat diet and the excess is not burned off but is stored as body fat.
*Rabbits appear to be more sensitive to fat than humans are and in addition to obesity, the excess fat can accumulate in your rabbit’s liver and arteries.
*The best treats you can give are carrots, fresh apple wood or even a hard-baked bread crust to chew on.
Your rabbit should have access to fresh water 24 hours a day. If you keep your rabbit in an outside hutch throughout the winter, change the water twice or three times a day to prevent it freezing.