Rabbits have very specific feeding requirements. A poor diet can cause dental disease, gastrointestinal disease, obesity and behavioural problems. They are great recyclers and practice what is known as “coprophagia” which means they eat their own faeces.
They produce the normal soft, dark, irregularly shaped motions with a strong odour and mucus covering (called caecotrophs) throughout the day. These are then eaten, the mucus covering protecting the vital nutrients and vitamins during their passage through the acidic stomach, with absorption occurring in the small intestine. The uniform dry, hard motions (called tods) are the produced about 4 hours after eating.
Rabbits are unable to vomit and it is normal to have food or a hair ball present in the stomach. It is very important NEVER to withhold food from your rabbit.
Disruption of caecotroph digestion can be caused by having a mesh as the flooring of the cage, dental disease, neurological disease, large dewlaps, obesity or arthritis because the rabbit will not be able to re-eat their faeces as it is passed straight out of the bottom.
Fibre drives the digestive system so a diet high in fibre and low in carbohydrates is required. If a diet low in fibre and high in carbohydrates is fed, harmful bacteria and yeasts may proliferate causing serious illness through changes in the gut.
Domesticated rabbits require a diet and lifestyle as close to a wild rabbit as possible.
- Unlimited grass and/or hay should be available. If this is not the case you will need to introduce hay gradually (not Alfalfa hay as this is too high in protein and carbohydrate), preferably Timothy or Lucerne grass hay.
- Small amounts of a mixture including fresh, leafy greens – normal lettuce NOT Iceberg.
- Small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables.
- No grains, cereals or bread as these foods are too high in starch and fat and can cause obesity.
- Limited complete pelleted food
The advantage of pellets is that they are easy and convenient, but the disadvantages are they may cause weight gain and stomach upsets if the incorrect pellet mix is fed. Rabbits selectively eat the cereal component of the dry “muesli” type diet because it contains the tasty sugars, but leave the pelleted part which contains the essential minerals and vitamins, particularly Vitamin D and Calcium. Vitamin D is essential for Calcium metabolism and hence tooth root growth and formation. Rabbits, like all other mammals, require sunlight to make Vitamin D, so it is vital they have as much time outside as possible foraging for food as this movement also stimulates gut movement and relieves boredom.
Excel rabbit food is high in insoluble fibre and very low in starch. The small amount of starch present is cooked and therefore easily digestible. It also contains the correct ratio of calcium to phosphorous in every pellet and the rabbit cannot selectively feed out the cereal portion as in the “muesli” type mixes.
The palatability is excellent and there is no waste. If your rabbit is eating the “muesli” type mix then change over gradually to Excel to avoid dietary upset.
If you do prefer to feed the “muesli” type mix then here are some important points to follow:
- Feed as little as possible
- Do not top up the food bowl until all the green pellets have been eaten as well as the cereals
- Buy in small quantities and ensure it is within the sell by date otherwise the vitamin content may be lowered and the fats rancid.
- Once opened, always store in a cool, dry place in an airtight container.
- Make sure it is over 18% fibre and less than 16% protein.
In the wild, rabbits eat low calorie, high fibre food all day, and are continually moving about. As our pet rabbits tend not to have a high fibre diet they do not tend to chew as much so their face muscles waste a little. This may change the shape of the face enough to stop the molar teeth from wearing down properly.
Also a diet lacking in Vitamin D and calcium may lead to poor tooth formation and poor incisor and molar tooth alignment.
Specialised diets for rabbits
Excel provides a variety of diets for correct feeding of Junior rabbits, pregnant and lactating does and Dwarf breeds.
There is also a Excel LIGHT rabbit food for feeding to overweight rabbits.
REMEMBER – rabbits’ teeth grow continuously. They must have a high fibre diet to ensure teeth do not over-grow. Overgrown teeth result in sharp spurs forming on the teeth which dig into the cheek and tongue.
When rabbits have dental disease it causes severe pain, they go of their food and may begin to dribble saliva and get a wet chin.
An early sign of dental disease can be weeping eyes and conjunctivitis as the tear duct runs over the molar tooth roots.
If you see your rabbit has a wet chin or weeping eyes, please bring him along for a check immediately.
If rabbits stop eating for a few days they can get a serious disease of the liver, called Hepatic Lipidosis, which can be fatal
Spaying Female Rabbits (Does)
This should be done from 6 months of age. The uterus and ovaries are removed under general anaesthetic. It is a routine operation just as in dogs and cats. Dissolving sutures are used in the small skin incision on the underside of the abdomen.
The rabbit is normally only at the surgery for the day of the operation.
Reasons to spay:
- You do not need to worry about your doe becoming pregnant if living with a male rabbit
- At least 50% of female rabbits die from uterine or ovarian tumours so spaying prevents this.
- Female rabbits are often moody and aggressive around their seasons, which occur every 3 weeks. Spaying will stop these hormonal changes and improve the overall temperament of the rabbit which helps younger children enjoy them.
- A spayed rabbit is easier to litter train as they are less likely to mark their territory.
Castrating Male Rabbits (bucks)
This can be done from 4 months of age. Both testicles are removed under general anaesthetic. It is a routine procedure and dissolving sutures are used in the skin incision. The rabbit is normally only at the surgery for the day.
Reasons to castrate:
- You can keep male and female rabbit together with less chance of fighting
- You can reduce or stop territorial behaviour such as cage guarding and urine spraying
- A neutered rabbit is easier to litter train
- A neutered rabbit is a much easier rabbit for small children to handle and less likely to be aggressive toward owners
Anaesthetics in rabbits
Rabbit general anaesthesia does carry a slightly higher risk than dogs and cats because rabbits have a much lower lung capacity, a narrower windpipe and do not tolerate the drugs quite so well.
To minimise the risk we use the lowest possible dose of anaesthetic drugs, give them warm saline fluids pre surgery, wrap them in bubble wrap to keep them warm and place them on a heat pad. We also give them a special pain relief and gut motility drugs.
For more information on Rabbit Care and Feeding ask a member of our team or go to http://www.burgesspetcare.co.uk