Posted 4th Jun 2018 by Peter Byrne
The secrets to a happy and healthy rabbit is feeding it the right food, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) is highlighting this Rabbit Awareness Week (2nd-10th June)
Survey findings have revealed five of the six main rabbit health problems that vets face are linked to a poor diet.
Many pet owners know a rabbit's favourite snack should only be fed carrots as an occasional treat as a result of its high sugar content, but there are still myths that prevail about it being the best food to give your pet.
This confusion means vets are seeing rabbits suffer from preventable, and even fatal, health issues, which include obesity, gut problems and dental disease.
BVA's Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey in 2016 revealed 85.5 per cent of vets in the East of England have serious concerns about their rabbits' health due to poor nutrition.
John Fishwick, British Veterinary Association President, said: "Rabbits make fantastic pets, but unfortunately many vets are seeing 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."
As a part of Rabbit Awareness Week, BVA is offering their top tips to guide pet owners to ensure they feed their pets a nutritious and balanced diet too.
1 80 per cent of a rabbit's diet should be good quality hay, grass or a mixture of both
Rabbits spend hours grazing on hay or grass, with good quality fodder ensuring they don't have any tummy issues or grow long in the tooth. Rabbits' teeth will grow continuously throughout their lives, so chewing hay or grass should help to keep their teeth the correct shape and length. Indoor rabbits will find freshly picked grass suitable, but you should avoid clippings as they ferment quickly. Alfalfa hay is high in calcium but should be generally avoided in adult rabbits.
2 Move away from muesli
Muesli diets are colourful and will often be more attractive to rabbits compared to pellets. They encourage selective feeding and will predispose animals to dental disease and obesity. Rabbits will be fed a small amount of pellets daily (around an egg cup full) as they are a good complementary source of vitamins and minerals.
3 Carrot tops, not carrots
Despite the cartoons, carrots are not that good for rabbits, due to their high sugar content. The green carrot tops make a more appropriate snack.
4 15 per cent of a rabbit's diet should be made up of a variety of plants and vegetables
Vegetables such as courgettes, spring greens, broccoli and curly kale, along with herbs such as basil and parsley, and plants such as dandelions and burdock will all be good options. You should avoid certain types of lettuce like iceberg, which will contain a secretion called lactucarium - this can be dangerous in large quantities. It's important to offer a variety of leaf greens instead of relying on the same one or two items every time.
5 Eating their own poo is normal
Rabbits produce two types of faecal pellets, even though you may only see one type. While they will normally produce hard round faecal pellets that are passed throughout the day, but usually at dawn and dusk, with rabbits producing soft faeces called caecotrophs, which contain proteins, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals which will serve an additional source of nutrients.