By Phil Burns BVetMed MRCVS
In the wild, about 70% of a rabbit’s time is spent foraging for high fibre food like grass, plants, herbs and bark. This keeps rabbits busy, stimulated and exercised.
Good quality hay and/or grass should make up the majority of the diet and be available at all times as fibre is essential for dental and digestive health. Foraging behaviour can be encouraged by hiding hay, grass and high fibre snacks around your rabbit’s home and exercise area. Searching provides mental stimulation and a happy rabbit! Do not underestimate their intelligence, so challenge them.
Rabbits need two types of fibre: digestible for essential nutrients and indigestible to keep the bowel moving effectively. Indigestible fibre passes through the bowel and appears as separate, hard, round droppings. Digestible fibre moves into the caecum (like a giant appendix) where it is fermented by “good” bacteria and so is easier to digest and then emerges as clumps of sticky droppings called caecotrophs which are re-eaten and the essential nutrients extracted a second time around.
Rabbits are fussy eaters with a sweet tooth so avoid muesli type foods where they can pick out the bits that are often high in sugar and starch; this will lead to an unbalanced diet usually lacking in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D, and ill health.
So, a plan to feed your rabbit:
• Ad lib hay and grass so that they chew a lot and wear down their teeth that are constantly growing; this will help to prevent dental problems which cause pain, weight loss, salivation (you may notice wetness under the chin), lethargy and potentially death.
• A good quality nugget or pellet with added vitamins, minerals and probiotics fed according to the manufacturer’s advice.
• High fibre treats in moderation will help to encourage bonding and interaction with your pet rabbit.
• Small quantities of fresh greens to provide variety: kale, spinach and savoy cabbage are good but avoid carrots and fruit that are high in starch and sugar.
• A plentiful supply of fresh water should always be available.
Remember that rabbits need lots of care to stay healthy for a long life. Their behaviour will depend on age, personality and past experiences. Handle them frequently, but gently.
Remember most other animals think a rabbit is food so be aware how your rabbit may feel in close proximity to other species. If a rabbits behaviour is aggressive or changes, he/she may be in physical or emotional pain so seek advice from your vet.
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