What should I feed my rabbit?
Gaining a good idea of what a rabbit’s diet should consist of is an essential part of maintaining a healthy pet. A good diet lengthens a rabbit’s life but also greatly increases its quality of life. It is important to keep food away from the litter tray for hygiene purposes and this can be done by using a solid bowl which cannot tip over. Small are also available in most pet stores which can be used to hold hay as well as any vegetables given to the rabbit. The main important foods rabbits require are hay, dry pellets, and green vegetables. Strictly speaking water is not a food but it is a necessity. It should be fresh, clean, and available at all times. Water should be changed daily. If you wish to change a rabbit’s food then this should be done gradually so as not to adversely affect its health.
The majority of a rabbit’s diet should consist of hay and this should be given to the pet daily. This is because the rabbit’s digestive system requires a lot of fibre for it to function properly and for the animal to survive in full health. Hay contains many essential nutrients as well as calcium and magnesium. Ideally, dust free hay should be bought for the rabbit. Hay prevents the possibility of hairballs. Mouldy hay can prove to be a health risk to rabbits and so fresh grass hay should be given. Good hay also promotes healthy teeth as it wears them down and prevents them from over growing and causing problems. Hay reduces the chance of intestinal impactions.
A small amount of dry rabbit pellets, which consist of a minimum of eighteen per cent or more of fibre and around fourteen per cent of protein, provide all the necessary nutrients for the rabbit. These foods should have no more than one per cent of fat. Pellets ensure the rabbit’s gain in weight is a good and satisfactory amount. Small amounts should be given in order to prevent obesity. Commercial stores sell muesli or cereals which do not prove to be as good as pellets for the animal. Not only do they not provide all the nutrients but they are too soft and do not adequately wear down the rabbit’s teeth. Muesli which contains too much calcium can lead to problems such as sludge. Mixing the two is also not advised as rabbits tend to leave the pellets which are one the main sources of their good health.
Raw green vegetables can be given to rabbits from as young as three months old, daily in small amounts, and this can include broccoli and celery. Young rabbits should be slowly introduced to the vegetables to prevent any digestive problems. Lettuce should not be given as it contains too much water and leads to diarrhoea in rabbits. Other sweet vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes should not be given as often as the relatively high sugar content can prove to be unhealthy. Just like humans, different rabbits like different things. Vegetables which you can try include kale, cilantro, mint, parsley, endive, escarole, dill, basil, and spinach. Spinach and kale should only be given once or twice a week, if at all, due to their high levels of oxalates. Vegetables should be fresh and washed before being given to the rabbit.
Dandelion leaves and fresh grass can also be given to rabbits although they should be sourced only from your own garden. Other areas may be contaminated with diseases or chemicals. Fruit can be given to rabbits albeit sparingly as they are considered to be treats. This is because the large amount of sugar they contain can lead to obesity and other dangerous problems. Most rabbits tend to like apples and this should only be given once or twice a week.
What shouldn’t I feed my rabbit?
Rabbits should not be given lettuce as the water content is much too high for their sensitive digestive systems. Diarrhoea can be a result following feeding your rabbit lettuce. It has been suggested that cabbages should not be given either, as well as parsnips and swede. Clover can also prove to be dangerous, causing bloat and in severe cases, death.
High fat and carbohydrate products such as dried fruit, seeds, and nuts should not be feed to the rabbit as they can lead to liver disease. Commercial treats such as any kind of biscuit, even if it as advertised as to be given to rabbits, cereals or cookies. Again, these contain too much sugar and fat for a rabbit. Vitamin supplements or even salt licks should not be given as they are not a requirement in their diet.
Other foods to avoid are almonds, daffodil bulbs, tulip bulbs, eucalyptus, tomato leaves, carnations, ivy, and rhododendron. In addition, peas, onions, beans, tea leaves, and beets should not be fed to rabbits. Ideally, commercial cereals should not be fed as they provide no nutritional value and can have too much sugar and fat for rabbits.
What are the problems with feeding my rabbit the wrong diet?
The most common problem which results from an incorrect diet is obesity. This is a dangerous problem for rabbits, severely reducing their quality of life, and can lead to death. It also leads to other problems such as sore hocks which can be very uncomfortable and painful for your rabbit. Fly strike, dermatitis, liver disease, and diarrhoea often come hand in hand with obesity. Overall, obese rabbits have a shorter life expectancy than healthy, fit rabbits.
The digestive system of a rabbit is very sensitive and so if this is upset, many problems can occur. This again can prove to be fatal. Incorrect foods can lead to diarrhoea, constipation, urinary sludge, bladder stones, and bloat. It must be remembered that rabbits cannot be sick and so this increases their chances of becoming ill from the wrong foods.
A rabbit’s dental health is important and greatly affects the animal’s overall condition. Feeding foods which do not require much chewing can lead to malformed and overgrown teeth. In turn this can lead to a loss of appetite from the resultant pain, as well as a subsequent weight loss. Poor teeth must be seen to immediately by a vet.