Britain’s rabbits are at risk from the effects of poor nutrition, claims Rabbit Awareness Week.
Animal welfare experts and organisations are coming together and calling on the public to address this key issue with them as they announce the theme of their 2018 campaign taking place between June 2-10.
This year’s campaign is urging rabbit owners to sign the ‘Move Away from Muesli’ pledge and join the RAW team in raising awareness around the risks of feeding rabbits muesli-based diets.
Each year, RAW focuses on raising awareness around one key welfare issue to help improve the lives of UK rabbits. Since 2011, inappropriate diet has been cited by veterinary professionals in the annual PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report as the top issue that needs to be addressed for rabbits.
Despite the alleged dangers, the PAW Report 2017 found that 25 percent of rabbit owners are still feeding their rabbits muesli as part of their main diet, equating to 280,000 rabbits being fed a harmful diet*.
Alex Thorne at Burgess Pet Care, explains the importance of this year’s campaign and the ideal diet for rabbits:
“Muesli should never be part of a rabbit’s diet but, sadly, a widespread lack of understanding and awareness around its risks means it’s often too easy for rabbit owners to make the wrong choice. Research continues to show that there is a lack of understanding around the correct nutritional needs of rabbits, and the continued feeding of muesli is a major outcome of that.”
“Feeding rabbits muesli increases the risk of selective feeding. Just like children would typically pick sweet treats when faced with the choice between them or vegetables, rabbits will eat parts of the muesli mix that are high in starch and sugar, whilst leaving behind the more nutritious elements.
“We’re encouraging all rabbit lovers to get involved with this year’s campaign by visiting the Rabbit Awareness Week website and signing the ‘Move Away from Muesli’ pledge, before spreading the word amongst fellow rabbit owners.
“It’s our ambition to move as many rabbits away from muesli towards a good quality hay-based diet supplemented by a small portion of high-quality nuggets and a few fresh greens, which provides the nutrients rabbits need to be happy and healthy.”
Dr Jane Tyson, RSPCA rabbit welfare expert said: “The research conducted by the University of Edinburgh showed that a muesli-based diet can increase the risk of rabbits developing serious teeth and tummy problems which can result in terrible suffering as well as selective feeding, which causes an unbalanced diet.
“The RSPCA would urge all loving rabbit owners to ensure their rabbit’s diet consists mainly of good quality hay and/or grass to give their rabbit the healthiest diet possible. For variety this should also include some safe, washed, leafy green vegetables or herbs. A small measured portion of good quality pellets or nuggets can be fed daily. Sadly, research has shown there is a lot of misunderstanding around rabbits’ diets so we are hoping this year through Rabbit Awareness Week we can make a real difference and improve the lives of rabbits.”
From 2 – 10 June, thousands of veterinary practices across the UK will be supporting this year’s campaign by offering free health checks and discounted treatments and vaccinations.
PDSA Vet, Olivia Anderson-Nathan continued: “Rabbits are one of the UK’s most misunderstood pets so it’s vital that owners are ensuring they receive frequent health checks. Research from our 2017 PAW Report showed that a large proportion of the nation’s bunnies are consistently missing out on their basic welfare needs being met for their diet, environment, companionship, behaviour and health needs.
“32 percent of rabbits are not registered with a vet and 50% of rabbits have not had a primary vaccination course when young. Despite needing companionship from their own species, a massive 56 percent of rabbits also live alone, which has huge implications for their welfare.
“Many of the health conditions that rabbits may experience from feeding muesli-based diets develop over time and may not be immediately apparent: rabbits hide signs of illness until it becomes very severe. Veterinary professionals are here to help and can often identify emerging issues before they owners become aware and treat them accordingly.”