The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is highlighting the importance of diet ahead of Rabbit Awareness Week (2 – 10 June), as survey findings have shown that five of the top six rabbit health problems vets see in practice are attributable to poor diet.
While many rabbit owners may know that Bugs Bunny’s favourite snack, the carrot, should only be fed as an occasional treat due to its high sugar content, many myths still prevail around the best food for their pets.
Misconceptions about feeding mean many vets are seeing rabbits suffering from preventable, and sometimes fatal, health issues like obesity, gut problems and dental disease.
BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey in 2016 revealed that 85.5 percent of vets in the East of England had serious concerns about rabbits’ health due to poor nutrition.
British Veterinary Association president John Fishwick 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.”
For Rabbit Awareness Week, BVA is sharing top tips to guide pet owners to avoid ‘bunny spoilers’ and ensure that they are feeding their pets a nutritious and balanced diet:
- 80 percent of a rabbit’s diet should be good quality hay, grass or a mixture of both: Rabbits will spend hours grazing on hay or grass, and good quality fodder ensures they don’t have tummy troubles or grow long in the tooth. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their lives, so they need to chew hay or grass to help keep their teeth to a correct shape and length. For indoor rabbits, freshly picked grass is suitable, but avoid clippings as they ferment quickly. Alfalfa hay is high in calcium and should generally be avoided in adult rabbits.
- Move away from muesli: Although muesli diets are colourful and often more attractive to rabbits than pellets, they encourage selective feeding and predispose the animals to dental disease and obesity. Rabbits should be fed a small amount of pellets daily – about an egg cup full – as they are a good complementary source of vitamins and minerals.
- Carrot tops, not carrots: Despite the myths perpetuated by cartoon and storybook characters, carrots are actually not good for rabbits as they are high in sugar content, and should only be given occasionally as a treat. Green carrot tops are a more appropriate snack.
- 15 percent 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, herbs such as basil and parsley, and plants such as dandelions and burdock are some good options. Avoid certain lettuces like iceberg, which contain a secretion called lactucarium that can be dangerous in large quantities. It is important that you offer a variety of leafy greens rather than rely on the same one or two items every time.
- Eating their own poo is normal: Rabbits produce two types of faecal pellets, although you may only ever see one type! They produce hard round faecal pellets that are passed throughout the day, but usually at dawn and dusk, rabbits produce soft faeces called caecotrophs, which contain proteins, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals and serve as an additional source of nutrients.
Owners who would like more information on their rabbit’s diet and care should contact their local vet, who will be able to offer the best advice for their pet.
Further information about rabbit welfare can be found at: https://www.bva.co.uk/news-campaigns-and-policy/policy/companion-animals/rabbit-welfare/