Archive for October 17th, 2011

Rabbit: Food for Thought!

Monday, October 17th, 2011

So I thought I should chat a lit­tle about rab­bit nutri­tion. This is such an impor­tant aspect of rab­bit health that it really deserves a blog. It is also fairly uncom­pli­cated to pro­vide a healthy diet. In fact, a sim­ple diet is better.

This is what makes up a very good rab­bit diet:

1) Free feed (always have available) a  good qual­ity grass hay such as West­ern Tim­o­thy or Orchard grass. Avoid legume hays like alfalfa for your basic healthy adult rab­bit as this type of hay pro­vides more cal­cium and pro­tein than needed and in some rab­bits cause weight gain as well as poorly formed stools and excess cecotropes. Cecotropes are the night feces rab­bits defi­cate and then eat. Yes, rab­bits eat some of their own poop and this is nor­mal.  How­ever if they pro­duce an excess or they do not eat them all, it clings to the rear ends, onto the tail, and the belly. It smells awe­ful, it is messy, and often peo­ple think the rab­bit is hav­ing diar­rhea. So bal­anc­ing the diet is one step to help­ing this issue.

2) A grass hay–as stated above. Grass hays have mul­ti­ple ben­e­fits. It keeps the teeth healthy because the rab­bits have to really chew and grind the fibrous stalks. This helps the rab­bits wear down the teeth as they chew. Rab­bit teeth are con­tin­u­ously grow­ing and with­out a good fiber diet, teeth can over­gow and cause huge problems–requiring vet­eri­nary intevention.

3) Did I men­tion a grass hay? Hay is also extremely impor­tant for nor­mal gas­troin­testi­nal (stom­ach and intes­tine) motil­ity. In fact, lots of hay in diet can help pre­vent hair­ball obstruc­tion in some rab­bits as it keeps things mov­ing through at a con­stant rate.

4) Let­tuce such as Romaine, Green leaf, Boston, Bibb. These are good sources of fiber, mois­ture, vit­a­mins, and a source of enrichment.

5) The­o­ret­i­cally, pet rab­bits do not need pel­lets, how­ever, they like them and own­ers tend to want to pro­vide addi­tional enrich­ment. It is crit­i­cal to not overdo the pel­lets. Pel­lets are highly digestible food (hay that his been ground and pel­leted) so it just adds more calo­ries to the diet. Too many pel­lets can lead to excess cecotrophs as men­tioned before. A good qual­ity pel­let will have just a tim­o­thy based pel­let with no added crunchies, fruits, seeds, etc. Less then 1/4 cup of pel­lets is rec­om­mended and in dwarf breeds, less than 1/8th cup is rec­om­mended. Speak with your vet­eri­nar­ian to dis­cuss specifics.

6) Other treat options that are ok include: A piece of baby car­rot or a piece of apple (about an inch in size of each) a few times per week.

Treats and foods to avoid include:
Sig­nif­i­cant amounts of fruits and high carb veg­gies (a rab­bit does not need a full sized car­rot per day unless it is the size of the killer rab­bit from Monty Python).

Honey sticks, crunchy treats, yogurt drops, cook­ies, or any other table treats. None of these are needed in a healthy rab­bit diet.

Obvi­ously daily fresh water is crit­i­cal. You do not need to put any vit­a­min or min­eral addi­tives in the water, the diet will pro­vide enough.

Rab­bits do not need min­eral or salt blocks. In fact these can lead to med­ical prob­lems. I had one rab­bit that had an unusual form of blad­der stones. After surgery, we had these ana­lyzed and they were the same com­po­si­tion as the min­eral block that the owner was using.

Own­ers often are con­cerned about how to keep the incisors (front teeth that are most vis­i­ble) healthy and pre­vent over­growth. A rab­bit with nor­mal occlu­sion in which the teeth align appro­pri­ately, should not need more than a healthy diet with lots of hay. Pro­vid­ing rab­bit chew toys can be good for enrich­ment since rab­bits like to chew through items. Rab­bit hemp rugs, rab­bit chew sticks and wood prod­ucts are fine for them.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Now before you make any major change in your rabbit’s diet, you need to con­sult your vet­eri­nar­ian. Some rab­bits already have teeth prob­lems and will not eat hay so you can­not just change the diet cold turkey. Rab­bits will also get very annoyed and throw tantrums if they do not get all of the treats they are accus­tomed to so you may have to slowly wean down the snacks. Always make sure your rab­bit is eat­ing well and pass­ing nor­mal sized stools reg­u­larly dur­ing any food change.

So the take home mes­sage on rab­bit diet is lots of good qual­ity hay , min­i­mize the high carb treats, and offer plenty of water and some good low cal­cium greens/lettuce. A few pel­lets and a lit­tle car­rot and apple can round out the diet.