How to feed your rabbit to avoid health problems
It’s really important to learn about the way a rabbit digests its food. Then we can begin to understand why nutrition is so important when it comes to maintaining health and preventing problems. Rabbits have spent millions of years evolving a very efficient way of digesting grass and hay, but not much else! We must remember this when we feed them.
What happens when a rabbit eats?
- Rabbit eats grass or hay
- The food passes through the stomach and small intestine
- This material is divided into:
- Digestible fibre, which enters the caecum (a bit like a large appendix) and
- Indigestible fibre, which helps the gut motion.
- The digestible fibre, is then broken down, and is excreted as sticky droppings called caecotrophs. The rabbit then eats these straight from its bottom, and they are re-digested to extract essential nutrients.
- The indigestible fibre is excreted as firm round droppings.
If a rabbit is not fed the right diet, the digestive processes are upset, which results in health issues such as dental disease, gut stasis, bloat and obesity. In the wild, rabbits spend 70% of their time foraging. A constant supply of feeding hay and fresh grass is essential, so they can express normal behaviour patterns, and avoid behavioural problems.
What should you feed your rabbit?
Most of the health problems that we see in pet rabbits today could be avoided by feeding the appropriate diet.
The following is what you should feed your rabbit to keep them healthy:
- 85-90% of a rabbit’s diet should consist of “feeding” unlimited hay/grass. This is the size of your rabbit per day in hay! (Bedding hay is a lower quality hay. It is fine for sleeping but not for eating!)
- A tablespoon of nutritious nuggets (all one colour – brown/green)
- 10% of a variety of fresh leafy greens, vegetables and herbs. This can include spring greens, kale, cabbage, coriander, basil, cauliflower leaves, celery, pepper, mint, oregano, parsley and savoy cabbage. A full list of recommended vegetables and herbs can be found here on the Rabbit Welfare website >
- A small amount of healthy high fibre snacks (commercially produced) which can be scattered through the feeding hay to encourage eating it.
- Always provide plenty of fresh water, and change this frequently.
What shouldn’t you feed your rabbit?
You should not feed your rabbit the following
- Muesli type diets. You can recognise these diets as they look a bit like human muesli. They consist of different types of flakes, grains and nuggets, often containing bright colours. These appeal to the human eye but has no relevance to the rabbit’s nutritional needs. The mixture contains some high sugar pieces which rabbits are attracted to. This in turn makes them selectively feed, leaving the more healthy pieces behind. Muesli type feeding is responsible for many health issues in rabbits so they should be avoided. Unfortunately, 25% of pet rabbits are still fed this diet, putting those pets at risk of poor health and disease.
- The following fruit and veg is best avoided: Apple pips, avocado, carrot, potato, potato tops, any part of rhubarb plant, tomato plants and beans.
The main thing to remember is: A rabbit sized bundle of hay a day, is the best way to keep the vet away.
Always choose good quality feeding hay. Try putting it in a little hay-rack where your rabbit likes to rest or above their litter tray. Try putting it in a cardboard tube, or wrapping it in a paper parcel. Willow balls are great to stuff the hay in as most rabbits love throwing them around. Anything to find novel ways of encouraging your bunny to eat all the hay he needs, will help keep him happy, hoppy and healthy!