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Rabbit Diet and Nutrition


rabbit It's a popular misconception that rabbit pellets were developed as a convenient way for pet owners to feed their rabbits, but in fact this way of feeding was originally developed for the commercial breeders who wanted a cheap and convenient way of promoting fast growth and weight gain for food production!

However, don't let that put you off feeding a pelleted food, as of course these days the pet rabbit is well cared for by the pet food manufacturers in this country, and concerns about overfeeding and obesity have been addressed.

The diet of the pet rabbit should mimic that of the wild rabbit. Rabbits are designed to eat grass. The most natural life for a pet rabbit would be to run loose in the garden, grazing on the lawn, sampling a wide variety of plants and vegetables and stripping bark from trees. This lifestyle may suit the rabbit, but it's not a very practical option for most owners!

Unlimited, good quality hay is the foundation of a healthy diet for pet rabbits. As well as meeting their basic nutritional requirements it has many other benefits. Chewing hay strengthens teeth and jaws. Hay also provides lots of long-strand fibre to maintain healthy gut movement, because a rabbit fed only commercial rabbit pellets probably does not get enough long fiber to keep the intestines in good working order. The long fibers in the hay push things through the gut and keep the intestinal muscles in good tone. In addition to keeping the intestinal contents moving at the rate at which nature intended, hay may also help prevent intestinal impactions caused by ingested hair or other indigestible items.

Rabbits need to spend a lot of time eating (4-6 hours daily) in order to keep their teeth wearing down at the correct rate. This is easily achieved by feeding you rabbit ad lib quantities of good quality hay or providing access to grazing in the warmer weather. The importance of this high fibre diet cannot be emphasised enough.

A good-quality commercial rabbit pellet provides trace nutrients, vitamins and minerals that a rabbit might not get if fed only hay and fresh foods. The best dried mixes available are those which are pelleted 'all-in-one' to stop the rabbit from selectively eating only the pieces it wants. However, very little pelleted food is required for good health - possibly just scatter some pellets amongst the hay for the rabbit to find. Many experienced rabbit veterinary surgeons are now recommending no more than 1/8 cup of quality pellets per 5 lbs. of rabbit per day, and some even consider commercial pellets a "treat food" that can promote obesity in spayed/neutered adult rabbits. A rabbit fed too many pellets will often ignore his hay, to the detriment of his intestinal system!

It is OK to feed fresh cut grass (within half an hour of cutting), dandelions, chickweed etc and fresh vegetables small amounts of fruit can also be provided. Lettuce, although not harmful to rabbits, provides very little nutritional value.

The importance of adequate water intake cannot be overstated. A rabbit who does not drink sufficient water will gradually begin to suffer desiccation of the intestinal contents.

Rabbit Welfare have a good leaflet on feeding rabbits

Baby rabbits have different nutritional needs to adults. They need higher protein levels (around 16%) to support growth, as well as high fibre (at least 18-20%) to promote healthy digestion.

Young rabbits are very vulnerable to digestive problems, especially around the time of weaning. Sudden changes in diet can be dangerous. This is one of the main problems in buying rabbits from pet shops - they are likely to have had three changes of environment and diet in quick succession. In addition, the immature gut has to establish proper movement of its contents and stress hormones can upset this process. Fatal digestive upsets are all too common, especially in babies who have left the breeder before eight weeks of age.

 

What to feed

Vegetables:- Asparagus, broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, cabbage, carrots, carrot tops, cauliflower, cauliflower leaves, celery, celery leaves, courgette, cucumber, kale, green beans, parsnip, peas, pea pods, pumpkin, radish tops, rocket, spinach, squash, swede, turnip and water cress.

Fruit :- Apple, Apricot, banana, blackberries, blackberry leaves, blueberries, cherries, grapes, kiwi, mango, melon, nectarines, peaches, pears, pineapple, plum, raspberries, raspberry leaves, strawberries, strawberry leaves and tomatoes.

Herbs and wild plants :- Camomile, chickweed, clover, dandelion, groundsel, mallow, mint, nettle, parsley and plantain.

and avoid

Poisonous plants to avoid:- Deadly nightshade, Evergreen trees and shrubs, foxglove, Ivy, peach and plum tree leaves, potato tops, tomato leaves and tulips (and other plants from bulbs).

Don't feed your rabbit biscuits, cookies, crackers, nuts, seeds, breakfast cereals (including oatmeal) or "high fiber" cereals. They may be high fiber for humans, but not for rabbits, who arefar better able to completely digest dietary fiber than humans. Fed to a rabbit, the high fat and simple carbohydrate content of these types of food may contribute to fatty liver disease, cecal dysbiosis, obesity, and other health problems.

See also Rabbit Digestion

Websites of interest to rabbit owners

Rabbit Welfare Association

House Rabbit Society

 

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