Correct diets are an important part of husbandry of all species. Rabbits are particularly vulnerable to disease resulting from incorrect feeding. Rabbits are grazing animals and in the wild will spend around 70% of their time foraging for food. The basis of their diet should be unlimited grass and hay- this will provide the fibre needed for a healthy gut and will reduce common dental issues. Leafy greens should also feature during feeding, with weeds such as dandelions and plantains providing essential vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Small amounts of fruit and vegetables can be fed as a treat but should not form the main part of the diet due to them being high in sugar. This can potentially lead to digestive upset.
Foraging should be encouraged and there are now many toys available for rabbits to provide enrichment when feeding. Food can be scattered around enclosures, and rabbits should ideally have freedom to roam in a safe outdoor area so that they may graze on grass and weeds.
Fresh water should always be available.
Commercial diets come in mixed forms or pelleted forms- the former should be avoided in rabbits who may feed selectively. Some mixed diets contain added sugar to increase palatability- these should be avoided as they can lead to over-eating and obesity. For most rabbits who have unlimited access to hay, grass and weeds, commercial diets aren’t necessary. However, if your rabbit is currently happy on a commercial diet, please don’t feed more than 25g of food per kg of rabbit weight per day. A commercial diet should never be a replacement for grass and hay.
All new diets should be introduced slowly, over a period of two weeks to avoid digestive upsets.
Caecotrophs and coprophagia in rabbits
Caecotrophs refer to small soft faecal pellets. These are the result of the fermentation of food in the caecum. The soft pellets are then re-ingested by the rabbits so that more nutrients can be absorbed. Caecotrophs are high in protein and provide essential vitamins which would otherwise be lost. The ingestion of these soft faecal pellets is therefore vital to the overall health of rabbits. This is known as coprophagia.
Obesity is an increasing problem among pet rabbits and can lead to a variety of problems. These problems can include heart disease and liver disease. Mobility can also be affected. This can lead to the rabbit being unable to groom itself properly or eat caecotrophs. The caecotrophs can build up around the back end as a result of this, leaving the rabbit at increased risk of fly-strike.
What to avoid:
Rabbits are herbivorous and therefore should not be fed human treats such as chocolate!
Grass clippings from lawn mowers should never be fed, as these can ferment quickly, leading to gastro-intestinal upsets.
Take care to ensure that rabbits only eat weeds and grass which are free from chemicals such as pesticides.
Food that is high in sugar should be avoided, as these can cause digestive upsets and obesity.