A popular choice of pet for many families, rabbits are intelligent and inquisitive with each having their own unique personality just like a dog or cat. These fascinating creatures differ in size, shape and even coat and ear length with some breeds living for up to 12 years. In order to keep your rabbit happy and healthy, they require specific foods as their digestive system is a highly complex structure which can easily be upset.
A balanced and nutritious diet is the cornerstone of a rabbit’s health. Good quality rabbit pellets, hay and grass all contribute not only to gut health but are also an important aspect of dental health; helping to wear down their teeth and prevent dental issues. The best diet is one that mimics a rabbit’s natural diet as closely as possible. The bulk of their feeds should consist of hay which must be made available at all times. Herbs and greens are also important as are small amounts of fruits such as apples and bananas.
In the FirstVet shop, you will find a fantastic range of rabbit foods, including Oxbow essentials for both adult and young rabbits.
Rabbits are hind-gut fermenters meaning that they have evolved to digest a high fibre diet quickly, an advantage for a small prey species which needs to be light and small to avoid predators. In order to function properly, rabbits should eat their body weight in hay and grass daily as this helps to keep their digestive tract moving, allowing the rabbit to extract energy from it. Another important aspect of a rabbit’s gut health is the bacterial flora and fauna in place to help ferment and break down the tough substances that make up the hay and grass that the rabbit feeds on.
Rabbit pellets are a convenient way to provide nutrition but shouldn’t be used to replace hay. Feeding an egg-cup-sized portion daily is enough as your rabbit should be getting the bulk of their feed intake from the hay and grass you give them.
Rabbit teeth are designed to chew and grind tough grasses and greens both vertically and horizontally. This motion helps keep their teeth in good shape as long as their teeth align properly. Unlike cats or dogs, a rabbit’s teeth continue to grow throughout their lives so the chewing action of eating hay is needed to help wear down the teeth so they don’t start to grow painfully into their cheeks.
Poor diets, sugary pellets and not enough roughage in the form of hay can cause your rabbit’s teeth to become overgrown. This affects the overall way your rabbit eats as they can’t chew properly. If a rabbit can’t eat properly, they will quickly lose weight and their gut health suffers leading to a potentially fatal condition called ileus or gut-stasis.
Like all pets, rabbits need to be kept in good shape to prevent obesity. Overweight rabbits struggle to clean themselves, putting them at risk of skin infections and flystrike. The extra weight also puts a massive strain on the joints and their organs.
Rabbit mixes that look like muesli with different shapes and colours of feed are popular with owners as they think they will be more interesting for their rabbit to eat. Unfortunately, these types of rabbit food are often high in sugar which contributes to poor dental and gut health. Also, the bright colours can encourage selective feeding, where the rabbit selectively picks out the sugary cereals and leaves the fibrous pellets, kind of like us eating the best bits out of a pick and mix!
If you find that your rabbit doesn’t eat their pellets, try mixing them into their hay or hiding them in rabbit-friendly toys. Doing this will also help prevent boredom and keeps your rabbit active.
Providing the best diet for your rabbit is an important part of their care. FirstVets can help you do this with our variety of pellets, hay and healthy treats - better still when you order from us you can take advantage of our 1-3 weekday delivery, free delivery over £39 and our 30-day return policy.