Rabbits need fresh drinking water, and a balanced diet made up of mostly fibre: good quality hay or grass. This is essential both for rabbits’ digestive systems and to keep their teeth worn down. This should be augmented with a small amount of a complete pellet diet and some leafy greens.
Rabbits who eat a rounded diet of mostly hay or grass, with a small amount of fresh leafy greens and pellets, will rarely lack anything nutritionally. However, there are a few cases where rabbit supplements can be helpful.
Rabbits have delicate digestive systems and can be prone to problems in this area. Diarrhoea can be a particular problem in younger rabbits and is usually caused by alterations to the usual bacteria in the cecum (a part of the large intestine important in rabbit digestion), infection or a poor diet. There are over 400 bacterial species living in a rabbit cecum, and the balance between which are most abundant is highly important for health and digestion. A probiotic supplement can improve intestinal health and boost immunity.
Rabbits are highly dependent on dietary fibre for digestive health, and it should be the mainstay of their diet. Some rabbits are curiously resistant to eating grass or hay, usually due to weaning difficulties when young. If your rabbit is not eating a large amount of fibrous material, it may adversely affect their gastrointestinal health and a supplement may be needed.
‘Ileus’, a condition in rabbits where the gastrointestinal tract goes into a state of stasis and the food stops moving through the guts entirely, is a very serious condition and can be caused by a variety of factors such as pain, stress and other illnesses. Rabbits with dental issues may eat less fibrous material than they should, leading to slow digestive function. If your rabbit stops eating and producing poo, veterinary attention should be sought. However, having some critical care food that can be made up with water and syringed in small amounts into your rabbit’s mouth, or offered in a bowl, can be lifesaving whilst you await an appointment.
Longer-haired breeds, or those rabbits who are extremely thorough at grooming, can find themselves prone to hairballs. These can cause gastrointestinal obstructions, and occasionally diarrhoea. Papaya and pineapple both contain enzymes that can help break down these balls of hair and food, allowing passage through the guts. The fresh version of the fruit would have to be fed in too high a quantity to get the right amount of these enzymes, so if needed it is recommended to use a supplement instead.
Those of us blessed with an older bunny, especially if they are a larger and heavier breed, may find their mobility declines as they age. This may be noticeable by reduced activity and play, grooming themselves less or becoming resistant to handling. Arthritis is fairly common in senior rabbits, and they may benefit from a joint supplement. Speak to your veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your rabbit’s mobility, as it needs to be checked that they are not in pain or discomfort.
Rabbit urine is naturally alkaline, and crystal formation is a normal finding. However, some rabbits can develop urinary problems, such as bladder stones or urinary infections. These may be due to problems with the diet, such as too much calcium, but can also be related to anatomy or infection. If your rabbit has a history of urinary problems, your vet may recommend a supplement to try and improve kidney and bladder health.
If your bunny is on a healthy diet with plenty of hay or grass, some fresh greens and a small amount of a commercial balanced pellet food, vitamins for rabbits are unlikely to be needed. Giving extra vitamins can do more harm than good: having too much of some, such as Vitamin A, can actually be toxic and cause health concerns. You should only consider vitamins for rabbits if advised by your veterinary surgeon.