Feeding your rabbit the correct diet is vital to their health – research has shown that most of the common diseases that rabbits suffer from can be prevented by feeding them a healthy diet.
Feeding the incorrect diet can result in;
- overgrown teeth and dental disease
- sore eyes and conjunctivitis
- gut stasis
- fly strike
What is the best diet for your rabbit?
The best diet is one that mimics as closely as possible what wild rabbits eat. They need a high fibre diet, so the bulk of your rabbit’s diet should be grass and hay. Ensure that the hay is good quality meadow or timothy hay, it should be sweet smelling and not dusty. It should be stored carefully so it doesn’t become damp or mouldy. Hay racks are available for rabbits to prevent the hay from being contaminated by droppings. Allow your rabbit direct access to grass to allow it to graze. Lawnmower clippings should not be fed.
It is important to provide your rabbit with fresh vegetables and greens on a daily basis – such as carrot tops, cabbage, parsley, celery leaves, basil, broccoli, kale etc. They should be washed before feeding.
What about commercial rabbit food?
Rabbits thrive on hay, grass and vegetables alone, but sometimes owners want to feed a commercial mix as well. Lots of rabbits will only eat certain components of mixed ‘muesli-type’ mixes (they pick out the tasty bits and leave the rest) which risks causing an unbalanced diet and nutrient deficiencies – leading to the health problems mentioned previously. A high quality ‘nugget’ mix, such as ‘Burgess Excel’ is a far better choice as all the nutrients are present in each nugget. Care should be taken not to overfeed commercial food as this will lead to obesity and other health problems.
What about treats?
Many commercial treats are high in fat and carbohydrate and should be avoided as they risk causing tummy upsets and obesity. Healthy, natural treats can be given in moderation.
How should I change my rabbit’s diet?
Sudden changes in diet must be avoided. Any changes should be made gradually over the course of a couple of weeks to allow the digestive system time to adjust. Mix the new food in with their current food, at a ratio of 20:80 for 3-4 days and monitor for any signs of weight loss, diarrhoea, or bloating – if all is ok then increase to 60:40 for another 3-4 days, then 80:20, then finally to 100% of the new mix. Introduce grass and greens gradually to reduce the chance of diarrhoea.
Fresh water should always be available. Some studies have shown that rabbits drink better from bowls rather than bottles, so both should be offered. Remember to check your rabbit’s water daily, especially in colder weather when it can freeze, if housed outside.
Your rabbit needs regular opportunities to take exercise and hop about and should not be kept in the hutch or cage for long periods of time. They need to be allowed out to run around and do the things that bunnies do naturally for at least 8 hours a day.
Regular handling of your rabbit from an early age or from when you take on your rabbit will ensure they are used to you and will feel safe and content when sitting on your lap being stroked. However, you must know the correct way to pick up a rabbit. Injuries to rabbit’s backs are common and are generally due to not being picked up correctly. Your rabbit’s rear needs to be supported by one hand with your other hand under their chest. Never pick your rabbit up by its ears.
Grooming is not strictly necessary for a rabbit, unless you have one of the long-haired breeds – Angora. However, it does give you the opportunity to check your rabbit’s condition, feeling any lumps or bumps and the rabbit will also become accustomed to being handled.
Simple health checks
To ensure a healthy, happy bunny you should carry out these basic health checks regularly:
- Teeth – eating well, no dribbling;
- Tearducts – no runny ears or cloudy discharge;
- Clean bottom – no urine staining and especially no faeces;
- Parasites – fleas, mites (walking dandruff), flies (flystrike);
- Nails – not too long;
- Ears – clean, odour free.