Small Mammals

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Feeding your Rabbit

A healthy rabbit should not be overweight. You should be able to feel your rabbit’s ribs just beneath the skin without a thick layer of fat. There should be no folds of skin interfering or covering the openings of the digestive and urinary tracts. Also in female rabbits, the dewlaps should not be interfering with eating or grooming.

Rabbits are herbivores that are designed to live mainly on a diet of leaves and grasses. They are also capable of grazing on flowers and fruits. Rabbits are capable of digesting food that many other animals cannot. Rabbits produce caecotropes, which are a type of dropping that rabbits directly eat from their anus. Caecotropes are rich in organisms from the digestive tract, which are packed in nutrients such as fatty acids, amino acids and vitamins. Rabbits get their nutrients by eating these organisms and digesting them. You may detect caecotropes in the cage if your rabbit has a medical problem. They are elongated, green in colour, covered in mucus and strong smelling.

Grass Hay is an important part of any rabbit’s diet. It is rich in nutrients, provides the feeling of “stomach fullness” and aids in the production of caecotropes. It also provides indigestible fibre to promote healthy gut motility. Hay is very important for chewing that promotes proper wearing of the teeth and mental stimulation for a rabbit. There are 2 types of hay: legume hays (alfafa, clover, beans, peanuts, peas) and grass hays (timothy, meadow, Bermuda, rye, barley grasses).  Do not feed straw as it is devoid of nutrients.

Grass hays are rich in nutrients and provide the low energy diet required by house rabbits. Ideally, a mixed grass hay should be fed or two or more individual types of grass hay fed. Legume hays are very rich in nutrients but provide too much calcium, protein and energy for a house rabbit leading to obesity and gut problems. At Acorn, we therefore do not recommend feeding legume hays. It is important to ensure the hay smells fresh, is dry (not damp) and not contaminated (e.g. with mould). You should keep the hay stored in a dry area with good air circulation. Leave the bag open and give it daily to your rabbit. It can be placed in a rack or box in the cage or alternatively, stuffed into toilet rolls or cartons to encourage food foraging by your rabbit.

Green vegetables are a very important part of a rabbit’s diet. They provide all the same benefits of hay but also provide extra micronutrients and water to your rabbit. Rabbits naturally do not drink a lot of water so feeding green vegetables help to force rabbits to ingest water. Generally, the darker green vegetables contain more nutrients. Iceberg lettuce and cucumbers have very little nutritional content. Good vegetables to choose include bok choy, choi sum, broccoli, cabbage, celery (especially leaves), kale, lettuce (romaine or leaf) and radicchio. Ensure that you wash the vegetables first and also try to feed a variety of different types (at least 3) a day. Feed a maximum of about 1 packed cup of vegetables per kg of bodyweight a day.  It is important to note that a rabbit diet should not only consist of green vegetables since grass hay is essential to ensure sufficient calories for your rabbit.

It is acceptable to feed some treats in limited quantities. Commercial treat foods should be avoided since many are rich in starch and fat which can lead to health problems. Good treat foods include fruits such as berries (black, blue and raspberries), apples, melons, mango, kiwifruit, peaches, pears, pineapples, cherries, as well as, carrots and bell peppers. You should feed no more than 1 tablespoon of treats per kg of bodyweight. It is worth mentioning rabbits are particularly fond of bananas and grapes, which they can become addicted to and as a result refuse to eat anything else!

Rabbit pellets should comprise of only a very small portion of a rabbit’s diet. They are often high in calories leading to obesity and also low in indigestible fibre leading to poor gut motility. Commercial pellets are also low in moisture leading to inadequate water intake (which can cause urinary problems). Finally, commercial pellets do not provide adequate chewing for the rabbits and sense of “fullness” leading to boredom and excessive eating. If you decide to feed your rabbit pellets, it should comprise ideally no more than 10% of the diet. Occasionally, you may choose to feed more pellets to your rabbit in certain situations such as pregnancy or to encourage weight gain (during an illness). Normally, for a healthy rabbit, no more than a ¼ cup of pellets per 2 kg bodyweight should be fed daily.

Clean water should be provided daily. It is important to remember that rabbits drink very little and obtain the majority of their water requirements from green vegetables.

Supplements such as probiotics, vitamins, mineral blocks and enzymes should not be required for healthy rabbits that are fed on a good diet of grass hay and green vegetables.