Rabbits have a unique dental and digestive system. For these to function properly, your rabbit must have a diet that is high in fibre, low in protein and low in energy.
As pet owners, we like to think that we are doing the best for our rabbits and are all too ready to provide them with a diet that is too rich and contains insufficient roughage. Without the fibre, you will have constant teeth and digestive problems, which means a very poor quality of life for your pet rabbit.
A diet of grass or hay and occasional vegetables with added complete food (being fed only in small quantities - not as a large or major part of the diet), as well as a constant supply of water is all that a rabbit needs.
Anything beyond that is a 'treat' and should be given in limited quantities, completely avoiding sweets and chocolates which build up harmful bacteria in the gut and can kill your rabbit. Rabbits in the wild are grazers. If the diet is inadequate, these are the problems you may see:
- Chronic soft faeces instead of hard normal pellets
- Teeth problems which can be so severe as to form an abscess (if this happens, it may be too late for treatment to be successful)
- Eye or tear duct infections (which are secondary to teeth problems as the tooth roots grow abnormally and affect the tear duct)
To prevent these problems, it is vital to feed a simple diet that is almost the same as that of a wild rabbit. Rabbits are called Lagomorphs which means that they are similar to rodents in that their teeth grow continuously.
They are adapted to a life of grazing and chewing and therefore constant wear on the teeth. A diet lacking in fibre will mean that less time is spent chewing food, less wear on the teeth and so overgrown teeth will be the end result. Offer a small portion of dried food and leave the discarded ingredients in the bowl until they are all eaten. Only by doing this will your rabbit get a truly balanced diet.
One thought is not to leave concentrated food down for any longer than 8 hours a day. Try to buy pellets that are high in fibre (18% or more). The best food to buy are the pellets where all the nutritious ingredients are blended together so that the rabbit eats all the food and does not become a selective feeder.
Look to provide your rabbit with a small amount of different leafed and rooted vegetables, but stay away from beans and rhubarb. Never give vegetables that have come straight out of the fridge as they can cause quite a shock to your rabbit's system. Always wait until they are at room temperature.
Many rabbits have too little calcium in their diet which can result in brittle bones and teeth. Feeding green stuff such as fresh grass, cabbage leaves and dandelion leaves can help correct this. However, feeding too much green stuff invariably results in soft stools indicating an imbalance in the gut flora. If this happens, stop feeding the vegetables immediately, clean your rabbit's bottom and be prepared to book an appointment with us if it doesn't clear up in a couple of days.
Your rabbit should have access to fresh water 24 hours a day. If you keep your rabbit in an outside hutch throughout the winter, change the water twice or three times a day to prevent it freezing.