Vets issue ‘bunny spoilers’ ahead of Rabbit Awareness Week

01 June 2018

BVA's survey shows that five of the six top rabbit health problems vets see are attributable to poor diet

One of the secrets
to a hoppy, healthy rabbit is feeding it the right food, the British Veterinary
Association is highlighting ahead of Rabbit Awareness Week (2 – 10 June),
as survey findings have shown that five of the top six rabbit health problems
vets see in practice are attributable to poor diet.

While many rabbit
owners may know that Bugs Bunny's favourite snack, the carrot, should only be
fed as an occasional treat due to its high sugar content, many myths still
prevail around the best food for their pets. Misconceptions about feeding mean
many vets are seeing rabbits suffering from preventable, and sometimes fatal,
health issues like obesity, gut problems and dental disease. BVA's Voice of the
Veterinary Profession survey in 2016 revealed that 85% of vets had serious
concerns about rabbits' health due to poor nutrition.

British Veterinary
Association President John Fishwick said:
“Rabbits make fantastic pets, but unfortunately many vets are seeing rabbits suffering
from completely preventable illnesses due to a poor diet. Rabbits need a fibre-based
diet packed with clean hay, grass and leafy greens such as broccoli, cabbage
and kale to help prevent stomach issues as well as dental problems, which ranks
among the most common rabbit complaint seen by vets. Any changes to your
rabbit's diet should be made gradually, with advice from your vet, to avoid
dangerous digestive problems.”

For Rabbit
Awareness Week, BVA is sharing top tips to guide pet owners to avoid ‘bunny
spoilers' and ensure that they are feeding their pets a nutritious and balanced
diet.

Top tips to avoid 'bunny spoilers'

80% of a rabbit's diet should
be good quality hay, grass or a mixture of both

Rabbits will spend hours grazing on hay or grass, and good quality
fodder ensures they don't have tummy troubles or grow long in the tooth. Rabbits'
teeth grow continuously throughout their lives, so they need to chew hay or
grass to help keep their teeth to a correct shape and length. For indoor
rabbits, freshly picked grass is suitable, but avoid clippings as they ferment
quickly. Alfalfa hay is high in calcium and should generally be avoided in
adult rabbits.

Move
away from muesli

Although
muesli diets are colourful and often more attractive to rabbits than
pellets, they encourage selective feeding and predispose the animals to
dental disease and obesity. Rabbits should be fed a small amount of
pellets daily - about an egg cup full – as they are a good complementary
source of vitamins and minerals.

Carrot
tops, not carrots

Despite
the myths perpetuated by cartoon and storybook characters, carrots are
actually not good for rabbits as they are high in sugar content, and
should only be given occasionally as a treat. Green carrot tops are a more
appropriate snack.

15%
of a rabbit's diet should be made up of a variety of plants and vegetables

Vegetables such as courgettes, spring greens,
broccoli and curly kale, herbs such as basil and parsley, and plants such
as dandelions and burdock are some good options. Avoid certain lettuces
like iceberg, which contain a secretion called lactucarium that can be
dangerous in large quantities. It is important that you offer a variety of
leafy greens rather than rely on the same one or two items every time.

Eating their own poo is
normal

Rabbits produce two types
of faecal pellets, although you may only ever see one type! They produce
hard round faecal pellets that are passed throughout the day, but usually
at dawn and dusk, rabbits produce soft faeces called caecotrophs, which contain
proteins, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals and serve as an additional
source of nutrients.

Owners who would
like more information on their rabbit's diet and care should contact their
local vet, who will be able to offer the best advice for their pet. Further
information about rabbit welfare can be found in our Rabbit Health and Welfare policy page.

Related BVA policy

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