Continuing our blog regarding our furry rabbity friends and Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW)….
Feeding bowls should be made out of stainless steel or ceramic to ensure that your rabbit does not chew them. The dishes should be shallow enough for you pet to feed from but difficult to tip over. Bowls should be cleaned daily. Gravity fed water bottles should made available and positioned at the correct height for your rabbit and make sure you have enough for the number of rabbits you keep.
This is the most important part of rabbit keeping—if you get this right you can avoid many common rabbit problems…
The golden rule of rabbit diets – change any aspect of a rabbit’s diet very slowly, over weeks and months). It is important that you find out what your new rabbit has been eating when you buy it so that you are aware of what it has and has not eaten so you can introduce new foods slowly and in a controlled manner. If a new food causes loose stools or diarrhoea then stop providing it.
Rabbits need high levels of a mix of two types of fibre in their digestive system – digestible and indigestible fibre. To ensure that they extract as much of the nutritional value from their food as they can, rabbits re-ingest it, this means that it goes through their digestive system twice. There are therefore two types of ‘waste’ pellets produced by rabbits:
1. Faecal pellets – These are constantly produced and of a hard, dry consistency and odourless.
2. Caecotrophs – These are produced several times a day and are much softer and stronger smelling partly digested food pellets. These are eaten direct from the anus and re-digested. These pellets are rarely seen, however you may see your rabbit bending down as if to groom it’s genital area and sit up afterwards, chewing.
A rabbit that has not been seen to eat or produce faecal pellets (type 1) for 12 hours or more is considered to be a cause for concern and you should contact your vet as soon as possible.
The ideal diet of a rabbit should be 80% fresh grass and/or fresh grass hay. This food should be provided in unlimited amounts. The remaining 20% can be leafy greens. The leafy greens should be tried one at a time to check they do not cause diarrhoea. The key is moderation! Sugary and starchy foods—such as root vegetables, fruits, bread, cereals should only be given as very occasional treats in small quantities. We are talking about a strip of carrot or a slice of an apple.
If you want to feed a dry rabbit diet, the complete pellet diets are less likely to cause tooth problems, obesity or diarrhoea as the rabbit cannot choose which parts to eat. The problem with the muesli type diets is that your rabbit will choose to only eat the green peas and yellow maize flakes as these have the highest sugary content. This excessive sugar intake will cause obesity, diarrhoea and play havoc with their fibre hungry digestive tract.
Remember, a normal rabbit will only require 1-2 tablespoons of pellets a day.
Exercise & Stimulation
Your rabbit will need daily exercise. If this takes place in the house the house needs to be bunny proofed first and supervision is required to prevent chewing through electric cables. If outside then it must have a suitable enclosure that is predator proof, moveable to prevent over-grazing and of sufficient size to allow them to graze and ‘hop’ about safely.
Rabbits like to play, so make sure they have plenty of toys. Play is beneficial because it keeps your rabbit physically active and healthy and helps prevent behavioural problems like fur plucking which can arise for sheer boredom. There are a number of rabbit toys available on the market, but nothing can beat empty cardboard boxes. Cardboard boxes of a variety are perfect for getting inside, standing on, tossing around, chewing on etc. You can be adventurous and make tunnels out of them, cut rabbit sized holes in them, even add windows. They can be filled with edible hay with appropriate treats (strip of carrot, herb mixture, slice of apple) hidden within so they have something to search for, allowing their natural foraging behaviour to be expressed.
(Part 3 to follow: Teeth Care and Handling & Grooming)