Rabbit Nutrition Explained
Is the most important component of any rabbit’s diet, and should comprise as much as 20%. So it is essential that if a rabbit is fed on pellets or mixed cereals alone, good quality hay should supplement the daily ration. Without adequate fibre, especially if feeding antibiotics or at weaning time, the gastrointestinal system is severely stressed and may lead to gut problems.
Fibre is the most important component of any rabbit’s diet and should comprise as much as twenty percent. So it is essential that if a rabbit is fed on pellets or mixed cereals alone, good quality hay should supplement the daily ration. Without adequate fibre, especially if feeding antibiotics
The rabbit’s diet can be grouped into the following categories:
· Roughages - straw, hay and other similar materials. The rabbit requires high levels of fibre in its diet to keep its gut working efficiently and trim the constantly-growing teeth. Ad lib nibbling of hay prevents boredom and behavioural problems. See section on feeding hay.
· Concentrates - cereals and their by-products, etc. A wide selection of ingredients includes wheat, barley, vitamins, dried fruits, nuts and seeds. Rabbit specific mix is a muesli type cereal made with dried vegetables and pellets and can lead to selection feeding (the rabbit picks out the bits it likes best).
· Succulents - green foods, grass and roots. Grass is an ideal rabbit food as it has very high fibre level (around 20%) and around 14% protein. Chewing grass will keep the teeth in good order.
The ideal diet for domestic rabbits is hay, concentrates (pellets or mixes), greens and water. Pet rabbits fed ad lib on greens and hay will avoid obesity and digestive problems.
Some cavy feeds can be given to rabbits, (but not the other way around as cavies need Vitamin C in their daily diet.) Most hamster and mouse pellets sold in pet shops are unsuitable for rabbits.
It is considered that the daily feed consumption (dry rabbit pellets) should be about 5% of body weight. One disadvantage of pellet feeding is that unless the amounts are restricted the rabbit can become overweight, therefore it is advised to feed supplementary roughages. Check that you are feeding the correct amount by weighing it and use a suitably sized container.
There are a number of types of hay and all vary in their composition. Hay should smell sweet (not musty), have been harvested in correct weather conditions from young grasses and have plenty of leaf.
The rabbit’s daily water consumption is about 10% of its body weight (except in lactating does who will consume more than 1 litre per day so water should be supplied ad lib).
A rabbit that is used to a drinking bowl may refuse to drink from a bottle and become dehydrated, so it is important to check that any new rabbit is drinking adequately.
Hard baked bread is relished, also pieces of fresh fruit and some vegetable peelings. Most types of wild greens, tree bark and leaves (from willow trees) are particularly enjoyed; Chocolate biscuits and other types of sweet treats do more harm than good and should not be fed.
· Vitamins A & B are found in green foods and fish liver oils. A deficiency may cause reproductive failures, poor growth and a susceptibility to certain diseases and nervous disorders, although this is rare.
· Vitamin C is a valuable nutrient found in most green foods and synthesised by the rabbit itself.
· Vitamin D was once the scourge of rabbit keepers being responsible for cases of rickets, the modern healthy rabbit that has access to sunlight and produces the vitamin itself.
· Vitamin E is present in green foods and cereal grains.