The commonest problems that vets see in rabbits all stem from an incorrect diet – dental problems, facial abscesses, digestive disorders etc. This is why feeding your rabbit correctly is so important.
Remember: Grass! Grass! and more Grass!
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 mean 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 and not as a large or major part of the diet, and a constant supply of water is all that a rabbit needs.
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.
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 visit your vet if it doesn't clear up in a couple of days.
It's only natural to want to give your sweet little whiskered pet a treat and pet stores are full of them. But think before you rush out and buy them.
Treats, made of seeds and grains held together into sticks with honey and other sugars are bad for rabbits if they are given too frequently. Seeds are high in fat and are important for wintering animals.
Your rabbit has no such need. A rabbit's metabolism is geared for a low fat diet and the excess is not burned off but is stored as body fat. Rabbits appear to be more sensitive to fat than humans are and in addition to obesity, the excess fat can accumulate in your rabbit's liver and arteries.
The best treats you can give are carrots, fresh apple wood or even a hard-baked bread crust to chew on.
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.