Rabbits are an increasingly popular pet. They certainly look cute and are often perceived to be an inexpensive, family friendly companion. Unfortunately without the right care these lovable creatures are prone to a number of serious health issues that can prove both costly and distressing. The old adage “prevention is better than cure” is definitely apt in this case. Feeding your bunny the right diet can make a massive difference to their health and welfare.
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Traditional “Muesli” diets
Traditional commercially marketed rabbit foods often consist of a mixture of grains and vegetables mixed loosely together and sometimes coated in molasses mix – this type of food is commonly called a rabbit mix or muesli. It certainly looks quite appealing to the human eye, and many rabbits enjoy this type of food, however it can cause a number of problems when fed to our pet bunnies.
One of the biggest issues with muesli mixes is selective feeding.
Selective feeding means picking out and eating only your favourite bits. The diets can be reasonably balanced in the nutrients they contain but that only works if all of it is eaten. If your picky pal only chooses their favourites they will likely miss out on crucial nutrients including fibre, vitamins and minerals that they need to stay healthy. Understandably, many owners want to provide some variety to their pet’s diet and the alternative “pelleted” diets can look pretty bland and boring in comparison. Rather than feeding muesli for variety it’s much better to provide a selection of safe herbs, vegetables and occasionally in small amounts, fruit to their meals. Safe and tasty options include; spinach, kale, watercress, parsley, mint, celery and carrot tops.
Pelleted diets are certainly a lot better than muesli style foods…
…But it is important to remember that they should still only comprise a small proportion of a rabbit’s diet. In general the majority of their food should be grass or good quality hay. Rabbits should eat a volume of hay or grass roughly equivalent to their own body size every day. In addition, a handful of fresh herbs or vegetables can be offered. Most rabbits should have no more than one tablespoon of dried pelleted food a day. Occasional treats are fine and good choices include fruits such as strawberries, apples, squash and melon. This combination of fibre rich, low sugar foods much more closely mimics their natural diet.
The Trouble with Teeth
Feeding excessive dried foods as pellets or muesli can lead to a number of health problems and one of the major issues is with their teeth. Dental issues are sadly very common amongst rabbits. Their teeth are designed to grow continuously and wear down at a constant, even rate. Poor diet can cause a number of problems including weakened bones, causing the teeth to become misaligned, and lack of wear, causing overgrowth. Once dental problems start they are likely to need ongoing management, often including risky and expensive dental work under anaesthetic.
Pellet and muesli diets are also high in calories which can contribute to obesity. This in itself causes many problems including an inability to groom, flystrike, arthritis and urinary problems. Dry foods are also generally low in fibre. Lack of fibre causes problems with the gut including inappetence and stasis, where the gut stops functioning properly. This can be life threatening if not detected and treated early.
How to change: Three Top Tips
If you are currently feeding a muesli style diet to your pet and want to change, then great! But remember:
- It is vital to do this slowly and carefully. Sudden dietary changes can themselves cause serious problems. Aim to slowly phase out the old diet and introduce the new very gradually over at least 2-4 weeks.
- Make one change at a time and ensure your pet is eating well and not having any problems before moving to the next step.
- Rabbits who are not used to eating hay may initially be a little reluctant to change from their tasty muesli. Ways to encourage them to eat hay include mixing different types to give them choice, mix their pellets or greens in with their hay, use a mixture of hay racks and feeding from the floor, and always use high quality hay that’s as fresh as possible.
Speak to your veterinary surgeon if you have any concerns about how your rabbit’s diet may have affected their health, or if you are struggling to transition to a better diet. It can be tricky to make the change but your fluffy friend will definitely thank you in the long run.