Why we rabbit on about your rabbit’s food!

Fibre is so important for your rabbit

It’s probably fair to say that the majority of rabbits we see at Riverside Veterinary Centre with problems have a significant nutritional element to them.  The wrong diet is often associated with:

– dental disease

– obesity

– reduced faecal output potentially leading to gut stasis

– uneaten caecotrophs (sticky droppings) potentially leading to fly strike

Rabbit

Rabbits are classified as hindgut fermentors.  They possess a population of microorganisms allowing fermentation to occur within this area (caecum and colon).  Rabbits do not completely ferment fibre; instead, they separate out indigestible fibre and expel it from the body as rapidly as possible.  The digestible particles enter the caecum (equivalent to the appendix in us) and once there, an efficient fermentation occurs.  Afterwards, the non-fibre components in the caecum are formed into a pellet, which is what we call the caecotroph.  This is then expelled about eight hours after being fermented.

Caecotrophs are produced at night, most commonly in the early hours of the morning, and are consumed directly from the anus.  The caecotrophs contain high levels of vitamin B and K, as well as twice the protein and half the fibre of hard faeces.  This process of ‘re-digestion’ allows the absorption of previously undigested nutrients.

Hospitalisation Facilities

 

The need for fibre

When compared to other herbivores, a rabbit’s ability to digest fibre is relatively low.  So why is fibre so important to the health of a rabbit?  In rabbits, dietary fibre plays a crucial role in maintaining gut health.  This is achieved in a number of ways.  In particular, the indigestible fibre is responsible for stimulating gut motility.  The indigestible fibre is essential in preventing gut stasis and, in turn, reduces fur chewing as well as carpet chewing for indoor rabbits.  Fibre is also important for the prevention of gut infections.

Rabbits need a minimum dietary fibre level of 20-25% to maintain gut health.  Fibre is also important in calorie control.  Rabbits will consume 5% of their body weight in dry matter per day, together with 10% of their body weight in water.  Where a high-quality pelleted diet is fed, eating 5% of this diet will be too rich and eventually lead to obesity.

 

So what’s the best diet combinations for my rabbit?

Good quality Timothy hay is suggested as the main diet for a rabbit alongside a small proportion of a pelleted food.  Muesli-type pelleted foods should not be offered as this can often lead to selective feeding and can lead to the various ailments mentioned at the beginning of this blog.  The most commonly recommended pelleted food that vets recommend is Burgess Suparabbit.  This should always be regarded as a complement to hay and rather than a substitute.  Just ask a member of the Riverside Veterinary Team for further information.