This week is Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW), a time when we raise awareness about pet rabbits and their very special needs.
This year the focus is on what rabbits should be eating. This is an area that I have been educating my rabbit owners about for years, so I am glad to see it becoming a national campaign.
My journey with this started more than two decades ago when I was the Vet in charge of Peter and Cottontail, two miniature rabbits from the same litter. It broke my heart that their teeth were malformed, causing me to have to anaesthetise them every four weeks, or see them die of starvation. They also suffered from a milky discharge from their eyes, and we learnt to recognise that this discharge as a precursor to them going off their food with tooth-ache.
Pet rabbits, if well looked after, are now living for six to eight years. But things can go wrong, particularly if the diet they are offered is inappropriate.
Peter and Cottontail were being fed on a muesli diet, as most rabbits were back then. I am not sure how the muesli style ‘rabbit foods’ came into being. When you consider the evolution of rabbits in the great grass plains of North Africa, nothing could be less like their natural diet.
The people at RAW and I most strongly recommend that all rabbits should be fed a mainly leafy diet, with a large proportion of grass and hay. Imagine your rabbit in the wild. How often would they see a seed, apple or carrot? Maybe for one week a year. Most of what they eat is the grass, herbs and weeds of the hedgerows. We can imitate this very inexpensively, even if we do not have a garden.
If you feed the muesli style food and watch your bun chew you will notice that the action is up-and-down, completely different to the side-to-side motion used to chew grass. This is what allowed Peter and Cottontail’s teeth to go wrong, if only we had known it.
So move away from the muesli, and in summer provide an all-green diet. To request a diet sheet, email firstname.lastname@example.org