It is widely known and understood that rabbits diet should be made up of the main portion hays, “greens” next and then a small portion as pellets and a few treats. Just the same as humans have their food “pyramid” to a balanced diet, so do rabbits. Does that apply to every rabbit though? If we look at humans, our dietary requirements and nutritional needs vary depending on our age, gender, size and activity level. Shouldn’t that be the same for our rabbits?
Our current understanding of rabbit nutrition is based upon two types of rabbits – lab/meat rabbits and wild rabbits. Do either of these represent our typical domestic pet rabbit now? No, not at all! So what do we know about rabbit nutrition? FACT: We know that rabbits are fibrevores which means their diet must be made up of predominantly fibre in order for their digestive system to work properly. Their guts work fast which means it must always be kept moving. FACT: We know that in the wild, rabbits eat more grass than a sheep does. Which means grass must be pretty important, right? FACT: We know that rabbits chew around 120 times per minute, so those mouths are always moving and those teeth always need to be chomping and grinding. FACT: We know that lab and meat farmed rabbits are fed diets mainly of grains and carbohydrates for bulking them up which promotes obesity and dental disease. FACT: We know that rabbits have been shown to be selective feeders and that pelleted feed is recommended over muesli type feeds due to their desire to choose unhealthy first over healthy.
So what about our domestic rabbits? Domestic rabbits still have the same basic dietary needs as the Wild European rabbit does which is a diet high in fibre. But what about all the other nutritional needs? Our pet rabbits are living older than they ever have, have varying health issues and varying breeds are different in their activity levels and “rabbity behaviours”. Surely this wide variety of types, ages and health needs of rabbits cannot all have the exact same nutritional needs?
I have spent the last 3 years on a quest to truly understand the depths of rabbit nutrition and I am working my way through nutritional qualifications to add to my belt. I want to share and teach what I have been working on and open up the topic of rabbit nutrition to encourage people to move away from the “basic 3” (hay, pellets and veg) and delve into their rabbits specific needs and how important variety is for your rabbits diet.