New research carried out by the University of Edinburgh has shown that feeding muesli-style foods (a mix of seeds and flakes) with or without hay can be dangerous for rabbit’s health and wellbeing. Feeding muesli-style foods is also linked to painful dental and digestive problems that require veterinary treatment.
The Rabbit’s Digestive System
Rabbits are known as ‘fibrevores’. This is because fibre is essential for their dental and digestive health. Rabbits need both digestible and indigestible fibre in their diet. Digestible fibre gives rabbits essential nutrients and indigestible fibre helps keep their digestive system moving effectively. For rabbits to get the correct amount of fibre in their diets they should have access to hay, fresh uncut grass, fresh greens and nuggets.
Rabbits need indigestible fibre to help keep their digestive system moving and to stimulate their appetite. Indigestible fibre passes through the digestive system and is excreted as separate, round, hard droppings. The digestible fibre is moved into a part of the gut called the caecum. The good bacteria in the caecum will ferment the fibre which will turn into clumps of sticky droppings called caecotrophs.
Your rabbit will then re-eat the caecotrophs and their systems will extract the essential nutrition as the digestible fibre passes through for the second time. Rabbits will normally eat the caecotrophs directly as they pass from the body. This is normally done at quiet times of the day or night. Finding caectrophs in the hutch or stuck to your rabbit is a sign of poor gut health.
Rabbit’s teeth are continuously growing and are kept worn down by chewing grass and hay. If the teeth are not kept worn down the top and bottom teeth will start to press together when the mouth is closed. As tooth growth is continuous the teeth will start to curve and will develop sharp painful spikes. The roots will also start to push backwards into the jaw and skull. Signs of dental disease include runny eyes, wet chins, jaw swellings, facial abscesses, difficulty eating and weight loss.
If you are currently feeding a muesli-type food you should gradually transfer your rabbit onto a hay and nugget/pellet based feeding plan. This should be done gradually over 14-28 days. The muesli-style food should be reduced gradually and you should slowly increase the amount of nuggets until they have completely replaced the mix. Good quality hay and grass should be available at all times and should make up the majority of your rabbits diet.
Eating muesli-style foods can cause:
Slower gut motility – This can put rabbits at risk of gut stasis. This is a condition which is often fatal
Less hay consumption – this in turn can lead to painful dental disease. Eating less hay also results in a reduction of water intake, which can lead to urinary tract stones or sludge
Less caecotroph consumption – Rabbits will eat less of their caecotrophs which will mean they will not get all the nutrition they need. The uneaten caecotrophs may become matted in their fur which can lead to dermatitis and fly strike
Selective feeding – this is when rabbits pick out their favourite pieces rather than eating the whole portion. This will lead to an imbalanced diet lacking in vital vitamins and minerals
Weight gain – Eating muesli-style foods without hay causes rabbits to become overweight or obese which can also lead to health problems
Please come in to speak to one of our clinic nurses if you have any questions or concerns about your rabbit’s diet.