Bunnies that spend most of their lives indoors need more attention paid to their diet than outdoor rabbits that forage, feed, drink, gnaw and runabout outside.
The main diet staples and exercise principles are still the same for all rabbits, but I created this page to emphasize certain areas of importance pertaining to the diet and exercise criteria of the indoor rabbit.
Here are the indoor rabbit diet top tips...
Because the following concerns have been expressed by Vets and staff at rescue centres all over the world. Their observations confirmed that almost all of the rabbit health problems were caused by incorrect nutrition.
An incorrect rabbit diet being the most common cause of illness and disease in house rabbits.
The most common and deadliest of all, being a condition known as GI stasis or ileus.
Please go to Rabbit Diseases for a more detailed overview...
So, because of this fact, this page deals with the main focus areas of concern with the indoor rabbit diet.
Indoor rabbits rely on you, their food source, their water source and comfort giver, as their complete health and well-being provider. They can't help themselves as most outdoor rabbits do, they wait for you and take what they are given.
For a more detailed overview of a rabbit's diet, please go to my main rabbit diet page.
There are 5 vital requirements for a healthy house rabbit. The first 3 below cover the elements needed for a healthy indoor rabbit diet. The last two points, 4 and 5, are also fundamental to health and happiness.
5. Dental Health Checks
When living with any rabbits it is important to understand how their body works, to keep them healthy and happy.
I've seen friends of mine give their pet rabbits pizza, bread, sweets and too many treats to mention. The sad thing is that although you can offer advice, it's hard to break an unhealthy habit. Dog and cat owners do exactly the same thing. Crickey, even us humans crave cream cakes, pizza, chips and chocolate from time to time.
The sad and more annoying thing here is, they are, without question, shortening the life of their pet, and with rabbits it can be an immediate death.
“My rabbit stopped eating, and then it just died.”
I've seen this statement and similar all over the Internet, in forums, websites, social media and blog posts. Keep reading and you'll soon discover why!
Our digestive system, and even that of a dog or a cat, can handle a much higher calorie intake. Our guts are capable of managing an imbalance of fat, sugar and protein in our diet - a rabbit's can not.
Rabbits are strict herbivores and only eat plants. Wild rabbits only eat plants and a domestic rabbit's digestive system is exactly the same.
Wild rabbits prefer grass and leaves, they can digest more fibrous foods and are able to survive on sparse vegetation. They do NOT need a high calorie diet, as their digestive system has evolved to use bacterial fermentation to break down fibre and form nutrients.
It's all in the Poo!
A really good way of keeping a check on your rabbit, is to look at their poo.
If your rabbit has been producing extremely small or no fecal droppings at all, or even showed symptoms of 'runny poo', then that would be a time to speak to your vet.
True diarrhea (unformed, liquid fecal matter) is uncommon in rabbits.
The 'runny stool' sometimes misidentified as “diarrhea” in rabbits is more often composed of unformed, almost-liquid cecotropes.
Two Types of Poo
Rabbits produce two types of pellets: fecal pellets (left in the litterbox) and cecotropes (soft, pungent, normally shaped like a cluster of grapes and reingested by the rabbit to obtain essential nutrients). Liquid or mushy cecotropes can result from an imbalance of the normal bacterial and fungal flora of the cecum (the bunny’s intestinal “fermentation vat”).
The floral imbalance can be caused by a number of factors, such as the wrong antibiotic (oral penicillins and lincosamine antibiotics can be very dangerous to rabbits for this reason!) or a diet too rich in digestible carbohydrates and too low in crude fibre.
Often, however, it is caused by a slowing of the normal peristaltic muscular contractions which push food and liquids through the intestines. The slowdown or cessation of peristalsis of the intestine is known as gastrointestinal (GI) stasis or ileus.
The Importance of Poo in Your Rabbit Diet!
Any undigested food that reaches the colon is split into large and small particles, and sent in opposite directions. The small particles pass into the cecum, which is the fermentation chamber full of bacteria. These bacteria break down the particles to form volatile fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and other nutrients.
Large particles that are difficult to break down pass rapidly through the colon, are compressed, and are excreted as hard fecal pellets.
Once or twice a day, the motility of the colon changes and the cecum (fermentation chamber) contracts to expel its contents as slightly larger, softer fecal pellets. These are known as cecotropes.
Rabbits eat these pellets of feces, the cecotropes. They are often consumed as they come out of the anus, and are a rich source of nutrients.
If this cycle is broken, it disrupts the healthy bacteria that live in the rabbits digestive tract.
In very young rabbits, this can cause death by enterotoxemia, i.e. overproduction of toxins by a population of bacteria that is unbalanced and out of control.
It can take a while for a rabbit to achieve a stable healthy gut flora (bacterial population), hence why young rabbits are so susceptible.
Water is a vital nutrient in any rabbit diet, they require more than any comparable species.
An outdoor rabbit might find their extra water from the hollows of leaves, or garden pots and tubs that have collected rain water.
An indoor rabbit however, is completely dependent on you for their water source. So it is vital you understand why it is an important part of the indoor rabbit diet and, more importantly, how much they need.
In one day
a 5lb pound rabbit
can drink as much water
as a 24lb dog!
Because this is so important and you may not have realized, let's just repeat that...
In one day a 5lb pound rabbit can drink
as much water as a 24lb dog!
In fact, the average rabbit consumes between 50 and 150 milliliters of water per 2.2 pounds of body weight per day. Please bear this in mind when you put water out for your rabbits. Think of each rabbit as a mid-sized dog and you'll be about right!
A rabbit who does not drink sufficient water will gradually begin to suffer desiccation of the intestinal contents.
Skin tenting, a common method used by veterinarians to gauge the state of hydration in many animals, is not a good gauge of hydration in rabbits. It seems that even when the tissues of the rabbit appear to be well-hydrated, the intestinal contents may not be, perhaps because the rabbit is so efficient at sequestering necessary fluids from its own intestine.
When this happens, the ingested food in the stomach and intestine becomes dry and difficult for the normal muscular motions to push through. This can start a downhill cascade into the condition, previously mentioned, known as ileus, or GI stasis, which can be life-threatening if not recognized and treated.
Bottle It or Bowl It!
A water bottle with a metal spout is the best and most house rabbits pick up how to use it quite quickly. You can encourage them with some jam on the end to get them started though. Make sure you check the spout every day to make sure it's working properly.
A water bowl can be susceptible to contamination from poo or urine. Also some rabbit breeds have large dewlaps and if this is getting wet when they lean over to drink, they could get a skin infection. However, if you do use a bowl make sure it's one that's heavy and won't get knocked over.
Having said that, you may want to provide water in both a bowl and a bottle on hot days. Strangely enough studies have shown that rabbits may drink more water if it is provided in a bowl rather than a bottle.
Rabbit Diet Foods
The best foods for rabbits are grass and leafy greens as they are palatable, low in calories, high in fibre and wear the teeth down.
Leafy green vegetables
are very good, such as romaine lettuce, kale and carrot tops. For a complete list go here...
Remember that when a new food is introduced, it can cause a flurry of cecotropes, which must not be interpreted as diarrhea. On the contrary, it is perfectly normal and healthy!
Rabbits on a low fibre diet tend to produce softer cecotropes which can stick to the fur around the anus, especially if the fur is fluffy.
If this same diet is high in calories, as many of the commercial ones often are, then the rabbit is more likely to be fat and unable to reach their anus to eat the cecotropes. The end result is that a foul smelling mass of matted fecal material accumulates under the tail which is unpleasant for both the rabbit and the owner.
Moreover, the skin under the matted feces becomes sore and the smelly, moist area attracts flies. This then leads to flystrike, which is very distressing and often fatal.
Get Your Bunny Eating
If your rabbit is ill and not eating or eating very little, the fibre and moisture in fresh vegetables will help stimulate the intestine. Kale is a good choice.
If the rabbit refuses to eat, try fragrant, fresh herbs such as mint, basil, dill, cilantro, tarragon, sage, fennel, parsley and others.
Sometimes it helps to nip off the ends of the stems and wave the fresh, juicy stems under the rabbit’s nose or even gently insert the stem into the corner of the bunny’s mouth.
You can even lightly pat the herbs against the bunny’s face until she gets annoyed with you and grabs the offending sprig.
Sometimes all it takes is a little taste to get the bunny nibbling. Try a variety until one of them gets the bunny to eat. You never know which herb will stimulate the appetite, so it’s best to have a variety on hand.
Daily exercise is still essential for indoor rabbits, so make sure your rabbits have opportunities to exercise every day to stay fit and healthy.
Rabbits are most active in the morning and late afternoon. This is when they are most likely to benefit from access to exercise areas and be most sociable.
There are lots of ways to allow your house rabbits to exercise:
Are teeth problems related to rabbit diet?
Yes - Dental problems are possibly the most common reason why vets see rabbits.
Say 'No' to Muesli
There is universal agreement amongst experts that mixed muesli-type diets are at least partly responsible for these teeth problems.
Although these types of rabbit food are cheap, tasty and convenient, they are totally unsuitable for rabbits. They are high in calories and low in fibre, and even if the manufacturer claims to have a balanced mixture of ingredients, many rabbits will cherry pick certain bits from the bowl.
This means that certain tasty components such as peas or maize, which are not beneficial to a rabbit's diet, are selectively eaten while less palatable ingredients are ignored.
Importance of Good Teeth
The continual growth of the rabbits teeth is reliant on proper nutrition. So when the rabbit diet is deficient, this disrupts the tooth structure and can lead to wonky teeth, abscesses, blocked tear ducts, osteoporosis and spinal problems.
In addition, rabbits with poor teeth can't groom themselves properly and so can get mite infestations, leading to scaling and itchy skin.
Poor teeth also make the rabbit unable to eat hay, so the proportion of fibre in the rabbits diet decreases and causes digestive problems. By and large, if a rabbit is eating large amounts of hay it is an indicator that it has healthy teeth.
Dental disease or malocclusion in rabbits, referring to the misalignment of teeth, is by far the most common problem seen in domestic
Read more about it here and how to check for symptoms...
Rabbit Diet Problems?
If your rabbit is not acting as they normally do, ask yourself these important rabbit diet questions:
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