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Adult rabbit diet recommendations
Rabbit Health and Care Information
We recommend housing a rabbit indoors with the family within a heated/air conditioned area of the home. Cage should be well ventilated, constructed of material resistant to chewing, easy to clean, and should have a solid floor. A solid floored area is important to prevent sore hocks and to provide an area for resting. A towel, piece of carpeting, or wood can be used for this, as can a piece of synthetic fleece, which is ideal because if the rabbit chews on it, there are no long strands of fabric to get caught in the GI tract. It is very important for a cage to be used with sufficient air circulation, such as wire cage and not an aquarium or solid walled cage, because this help reduce the incidence of respiratory disease and overheating. For play time or for free-roam rabbits, it is important to make sure your home is safe - wires and cords should be covered or blocked and access to unsafe areas should be closed off.
Safe cage substrates (litter) include plain newspaper, paper-based litters such as Carefresh or Yesterday’s News, or pine pellets such as Feline Pine. It is important not to use cedar or pine shavings which have been linked to increase incidence of respiratory problems.
The optimum temperature range for a rabbit is 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature reaches the upper 80’s and beyond, especially if humidity is high, there is a significant chance of heat stroke. We recommend housing a rabbit indoors with the family within a heated/air conditioned area of the home. If a rabbit must be housed outdoors, shelter should be provided from heat and cold, predators, and parasites. Damp basements are one of the worst areas to keep your pet.
Rabbits need daily exercise outside of their cage. 4-5 hours of out-of-cage time each day is recommended. Rabbits that are always caged run a higher risk of foot, intestinal, and urinary disease, as well as obesity due to lack of exercise. Rabbits that sit in a cage all day are thought to be “boring” to owners who don’t know any better. An excellent set-up is to have a cage as “home-base,” surrounded by a dog exercise pen for a place to roam. A height of at least 3 feet is required for most rabbits, and some larger breeds may require 4 foot high pens. The pen will keep the rabbit out of trouble from chewing on electric cords or furniture, and can be assembled wherever you want to contain your rabbit.
An inappropriate diet is one of the most common causes of disease in pet rabbit. A poor diet can be contributing factor to a host of GI problems (e.g., gastric stasis, GI ileus, enterotoxemia, and chronic soft stool); obesity; and hepatic, urinary tract, and dental disease.
Because the rabbit intestinal tract is driven by insoluble fiber, rabbits should be offered a diet high in fiber and low in simple carbohydrates. Hay is the most important part of a rabbit’s diet and provides essential indigestible fiber which keeps the digestive tract working normally. Hay also also provides a variety of other nutrients needed for the good health of your rabbit. The best type of hay for pet rabbit is a grass hay which can include timothy, prairie, meadow, oat, brome, orchard and Bermuda, and which is often sold as “mixed grass hay” containing several of these types. Feeding alfalfa hay to adult rabbits is discourage due to its higher calorie and calcium content, however, if grass hay is not available, alfalfa is better than no hay at all. Also, loose hay is preferred over hay cubes (but for clients with allergies to loose hay, the cubes can be an alternative and are better than no hay
Feeding hay has other health benefits besides keeping the digestive tract in good health. Because hay is more abrasive and takes longer to break down by chewing than a pellet, there is a tremendous benefit to the teeth. The teeth grow throughout a rabbit’s life and overgrown molars and incisor can be a problem if the rabbit does not have enough abrasive material to chew on.
Pellets should be limited in adult rabbits to an amount of 1/4 cup per 5lbs of body weight. A quality timothy-based pellet is recommended.
Fresh dark, leafy greens are the second most important part of the house rabbit’s diet and should be fed daily in an amount of 1-2 cups per 5lbs of body weight. Choose dark leafy, greens high in fiber such as romaine and red leaf lettuce, kale, watercress, parsley, carrot tops, and mustard, dandelion, and turnip greens and feed at least 2-3 different types of greens daily . Fruit and other sugary treats, including carrots, should be limited to 1 tbsp per 5lbs of body weight per day. Cereals, grains, seeds, and nuts are not part of the rabbit’s natural diet and should not be given.
[Bonded bunnies] Annual Exam
All pet rabbits should have an annual physical exam and check up by a veterinarian experience in dealing with rabbits. New rabbits should be quarantined from existing pets at least until evaluated by a qualified veterinarian. This is important to catch impending health problems before they become too serious, since rabbits, like all prey animals, tend to attempt to hide their signs of illness. The veterinarian can go over appropriate diet and housing recommendations (this information is changing constantly as new facts are discovered by leaders in the field), check for overgrown nails and teeth and trim if needed, record an accurate weight for your pet (important to detect loss or gains not noticed by the owner), evaluate the heart, lungs, eyes, ears, GI, and urinary systems for early signs of problems, and develop a strong relationship with both you and your rabbit under relaxed circumstances while your pet is happy and healthy. This helps things go much more smoothly and quickly should there be a medical emergency, and increases your pet's chances of survival in such a crisis. Your veterinarian can also screen your rabbit for Pasturellosis (a serious and very contagious respiratory disease) and perform periodic routine bloodwork to evaluate function of the liver, kidneys, and other body systems (especially important as your rabbit gets older, or over 3 years of age).
Recommendations that will be made by your vet include regular nail trimming, either at home or at the veterinarian's office, at least once a month. Rabbits living in cages or indoors do not wear down their nails naturally, and overgrown nails can get caught in crevices in the cage causing the rabbit to injure himself. If the rabbit panics when his nail is caught, the result can be a broken leg, broken back, fatal bleeding, or heat exhaustion. Keeping the nails properly trimmed is an easy form of prevention. (Note: declawing is not a humane option for rabbits).
Brushing your rabbit regularly is a good idea if it is long-haired. This helps prevent mats from forming and trapping moisture near the skin, which can lead to skin infections and even maggot infestations in outdoor rabbits. In most cases, you do not need to worry about your rabbit getting "hairballs" as this is really not a condition caused by accumulation of hair at all, but rather GI stasis due to a poor, low fiber diet. If your rabbit is on a good diet of hay and fresh greens with minimal pellets and carbohydrate snacks, then ingestion of hair during normal grooming will not cause a problem. Interacting with your rabbit by grooming also helps you to observe his body condition (weight and muscling), and to notice any wounds or infections. Especially check the underside of the hocks for signs of ulceration if the rabbit is kept on a wire floored cage, and check the ears and eyes for signs of discharge or infection. If any problems are noted, don’t try to treat these ailments at home, as many common medications and antibiotics are fatal to rabbits. Instead, see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Keeping your rabbit's teeth in proper condition is also important. All rabbit teeth are open-rooted and grow continuously throughout their lives. The teeth must be constantly worn down during normal eating behavior. Wooden toys should also be provided for gnawing to aid in wearing down teeth. The teeth are worn down not only on the food items, but on each other. If the teeth are not lined up properly or if the diet does not provide sufficient opportunities for chewing, then they do not get worn down properly, resulting in overgrowth. Either or both the front teeth (incisors) and back teeth (molars) may develop a variety of problems. Teeth can grow so long that they penetrate the gums, cheeks, or tongue, and roots can grow so long that they penetrate the jawbone. These problems can go unnoticed by the owner until the rabbit begins to drool excessively or is unable to eat. Because of their position far back in the mouth, problems with the molars are especially hard to detect without a specialized instrument your veterinarian will use to examine them and to trim them as needed. Rabbits with serious malocclusion problems will need to have their teeth checked by a veterinarian every six to eight weeks. Do not try to trim your rabbit's teeth at home – most rabbits require general anesthesia for dental examinations and repair work.
Your vet will also recommend spaying or neutering your pet rabbit. Elective surgery is more common now in pet rabbits than it used to be. Anesthesia in rabbits is much safer than in the past. Female rabbits that are not spayed run a high risk of a deadly uterine cancer known as adenocarcinoma. These tumors are very aggressive and malignant, and once diagnosed, are nearly impossible to treat as they have already spread throughout the body. Spaying your female rabbit between the ages of 5 months and 2 years will prevent this type of cancer, as well as prevent breast cancer, pyometra (severe uterine infection), uterine aneurysm (life-threatening bleeding), and continual "heat cycling" and false pregnancies, with associated aggressive behaviors. All female rabbits not intended for breeding should be spayed before 2 years of age.
Male rabbits may develop many behavioral problems upon reaching sexual maturity. They can become extremely aggressive and territorial, and start biting and spraying urine to mark their territory. The urine will develop a strong odor due to the influence of male hormones, and may stain the rabbit's fur. Adult males may start attacking other rabbits, especially other males, leading to serious bite wounds and even death. Intact adult male rabbits should never be housed with other male rabbits due to this danger. The best solution to these behavioral problems is neutering the male rabbit, which can be done anytime after 4 months of age. Neutering should also be considered if males and females are to be housed together, as unexpected offspring are almost certain to result once the rabbits are over 4-5 months of age if they are still kept in the same cage (even if they are siblings).
Conditions Requiring Veterinary Attention
When a rabbit stops eating, something serious is usually wrong somewhere. If a rabbit has unexpectedly stopped eating or outputting within an 8-12 hour period, the rabbit is in crisis. Loss of appetite in a rabbit acting normally should be seen by a vet immediately. Rabbits rapidly develop a serious liver condition (known as hepatic lipidosis) when they go without eating that can quickly become irreversible and fatal if not caught in time. Loss of appetite accompanied by severe depression should be considered a medical emergency, especially if no stools are being produced, as this is the classic sign of a rabbit with GI stasis or GI obstruction. The gastrointestinal tract of a rabbit is a fairly sensitive system, and any problem that is noticed should be treated promptly and not "wait to see if it goes away" (it almost always won’t self-resolve in a rabbit).
Other signs that your rabbit may exhibit that warrant a trip to your veterinarian include excessive sneezing (rabbits cannot catch colds), drooling, trouble chewing food, weight loss, any abnormal lumps or swellings, any eye, ear, or nasal discharge, lethargy, depression, diarrhea or abnormal stools, head tilt, loss of balance, labored breathing, blood-tinged urine, pain on urination, or any other abnormal behavior you may witness. If you are worried about your rabbit for some reason, it is always better to be safe and schedule a trip to the veterinarian than to ignore the problem and be sorry later.