Within a hop, skip, and a jump Easter is here!
We’re all excited for the chocolate, and the bunnies are all excited for the carrots – BUT BE WARNED. Although carrots are healthy for us, carrots are too sweet and low in fibre, making them a TREAT only for rabbits. Too much can become a health problem.
Around Easter when the spotlight is on our bunny friends, we like to emphasise the importance of their diet.
The most common reason for rabbits to become unwell and be brought into the veterinary clinic is due to dietary issues. In particular, a condition called gastrointestinal stasis (also known as gut stasis).
Feeding your rabbit the incorrect diet can lead to gut stasis, a serious condition that can be fatal for your rabbit. It occurs when your rabbits digestive system slows down or completely stops. This is often linked to poor diet, stress, painful illness such as dental disease or lack of exercise.
If your bunny is in a state of gut stasis, bad bacteria builds up in their intestines, releasing gases into their digestive system and causing painful bloating. Bad gut bacteria can also release toxins which their liver struggles to filter and can lead to organ failure. Your bunny will often stop eating and drinking, becoming dehydrated and very unwell. They will often not pass any feaces and be in a significant amount of pain. If you suspect your bunny is unwell, seek veterinary help immediately.
Thankfully with the right information, this condition can be avoided.
The most common cause of gut stasis is poor diet. Therefore it is important you understand what your bunny needs to stay healthy!
Rabbits have evolved to feed mainly on rough, fibrous grass and hay for 6-8 hours a day. Their entire anatomy from nose to tail is designed for this diet and eating habit. High fibre is crucial for their gastrointestinal health, just like a little horse!
At least 80% of a bunny’s diet NEEDS to be hay. Not just any hay but a good quality Timothy Hay. A bunny left with a bowl of pellets is a bored, often obese, unhealthy and unhappy bunny. Remember bunnies love the foods that are not good for them. Alfalfa and Lucerne Hay are much preferred by rabbits but are too high in protein and calcium. Initially, bunnies can put their nose up at the new change of a predominantly hay diet but do not be discouraged; they can learn to love it.
Make sure you modify the diet slowly over a one week period. For the extreme junk food kings (those who love pellets only) you can lightly spray their hay with a berry juice to encourage them to sniff, lick and nibble at it in the beginning. Make sure to change this hay daily. Also please ensure that the few pellets you do feed your rabbit (ideally only 1-2 tablespoons per day) do not have any bad high fat or high sugar items like sunflower seeds or dried fruit and sweet corn.
Remember, rabbits love their leafy green vegetables of which they can be fed two packed cups per kilo per day. Have fun feeding veggies that include, but are not limited to, bok choy, kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, parsley, and cauliflower leaves. With the right diet, your bunny will thank you, and a small piece of carrot on special occasions like Easter is always well appreciated!
Also, did you know that rabbits teeth continually grow? High fibre diets ensure their teeth are worn down appropriately as they munch and crunch. If your rabbits teeth are not worn down as they eat, this can lead to dental disease, pain and discomfort when they eat. Rabbits can also suffer from tooth infections such as abscesses.
Ensure your bunny is not only fed a quality diet which cares for their teeth but you will also need to regularly evaluate your rabbit’s living space. Rabbits need plenty of room to exercise. Creating your bunny a “bunny proof area” or supervised enclosure that is safe from predators is ideal. Rabbits like to be a part of your family, however be careful not to expose them to undue stress. Major changes to their environment or routine such as the loss of a bunny companion or a high influx of visitors can cause high stress levels. Be careful to do your best to provide your bunny with a happy and healthy home.
Dr. Chloe Kempe BVSc