There is no doubt that rabbits make adorable pets for children. They are relatively low care however a good diet and excellent husbandry will help to reduce the risk of many of the more common diseases we seen in rabbits.
Rabbits being fed an incorrect diet are prone to a number of diseases including dental problems (one of the most common reason we see unwell rabbits), obesity, hairballs and some behavioural issues.
So what is the best diet for a rabbit?
- The most important part of a rabbit’s diet is grass and good quality hay. Clean hay should always be available (grass hay is best, avoid lucerne) as it is extremely important, both for gut health and to increase chewing activity –this is important to aid tooth wear and avoid dental disease (rabbit’s teeth continue to grow throughout their lives so they need to be constantly worn down)
- Fresh vegetables should be provided once or twice daily which may include dandelions, kale, cabbage, lettuce, parsley and silverbeet. As a guide, do not feed more than 1 packed cup of leafy greens per kg of bodyweight per day. Treat foods such as carrots, apples, berries, pears and pineapple can also be given in small amounts
- Commercial rabbit diets can be used but should only be a small amount of their diet. These diets are relatively high in energy and low in fibre so excessive amounts may lead to obesity and dental disease
- Clean water should always be available – drinking bottles are best because they are easier to keep clean than water bowls and they avoid wetting the dewlap which may lead to skin infections.
Aside from diet, there are some important things to be aware of to help to keep your rabbits happy and healthy!
- Rabbit Calicivirus or Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) is a deadly virus that was released in New Zealand in 1997 by farmers to control the wild rabbit population. It can be spread by wild rabbits to our pets and may cause death within a few days of infection. Approximately 90% of infected rabbits will die of RHD and once infected there is very little we can do. Fortunately, there is a vaccination available to protect our pet’s. It is normally given at 3 months of age with an annual booster and is relatively cheap too.
- Breeding of rabbits is often what owners want to avoid. One option to prevent breeding is to avoid housing male and female rabbits together. We can also neuter rabbits at around 5 months of age to avoid breeding, and this will also reduce aggression and territorial behaviours.
- Clean housing is important as rabbits are prone to respiratory disease which can occur due to ammonia fumes from their urine. Cleaning out their cages regularly and good air circulation will help to prevent this problem.