So here’s a question for you, what’s the difference between the very small, fluffy bunny with the big ears, hopping around the yard and that 500 kg powerhouse galloping down the straight at Flemmington? A lot… but rabbits and horses share something in common that affects their health and wellbeing.
The digestive tract of a rabbit is very similar to that of a horse. Both rabbits and horses are susceptible to poor health when fed an incorrect diet. So what should you feed your rabbit?
What is a good diet to feed my rabbit?
Horses and rabbits both have teeth that continually grow throughout their lives. Unlike the molars and incisors of carnivores, herbivores have flat teeth. These flat teeth are perfectly designed for grinding down huge volumes of fibrous material, grass. The action of grinding the fibre wears the teeth down and keeps them level and flat. Without fibre the teeth wear unevenly and develop sharp spurs on the edges. These spurs can cause penetrating mouth wounds, resulting in ulcers and abscesses. Horses will tend to drop food from their mouth due to dental pain and the same thing is seen in rabbits.
The small stomach of the horse and rabbit is poorly designed for digesting the tough fibre. Instead the partially digested food makes its way to the large intestine where the bacteria living there continue to break it down. Without the normal population of intestinal bacteria, the fibre cannot be broken down efficiently. Without a continuous supply of this fibre, the normal population of bacteria can’t flourish. So the bacteria need the fibre and the fibre needs the bacteria.
The problem with feeding too much grain or pellets
Feeding rabbits and horses feed mixes with too much grain or pellet material can easily upset the balance of normal bacteria. This leads to diarrhoea. Grains and pellets are high in easily accessible carbohydrates and supply both the intestinal bacteria and the rabbit with too much energy. The rabbit gets fat and the wrong type of bacteria flourish in the gut. In severe cases this causes gut stasis (gut no longer digesting food). This is a medical emergency. If you don’t see your rabbit producing faecal pellets every day, your rabbit needs urgent veterinary attention.
Rabbits, like horses, have a sweet tooth – they will pick out the easily accessible sweet foods like grains and pellet mixes. Unfortunately this means they leave the important grass and hay (the Fibre). Just like my three year old wanting to only eat chocolate and leaving the brocolli…. If you continually top up their grain mix, they will continue to choose it and not eat what they should.
The take home message from this information is that rabbits are little horses and horses eat grass and hay. “So what should I feed my rabbit?” Rabbits need to eat grass and hay too. A healthy rabbit’s diet should be 80% grass and hay and 20% leafy green veggies and herbs. They can also have small amounts of fruit, root vegetables and grain mixes used as treats only. Meadow grass hay, oaten hay or Timothy hay is best. Lucerne hay can also be fed in smaller quantities as the calcium level is higher.
Your little mate might not win the Melbourne Cup but feeding them the right food will help your little ‘thoroughbred’ stay happy and healthy.