In my experience, obesity and intermittent soft stools are the two biggest health problems of pet rabbits. Both may be caused by an improper diet high in protein and calories while deficient in insoluble fiber. It is important to remember that rabbits are born nibblers. In the wild, they eat a combination of grasses and leaves. In captivity, rabbit custodians should try to replicate the wild diet as closely as possible.
The following are my diet recommendations for pet rabbits: (Recommendations assume a five pound rabbit.)
1) Feed grass hay (timothy, meadow or Bermuda) free choice. Place the hay in different types of feeders for behavioral enrichment. Avoid alfalfa and other legume types of hay. These are too high in protein and calcium.
2) Feed at least two cups of leafy green vegetables per day. Mix several different types together. My patients seem to like collard greens, romaine lettuce, parsley and dandelion the best. The tops and leaves of broccoli, carrots and beets are also good for nibbling.
3) Limit the amount of pellets to one fourth of a cup per day. For rabbits that suffer from soft stools, I try to remove pellets from the diet completely. In a normal rabbit, insoluble fiber is fermented in the cecum and eventually released as cecotropes. During the night, the cecotropes are eaten by the rabbit directly from the anus. These ‘night feces’ contain important nutrients that are vital for good health. Rabbits on a diet deficient in insoluble fiber produce malformed cecotropes that stick to everything . . their fur and carpeting included.
4) Limit treats to less than a tablespoon per day. My patients love carrots, berries and pineapple.
5) No human junk food is acceptable. This includes chocolate, bread, chips and soda.
Please consult your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet. Remember to make changes in gradual steps and monitor your pet’s weight throughout the process.