PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing outlines the diet requirement for rabbits

Bringing rabbits home can be incredibly exciting but, just like all pets, they rely on us to give them the best possible quality of life.

PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing said: “Rabbits make wonderful pets, but they do have many needs that can unintentionally be overlooked if we aren’t aware of the best way to care for them. From creating the perfect living space to providing the right, balanced diet, there are key things you can do to help keep your rabbits healthy, happy, and living their best life.

The right diet

“Rabbits are herbivores, so they need to eat a plant-based diet that’s high in fibre. The best way to ensure they get enough fibre is to give them at least their own body size (but ideally an unlimited amount!) in good quality hay or fresh grass every day. You should also give a handful of fresh greens twice a day, and a tablespoon of rabbit nuggets once or twice daily depending on their size. Avoid feeding your bunny muesli as they tend to only eat the sugary elements, leaving the fibre-rich parts, leading to an unbalanced diet.

“Don’t be alarmed if your bunnies eat their own droppings – it’s actually good for them and an essential part of their nutrition! Digestible fibre moves through your bunnies’ guts faster than it can be absorbed, before being excreted as soft, sticky droppings, called caecotrophs. Ingesting these allows rabbits to absorb the remaining vital nutrients, before passing the waste as hard, round droppings. This is why lots of fibre in their diet is so important.

Creating the perfect environment

“Your rabbits’ hutch should provide more than enough space for them to lie down, stretch out, and stand on their back legs without their ears touching the top, and should be long enough for them to run around in. Bunnies need lots of entertainment to keep them occupied, so fill their hutch and run with tubes, hides, tunnels, cardboard boxes, hay racks, and bunny-friendly toys, as well as creating places for them to dig.

“Make sure any outdoor enclosures are fitted with sturdy walls, mesh or fencing to protect against threats like cats, foxes, and other wild animals – including other rabbits who could potentially pass on dangerous diseases. For bunnies living indoors, you’ll need to ensure that any hazards in your house are kept well out of reach. Rabbits love to chew, so be cautious of wires and cables, houseplants, cleaning products, and small ornaments.

Bunny behaviour

“Understanding bunny behaviour can help you and your rabbits communicate better and build a stronger bond. If your rabbit bites with a gentle nip, this is usually just their way of getting your attention. However, a hard bite can be due to fear or stress. Other indicators of stress include ‘thumping’ or their ears being on alert.

“Another common behaviour to be aware of in rabbits is teeth grinding, which generally sounds soft and gentle like the purring of a cat and is a sign of contentment. Though if you hear loud grinding, this could suggest they are in pain and should see a vet as soon as possible.

“As much as we love our pet bunnies, our company isn’t an adequate replacement for a friend of their own kind, so I’d strongly suggest getting a roommate for your bunny if they live alone. They are much less likely to become stressed, anxious or aggressive, and will enjoy communicating with each other!”

PDSA is the UK’s largest vet charity providing a vital service for pets across the UK whose owners struggle to afford treatment costs for their sick and injured pets. For many vulnerable pets, PDSA is there to help when there is nowhere else for their owners to turn. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information. www.pdsa.org.uk

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