After we’ve seen what your rabbits should eat to stay healthy, now it is time to discover what food to avoid or not to feed rabbits.
Rabbits have a specialized digestive system. Their distinctive ability to process fiber and nutrients makes them adaptable to many different environments, but their unique digestive systems mean that their guardians must be extra-cautious when feeding them.
A number of foods can disrupt your rabbit digestion and be bad for their health. There are also a few foods—some of them surprising—that are potentially poisonous to them.
What Not to Feed Rabbits:
‘Muesli’ and mixtures
‘Muesli’ and mixtures made for rodents and even rabbits should be avoided. They are high in ingredients that the rabbits do not tolerate, such as fat, sugar and starch, in the shape of nuts, corn, seeds and fruits. Being a selective feeder, the rabbit will in addition select and eat the most nutritious parts and consequently end up with an even more incomplete nutrition. To ensure the rabbit has a balanced nutrition, one should provide a 100% pelleted food, homogeneous pellets with no added colouring.
Rabbits are lactose intolerant and should never be offered any dairy products. Therefore one should not offer them yoghurt drops, even though they are sold as treats in many pet shops. When the microbial population in the gastrointestinal system is disturbed because of stress or disease, then it may help to provide good bacteria found in dairy-free probiotics, such as ZooLac Propaste (ChemVet), BioLapis or Fibreplex (Protexin), AviPro (Vetark) or Critical Care (Oxbow Animal Health). These products will enhance the natural microbial environment, which is important to enable the rabbit to recover.
Bread and other pastries contain high levels of carbohydrates and should therefore be avoided. Twigs are also an important step for rabbit-proofing the house. Photo courtesy of Marit Emilie Buseth, Norway 122 Chapter 6 Rabbits cannot tolerate and utilize easily digestible carbohydrates, and a diet consisting of sugar and starch will eventually lead to digestive disorders.
Others to avoid
Potatoes, lettuce, sweetcorn, seeds, oat, sunflower seeds and other seeds, lentils, beans, biscuits, cakes and other feeds are known to lead to inappropriate bacterial overgrowth or possible blockage of the intestine. The following are toxic: onions, rhubarb, stems and leaves of tomato, seeds and stones of fruit, avocado and chocolate.
How to prevent digestive diseases
- Make sure that the rabbit’s diet is based on hay with a high nutritional quality. Hay must always be available and replaced daily to encourage eating. This is important since rabbits are selective feeders and will choose the best parts of the hay and leave the rest uneaten. If not provided with new hay, suboptimal hay intake can be the result.
- Make sure to give only the recommended amount of supplementary pellets and other food items; this is important to ensure optimal hay intake.
- Make sure the rabbit is provided with balanced and rabbit-friendly pellets.
- Fresh water must always be available. Rabbits with water in a bowl have a higher water consumption than those with water provided in a bottle.
- Make sure rabbits have adequate exercise opportunities.
- Prevent ingestion of indigestible material, such as carpet, plastic or cat litter.
- Make sure to groom the rabbit, twice daily when they are shedding.
- Avoid rapid changes in diet.
What to be aware of and not to feed rabbits: early identification of gastrointestinal problems
- Any decrease or change in food consumption should be noticed and acted upon. If a rabbit cuts out various foods or completely stops eating, this can be a symptom of serious dental diseases. Having different jaw movement patterns while eating foods causes issues with the cheek teeth and incisors, and can cause various symptoms. Rabbits with spurs on their cheek teeth will for example stop eating hay while they can still consume pellets and vegetables. A rabbit with severe pain in the incisors may still eat hay while it stops eating vegetables. It is therefore important to be aware of the rabbit’s changes in preferences.
- Be aware of the rabbit’s normal faeces. Changes in amount, size and consistency are often a sign of an incorrect diet too low in fibre. If the droppings are harder, looser, darker or have decreased in amount, it is advisable to feed the rabbit exclusively on hay for a couple of days. If the stool still is abnormal and unhealthy a veterinarian should examine the rabbit.
- If the rabbit does not pass faeces at all, immediate treatment is necessary. It is not an option to wait and see, as this will aggravate the situation, lead to further pain and dehydration, and become harder to treat when one finally gives appropriate care.
- Does the rabbit have a stinky bottom? Does it have moist stools that get caught in the fur? It is important to determine if the condition is diet-related or a symptom of other diseases.
- Does the rabbit leave dark, mushy, smelly, grapelike faeces around the house? The rabbit should normally eat these caecotrophs directly from the anus and if the rabbit does not eat these it could be a sign of a diet too rich in protein and/or too low in fibre. An improved diet should be offered.
- If the consistency of the caecotrophs is more like a paste, an improved diet should be offered.
- Everyone should be aware of how a healthy stomach feels. Digestive disorders may lead to abdominal distension and one should be able to notice this.
- What is the rabbit’s normal weight? Deviation must be detected. This is why regular weight checks are helpful.
- Does the rabbit have a watery eye?
- Does the rabbit show further symptoms of pain?.
What shall I do if my rabbit is not eating and I see no droppings?
Rabbits are dependent on constant food intake and become easily dehydrated when going off their food and water. Rabbits that have not eaten or passed faeces during the last 24 hours must be taken to the veterinarian as an emergency. However, you can provide first aid earlier by:
- giving oral fluid.
- giving nutritional support.
- contact your veterinarian and follow the instructions.
The most important tip of what not to feed rabbits is to be cautious. Only feed your pet rabbit something if you are very sure that it’s healthy and safe to consume. Rabbits’ dietary requirements aren’t intuitive, so never make any assumptions.