You, as a rabbit owner, can avoid more digestive problems by feeding your rabbit correctly and getting to know your rabbit's digestive system. The rabbit is a herbivore and therefore needs a fibre-rich diet, which entails digestible as well as indigestible fibres.
A good fibre-rich diet for your rabbit is not something you can always achieve with supermarket feed or salad from the vegetable department, as it is not always sufficient for the rabbit's natural need for fiber and nutrition. Out in the open, the rabbit lives i.a. of grass, leaves and fruits. It is therefore important that the rabbits we keep as pets are fed a good, fiber-rich diet. In this article, you will gain a better knowledge of your rabbit's need for feed and its digestive system.
Your rabbit's digestive system
It can be useful to know about your rabbit's digestive system, as it is a unique one of a kind. The rabbit needs food in the gut constantly and therefore does not have to fast before an operation, for example, as other animals have to. As much as 40% of the intestinal system is the cecum and the mouth of the stomach is shaped so that the rabbit cannot vomit. When the rabbit consumes the food, the breakdown process already begins through the enzymes in the saliva. The food then reaches the small intestine relatively quickly, where sugar, starch and proteins are absorbed. Finally, the process ends in the large intestine, where the mass is divided into indigestible and digestible fibers.
The digestible fibers are fermented in the cecum for approx. four hours, to then turn into a soft faeces, which the rabbit consumes again. Although it might seem a bit unappetizing, this mass is full of amino and fatty acids, vital vitamins and microorganisms, which also help to maintain digestion. These digestible fibers help maintain an optimal composition of bacteria in the gut.
The indigestible fibers stimulate intestinal peristalsis, help wear down the teeth and give more appetite. This type of food comes out of the colon as drier stool. Here it is important to check whether your rabbit is getting too little fibre, which you can see by the fact that it often makes small puddles. The colour, size and shape of the faeces are also decisive factors for how your rabbit's stomach and intestines feel.
The rabbit's intake of food
Depending on the season, you can find food in nature that your rabbit can benefit from. Summer offers, among other things, dandelions, grass, clover and Swiss chard, which you can give your rabbit. Something you can sow yourself are herbs, which are both pretty to look at, but also beneficial for your rabbit. Additionally, branches from willow, hazel and fruit trees can be options your rabbit will love to have. Avoid branches from trees with stone fruits and branches from shelves here.
Winter offers slightly different options for your rabbit, such as romaine lettuce, kale, heart lettuce, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, yellow peppers, broccoli and scallions. However, be aware that cabbage can cause gas in the stomach, which is not good for your rabbit, to get too much and some rabbits cannot tolerate cabbage at all. You should only feed your rabbit small amounts of carrots and fruit, due to the amount of fructose these products contain.
Dry cheese or not?
You can give your rabbit dry food as a supplement of vitamins and minerals. In addition, hay is also a form of dry food, which is important for the rabbit and preferably in a quantity that corresponds to the rabbit's size. It is therefore important that your rabbit has access to hay of a good quality, always. You can advantageously distribute hay in several areas of your rabbit's cage - even where the rabbit urinates - it is preferable for the rabbit.
Overall, you can distribute your rabbit's diet so that there is 80% grass and hay, 10-15% greens and 5-10% pellets. Avoid muesli mixes here, they are not good for your rabbit! In addition, fresh water is a daily necessity. To ensure your rabbit's health, it is a good idea to weigh it once a month so that you are aware of whether it is losing or gaining weight.
Avoid these foods for rabbits:
Corn on the cob
Onion plants (of any kind)
Grass cut with a lawnmower (due to the fermentation process)
Iceberg lettuce and cucumber (since it's just water)
Limestone (the lime is absorbed through feed – too much lime can lead to bladder sludge or worse urinary tract stones)
Yoghurt drops (contains a lot of sugar and dairy products)
Cereal bars and nut bars with special honey (high sugar and starch content)
Why muesli mixes are not good for your rabbit?
It is important that your rabbit is not fed with muesli mixtures, as the rabbit likes sweets - therefore it will sort through the mixture. It often happens that you, as the owner, want to throw out the food left behind and fill it up again, which leaves your rabbit with an excessively high sugar and fat intake. In addition, your rabbit will probably get too little hay. In addition to too much sugar and fat, your rabbit will get too little fiber (which causes stomach and intestinal problems) and calcium (which can cause bad teeth and osteoporosis). The rabbit can get dental problems by getting too little calcium, as its teeth grow all its life, as the teeth out in the wild would be worn down all its life. As salad and dry food do not have a long chewing time, the teeth will not be worn down sufficiently. The lack of calcium can therefore weaken the connective tissue around the teeth, which means that the teeth can rotate. It is therefore important that your rabbit is fed quality food that contains extruded pellets that your rabbit cannot sort in order to get more easily digestible carbohydrates.
The rabbit produces large amounts of caecotrophs, the more sugar and starch it gets, which can be mistaken for diarrhea, which gives the rabbit a dirty rear end. The dirty back end can result in myiasis, a blowfly infestation. Another disadvantage of the muesli mixture is that your rabbit becomes overweight and exercise becomes a lower priority, in addition it can have problems with joints, paws and legs, hygiene and, in addition, its heart is put into overtime.
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