A study by the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences has been used to launch an RSPCA campaign called ’Hay Fever,’ to highlight the fact many owners do not know what food is best for their rabbits.Rabbits have long been one of the UK’s favourite pets, with owners falling for their cute appearance and believing the common misconception they are easy to look after.
However despite their popularity, a study by the University of Bristol, commissioned by the RSPCA , shows a lack of grass and hay in their diet is among the most important welfare issues affecting rabbits in the UK.
"The RSPCA is trying to give rabbits Hay Fever! But not in a bad way - we want all pet rabbits to be eating hay as their main food," said Rachel Roxburgh, RSPCA companion animal scientist.
"People also think their rabbits should eat carrots because that’s what Bugs Bunny does... but he’s a cartoon - real rabbits don’t talk, and they shouldn’t be eating carrots too often either!" she added.
Despite the popular saying salad is "rabbit food" a rabbit’s diet should not include too much lettuce and types like iceberg shouldn’t be fed. Even more surprisingly, while many people think carrots are ideal food for bunnies, in fact they do not naturally eat root vegetables, cereals, or fruit.
As carrots (and apples) are high in sugar they should only be fed in small amounts as an occasional treat.
A healthy adult rabbit diet should consist of:
- Mainly good quality hay (available at all times). Owners should feed a bundle of hay that’s as big as the rabbit, every day and ideally access to growing grass for grazing.
- Fresh clean grass (growing or picked by hand), but not lawnmower clippings. They can upset rabbit’s digestive system and make them ill.
- An adult-sized handful of safe washed dark leafy greens such as cabbage, broccoli, kale and herbs such as parsley.
- Constant access to fresh clean water.
- Owners can also feed a small amount- no more than 25g/kg body weight (i.e. one eggcup full per kg) of good quality commercial rabbit pellets/’nuggets’.
"Our research shows that even some of the most committed owners do not fully understand what foods are best for their rabbits health and welfare," added Rachel Roxburgh..