The importance of Fibre in a Rabbit’s diet.

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Most health problems in the domestic rabbit seem to relate to diet, living conditions and age. Rabbits are herbivores and require a diet rich in vitamins and high in fibre. They have a unique and delicate digestive system and it is important to take this into consideration when feeding your pet. It is a system that is designed to take both energy and nutrients from food that is low in both, so providing a rabbit with a high fat/high protein, low fibre diet can not only give your rabbit serious health problems, but will shorten his life. A healthy rabbit who is fed a high fibre diet can live as long as 12 years.Bunny Eating Hay
In the past much of the research on rabbit nutrition has been conducted with more of an emphasis on productivity rather than longevity. When we look at most pellets available the protein levels are always elevated and the fibre is far too low. These pellets were formulated for maximum growth in the shortest time. Knowing this, we can see that this would not be a suitable diet for the pet rabbit. Pellets with a minimum of 20% fibre is a better maintenance diet along with grass hay, plenty of water and 2 servings of herbs and vegetables daily.

Rabbit’s teeth are constantly growing, so a good daily supply of grass hay will keep them worn down, preventing dental problems. In addition optimal function of the digestive tract depends on fibre. Rabbits produce two types of droppings. The large dry droppings, that most owners clean up, are from the large pieces of indigestible fibre that pass rapidly through the digestive system. Another type of faecal matter, called cecotrophs or night droppings, are the result of bacterial fermentation in the cecum. This cecal fermentation produces fatty acids and material rich in amino acids and vitamins. Periodically parts of this material is expelled from the anus as cecotrophs. Rabbits normally consume this directly from the anus and the nutrients are extracted during the second passage through the digestive system. It is these cecotrophs that are affected by a low fibre diet. If a rabbit is suffering from diarrhea, it is more than likely these night droppings that you are seeing. Changing your rabbit onto a high fibre pellet and giving plenty of grass hay will correct this problem.

Many rabbits are diagnosed with hairballs. Unlike cat’s with this problem, rabbits cannot vomit, so this can be potentially life threatening. It is important to know that the hairball is just a symptom of a much larger problem. This being Gastro Intestinal Stasis or G I Stasis, a condition where the digestive system shuts down. Affected animals go off their food and produce small amounts of tiny droppings. In extreme cases no droppings are passed at all. Prompt, skilled veterinary treatment is needed in order to prevent further decline in the health of the rabbit. The most effective way to prevent GI Stasis is to feed your rabbit a diet high in fibre, have water available at all times and give him plenty of daily exercise. This way the digestive system will keep functioning properly and serious health problems can be avoided giving your rabbit a long and healthy life.

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