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News Article

Rabbit Awareness Week highlights the importance of a healthy diet


Owners are being encouraged to learn more about the nutritional needs of their rabbits

Each year, Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) highlights important issues to help improve the welfare of rabbits across the UK. The 2018 campaign, taking place 2-10 June, is raising awareness around the dangers of selective feeding, encouraging owners to ‘Move Away From Muesli’ towards a high-quality, hay based diet.

RAW is organised by a coalition of partners, including Burgess Pet Care, and various vet bodies and charities including the RSPCA, Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF), PDSA, Wood Green The Animals Charity and Blue Cross. The campaign to ‘Move Away from Muesli’ is also endorsed by the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA).

Research by the University of Edinburgh has shown that rabbits fed on muesli diets will often selectively feed, eating the high starch and sugar pieces in the muesli mix and leaving the more fibrous pieces, which can increase the risk of serious health issues.

Their studies [listed at the end of this article] show that selective feeding increases the risk of dental disease, obesity, reduced faecal output potentially leading to gut stasis, and uneaten caecotrophs, potentially leading to flystrike.

Inappropriate diet has been consistently cited as the top welfare issue to be addressed for rabbits in the annual PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report. The 2017 PAW Report shows that 25% of owners feed muesli as part of their rabbit’s main diet equating to 280,000 rabbits being fed a harmful diet. It is also shows that there continues to be a significant percentage of rabbit owners who don’t feed enough hay, with 31% being fed less than their own body size daily (the recommended amount) compared to 33% in 2016 and 26% in 2015.

The British Veterinary Association’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey in 2016 revealed that 85% of vets had serious concerns about rabbits’ health due to poor nutrition.

The aim of Rabbit Awareness Week is to educate owners about the welfare needs of their rabbits. Although they are increasingly popular pets, there is often less understanding of the needs of rabbits compared with dogs and cats.

In the book, Rabbit Behaviour, Health and Care, Marit Emilie Buseth says that while rabbits are the third most common domestic animals after dogs and cats, they are also one of the most misunderstood and underrated animals. “Unfortunately, a lot of rabbits suffer due to lack of and incorrect knowledge amongst both pet owners and veterinarians, and rabbits’ health and behavioural needs are rarely met.”

In a recent article in Veterinary Record, Richard Saunders, co-author of Rabbit Behaviour, Health and Care, says that rabbit medicine has been ill-served on the veterinary curriculum for years. He highlights recent improvements in veterinary education, but says that there must be a paradigm shift so that rabbit medicine is given the attention it deserves.

 

The University of Edinburgh research is published in the following articles: 

Food and water intake and selective feeding in rabbits on four feeding regimes by J. L. Prebble and A. L. Meredith, published in Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition (2014) 98(5): 991-1000, doi: 10.1111/jpn.12163

Impact of diet on incisor growth and attrition and the development of dental disease in pet rabbits by A. L. Meredith, J. L. Prebble and D. J. Shaw, published in Journal of Small Animal Practice (2015) 56(6): 377-382, doi: 10.1111/jsap.12346

Impact of diet on faecal output and caecotroph consumption in rabbits by A. L. Meredith and J. L. Prebble, published in Journal of Small Animal Practice (2017) 58(3): 139-145, doi: 10.1111/jsap.12620

Bodyweight and body condition score in rabbits on four different feeding regimes by J. L. Prebble, D. J. Shaw and A. L. Meredith, published in Journal of Small Animal Practice (2015) 56(3): 207-212, doi: 10.1111/jsap.12301

The effect of four different feeding regimes on rabbit behaviour by Jennifer L. Prebble, Fritha M. Langford, Darren J. Shaw and Anna L. Meredith, published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2015) 169: 86-92, doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2015.05.003

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • R. Wood
  • Date
  • 06 June 2018
  • Subject(s)
  • Dogs, Cats, and other Companion Animals