Diet is a very important part of maintaining your pet rabbit’s overall health. In general, it should be a balance of a high quality pellet, timothy hay and fresh vegetables. Fruits can also be given, but should be more like a treat and in limited quantities.
A rabbit’s digestive tracts are designed to constantly be moving and the fiber content of hay maintains its gut motility. Interestingly, a rabbit’s gastrointestinal tracts are very similar to horses. Chewing hay is also important in preventing their teeth from becoming overgrown since their teeth are constantly erupting.
In the evening, you may observe your rabbit licking/cleaning its rectum and eating some of its droppings. There are a variety of terms describing this, but the most common are “night pellets” or “cecal pellets.” These “pellets” are typically softer and greener than the normal hard, round feces. They come from the cecum, which is part of the digestive system where fermentation of food takes place. They are rich in vitamins and nutrients, which are needed by your rabbit to maintain good health.
Common medical problems that rabbits are seen for include: overgrown, fractured or abscessed teeth, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal problems, parasites, hairballs and unfortunately cancer. Many of these problems can build off of one another, which puts a rabbit in real crisis. Symptoms that owners should monitor for include: discharge from the eyes or nose, sneezing, decreased or no appetite, decreased stool production, bloating, head tilt, or any masses.
A very important thing to keep in mind is proper handling of rabbits. Rabbits should be securely held while always supporting their hind limbs and back. They are prone to neck and back injuries which, if severe enough, can lead to death.
Another important aspect of their care is spaying and neutering. Rabbits are at high risk of developing cancer, which can be prevented with surgery. Other benefits include increasing their overall longevity, reducing the urge to urine mark, and generally having a calmer demeanor.
Make sure and consult with your veterinarian to see if they work with rabbits.
Brittany Yates, DVM, is with VCA Desert Animal Hospital in Palm Springs. She can be reached at email@example.com.