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RSPCA urges owners to take action on pet diet ahead of Rabbit Awareness Week

Lifestyle / Sat 22nd Jun 2024 at 03:40pm

THE RSPCA is urging rabbit owners to be aware that a poor diet risks wrecking the health of their beloved pet.

Ahead of Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) (June 24-28), the animal charity, along with its partners, wants owners to carefully consider the foods they offer their rabbits and ensure they take them to the vets for regular health and dental checks.

They say researching the welfare needs of one of the most neglected pets in the UK will pay off as common health problems, such as overgrown teeth which can hinder eating and prove fatal, can often be easily prevented.

Now – during Rabbit Awareness Week – owners will have the opportunity to download a digital pack full of advice, including tips on providing a healthy diet for their bunnies.

The lack of awareness for the welfare needs of rabbits is a major concern for vets who in a recent PDSA report* identified inappropriate diet as one of the five most important issues that needs addressing.

Rabbits have a complex digestive system and owners are storing up trouble in their hutches by failing to lay on simple feeds of grass, hay and leafy greens and pellets in favour of unhealthy muesli mixes. As well as causing problems with their guts, the wrong choice of food can cause dental disease, which has a big impact on rabbit welfare.

Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously and need to be worn down to the right length and shape with a diet of grass, hay and leafy plants which mimic what they would eat in the wild. Owners should provide their rabbits mainly (85%) with hay or grass and also feed greens, such as kale, cabbage or parsley (10%), along with 5% good-quality nuggets and clean drinking water.

RSPCA small animal welfare expert Dominika Jagoda said: “It is so important owners feed their rabbits the correct diet – unfortunately many don’t and that can lead to bad outcomes.

“Making sure that grass or hay make up a major part of your rabbit’s diet is vital for two very important reasons. It ensures that they have a healthy gut movement and it also takes care of their teeth which are growing constantly. The action of chewing long strand fibres of grass or hay wears the teeth down evenly in the way nature intended.

“If a rabbit isn’t eating enough hay it is constantly growing teeth and this can cause painful spurs that cut into the mouth, gums and tongue. A healthy diet means healthy bunnies.”

Making sure their rabbits are healthy should also pay off in the long run for owners as it can save money on costly vet care amid the cost of living crisis.

In recent years the RSPCA has seen a surge in unwanted rabbits at its animal centres partly because some owners have not considered the long-term costs of investing in food, vet care and adequate-sized accommodation.

While there has been a fall in the numbers arriving at the charity’s centres this year (up to the end of May) from 401 down to 264 for a similar period in 2023, there are still many rabbits waiting for new homes in private boarding accommodation (155 compared to 299) as rehoming rates from centres fall.

Between 2019 and 2023 the numbers of rabbits rehomed from RSPCA national centres dropped by 25% with many rabbits left waiting for new homes for months and even years.

Like Poppy, who has been in the care of RSPCA Suffolk Central Branch for two-and-a-half years and Coco and Lulu, who have been with RSPCA Crewe, Nantwich and District Branch for nearly a year.

Poppy originally arrived at the RSPCA with her sister, Lily, who sadly fell ill and passed away with a respiratory infection. Poppy has recovered from the symptoms of the snuffles but will carry it for the rest of her life. She has grieved for her sister by finding comfort in a similarly coloured rabbit teddy bear, which she treats as her companion (pictured).

Staff at the East Anglian branch have been trying to find Poppy an indoor home with no other pets, or along with a neutered male rabbit who has a similar diagnosis.

Branch manager Zoe Barratt explained: As Poppy’s infection is contagious to other rabbits it has meant her options have been really limited. We know the importance of rabbits having same species company as they can show signs of depression and loneliness without it.

“However, as she is so attached to her human companions we feel she’ll benefit from being in a home environment potentially without another rabbit, instead of spending the rest of her life in our care.”

Female duo Coco and Lulu (pictured) are very shy and timid, which staff at the Cheshire branch think is why they remain with them after arriving nearly a year ago. They are medium to large-sized crossbreeds with lop characteristics and would suit an outside home with an owner who can take both on.

Branch volunteer Katie Farrie said: “Sadly Coco and Lulu have been with us since July last year through no fault of their own. We’ve had little to no interest in them at all, which is a real shame as they are beautiful rabbits. We suspect it may be because they are exhibiting very natural rabbit behaviour and are not that keen on human interaction.

“A lot of owners want rabbits they can cuddle and interact with, but we’re hoping someone who has a knowledge of how to care for rabbits properly can look beyond that and give them a lovely new home together.”

Previously, the RSPCA backed calls by the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund for a rabbit breeding amnesty to help reduce the rabbit population and safeguard rabbit welfare.

There is more advice on providing a healthy diet for rabbits at the RSPCA website here.

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