Animal Guide: Rabbits
This text is reproduced from Bunny Nature Website.
Dwarf rabbits are folivorous/herbivorous (plant-eating) small mammals and belong to the taxonomic order of lagomorphs. They are mainly active at night and twilight (nocturnal and crepuscular), very sociable and live in social groups in the wild. As pets they should never be kept alone. They feel best as a couple (a castrated male and a female) or also in larger groups. Dwarf rabbits have a life expectancy of approximately 8 to 12 years. They will reach a size of about 50 cm and a weight of around 2 kg.
Rabbits originally come from south-western Europe, but have quickly spread to the north-east. In the wild they live on meadows and at the edge of the forest and prefer open countryside with low vegetation of grasses and herbs. Rabbits can often also be found in parks and gardens.
As "folivorous/herbivorous" (plant-eating) animals, their diet consists of different varieties of herbaceous plants. Nature supplements this food supply with roots, vegetables and fruit.
The rabbit’s natural habitat is exemplary for the development of RabbitDream species-appropriate products.
Just like all other small mammals, rabbits have very specific nutritional requirements.
The digestive system is of particular importance for a healthy and active life.
The upper and lower jaw feature two incisors each. The two additional pin teeth behind the upper incisors have no function. The incisors and molars of rabbits have one thing in common: they continue growing for their entire lifetime. And that at a rate of circa 8 mm a month.
a) the teeth must be in the correct position to enable abrasion, so that they do not grow out of control.
b) The choice of food is a very important factor for optimal dental abrasion of the incisors and molars. What is required is a rough fibrous structure.
A rabbit’s stomach – so-called stuffed stomach – has few muscles and little power of contraction, meaning that it is unable to move the chewed food pulp to the lower bowel segments.
This is instead done by the subsequent portions of food, so to speak.
This also explains why rabbits eat 80 to 120 small portions a day on average.
These portions must be suitable for maintaining adult animals or also to help young rabbits grow. This will help to avoid digestion problems and obesity.
The large appendix is the so-called fermentation chamber. This is where the fine particles of crude fibre are turned into proteins, B-complex vitamins and vitamin K by special bacteria.
The material from the appendix is then packaged up into small round moist pellets called caecotropes (they look like a bunch of grapes and are covered by a mucilaginous membrane), which the rabbit needs to eat again. This is a natural process that is of vital importance for the animal's health.
Required Calcum Intake:
Rabbits have a special calcium metabolism. The calcium provided in their body is mainly found in the bones and teeth. The provision of calcium in the diet is hence particularly important for maintaining the animals' health.
But too much calcium can on the other hand also lead to urinary gravel or even bladder stones in adult rabbits, as it is excreted by way of the urine. Selecting the right food components is therefore very important.
Optimal calcium contents in the basic nutrition
Young animals: 0.9%*
Adult animals: 0.6%
*Young rabbits need higher calcium contents than adult rabbits because they have not stopped growing yet.
Importance of crude fibre to starch ratio:
Crude fibre is particularly important for the health of rabbits: for their digestion activity, their appendix, and for dental abrasion by means of the rough fibrous structure. A good food should include around 20 % of crude fibre.
Starch is mainly an energy supplier and should be provided in the food in limited amounts. A reference value for good food is less than 7 % starch. Any more than this would imply a suboptimal energy supply.
Misalignment of the ratio between crude fibre and starch can lead to health problems in the long term:
Too little crude fibre will lead to constipation, changes in the intestinal flora and malfunction of the appendix.
Too much starch will lead to feeding breaks, changes in the intestinal flora, wind, diarrhoea, fermentation and obesity.
Looking at these arguments makes clear why veterinarians recommend a minimum ratio of 3:1 between crude fibre and starch.
How can I find out how much starch is contained in my pet food?
Particularly helpful for this is the composition: whole grains (with the starchy endosperm, or floury portion), field beans, potatoes and peas are an indication that a higher starch content is to be expected.
Keeping & Environment:
Rabbits do not like to live on their own. We would recommend to keep a couple of one castrated male and a female. If uncastrated animals of the same sex are kept together they may start to bite one another as soon as they reach sexual maturity. Rabbits should not be kept together with guinea pigs or other rodents. The animals communicate in different manners, which can lead to conflicts.
Cages are best placed in a location that is not exposed to draughts or direct sunlight. Elevated locations are best because the animals have a better view and hardly feel like being a prey. The optimal ambient temperature is between 18 and 22° C.
The recommended minimum size for two rabbits is 150 x 60 x 50 cm (W x D x H). In addition to this they need to run about outside the cage every day, which needs to be supervised. Only then will they be able to enjoy their natural behaviour such as extensive hopping, exploration of their environment and playing with their partner.
The appropriate furnishings are particularly important if rabbits are to also feel at home in their cage. Amongst other aspects, this includes a little house measuring at least 35 x 20 x 35 cm for every animal. Rabbits also like to keep an eye on everything. Every hutch should therefore also include an elevated lying area. The food should be provided in stable clay or ceramic bowls, and the water best in a drinking bottle or another bowl. A drinking bowl has the advantage that the animals will drink more, because this way of drinking promotes their natural behaviour. An adequate amount of hay must be provided in a coverable hay rack every day.
It is best to use a litter that is absorbent and binds odours and ammonia. Most suitable are litter types made from linen or straw, as well as cost bedding or Bed O'Linum.
Keeping the animal outdoor:
Rabbits can be kept outdoors all year round. There is a need to ensure that they are protected from draughts, direct sunlight, rain and predators. It is also important to protect the enclosure from being undermined. If rabbits are kept outdoors in winter it is important to know that their metabolism will change, their fur will become thicker, and that their respiratory tracts will be exposed to greater stress than in summer. Their demand for vitamins and protein will increase. The chosen food should cater to these requirements. Also required for the winter is a frost-free shelter or small house.
Sign of diseases:
How can I tell if my pet is sick or feeling unwell?
It is important to observe your pet every day. Only when you know it well, you will be able to tell, if its behaviour changes, if it turns away or separates from the group or the keeper, or if it drinks and feeds less, for example. Weight loss and changes in the defecation or urination behaviour can also indicate an illness. Sick animals furthermore often show a reduced grooming and cleaning behaviour. Their fur will look more ragged as a result. Indications of pain for example include an arched back, a crouched, curled up posture, bristled fur, half-closed eyes and grinding of the teeth. If one of these symptoms appears, the animal should be seen by a veterinarian in any case.