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SMALL ANIMALS | VET ADVICE

IT'S TIME TO MOVE AWAY FROM MUESLI

Our friends at Burgess are on a mission to turn things around for Britain’s bunnies

Calling all rabbit owners! It’s Rabbit Awareness Week. According to the annual PDSA Animal Welfare (PAW) Report, inappropriate diet has been consistently cited by veterinary professionals as the top issue that needs to be addressed for the UK’s rabbits.

Muesli has the reputation of being a healthy, nutritious food for humans and the same approach has been used when marketing muesli-type foods for small pets. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. While pet owners may think they’re buying a nutritious mix of tasty nibbles, feeding a muesli mix to small animals such as pet rabbits and guinea pigs can result in all sorts of health problems.

Research undertaken by The University of Edinburgh reveals that muesli-based rabbit diets encourage selective feeding, where they eat some (high starch/sugar) components of the muesli diet, while rejecting the more fibrous pellets. Selective feeding in this way increases the risk of:

  • Dental disease
  • Obesity
  • Reduced faecal output potentially leading to gut stasis (a potentially deadly condition in which the digestive system slows down or stops completely)
  • Uneaten caecotrophs (sticky droppings) potentially leading to flystrike (where flies lay eggs around a rabbit’s rear, which then hatch into maggots that eat into flesh. Read more about flystrike in our blog post here)

All of these conditions are extremely damaging to rabbits’ health and welfare and can be fatal.

What’s more, according to the 2017 PDSA Animal Welfare (PAW) Report, 25% of owners still feed muesli. That’s around 280,000 rabbits in the UK who are being fed a harmful diet.

Move Away from Muesli

 

But the fight back for British bunnies has begun. The focus of this year’s annual Rabbit Awareness Week is to encourage all owners to ‘Move Away from Muesli’ towards a predominantly hay-based diet that includes some fresh vegetables and herbs and a small amount of pelleted food.

Burgess in-house vet Dr Charlotte Moyes says: “Around 85–90% of a rabbit’s diet should be high quality feeding hay and grass – that’s equal to their own body size in hay every day. Feeding rabbit hay is an excellent source of fibre, helps to maintain a healthy gut, reduces the risk of your rabbits getting tubby and serves to grind down their continuously growing teeth, helping prevent dental disease.”

Dr Moyes, along with the Rabbit Welfare Association, advise that the ideal bunny diet should consist of:

  • 80% (at least) unlimited grass or high-quality feeding hay – not bedding hay, which may have poor nutritional value.
  • 15% should be a variety of rabbit-safe leafy greens, vegetables and herbs such as carrot tops, cauliflower leaves, kale, mint, romaine lettuce, dandelion leaves, and leaves from hazel, willow or apple trees. Visit rabbitwelfare.co.uk for a list of recommended vegetables and herbs.
  • 5% of pelleted rabbit food – which is about one egg cup a day. This ensures they get all the vitamins and minerals they need.

Rabbit Awareness Week is organised each year by a coalition of partners, including Burgess Pet Care, various vet bodies and charities including the RSPCA, RWAF (Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund), PDSA, Blue Cross and Wood Green – ­The Animals Charity. The partners all have one thing in common – putting animal welfare at the heart of everything we do. Each year, Rabbit Awareness Week focuses on highlighting one key welfare issue to help improve the lives of UK rabbits.

Our articles are not a replacement for face-to-face vet advice. It’s important to consult with your vet on a regular basis to raise any pet concerns that you may have.

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