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How to provide nutrition to rabbits in the critical care setting

02 March 2022
9 mins read
Volume 13 · Issue 2
Figure 1. A basic representation of the digestive system of the rabbit.


Rabbits have been a popular domesticated pet for many years, with 2% of adults owning a rabbit and over 900 000 estimated to be owned within the UK alone, however, few people understand the requirements of rabbits for a happy, healthy life. They are often hospitalised for dietary issues (dental problems and gut stasis) and appetite change; providing the correct nutritional needs can be difficult, and the success of nutritional supplementation depends on the feeding route, frequency of feedings, and the quality of the diet fed.

As hind gut fermenters, rabbits and other lagomorphs constantly require low-quality roughage and fibre to ensure continued gut motility, because of their highly specialised digestive tract. Many factors can contribute to the development of gastrointestinal stasis, characterised as reduced motility of the digestive tract. This can be caused by incorrect, or lacking, nutrition, but also as a result of stress and some medications used within the practice (Prebble, 2012). As with many herbivores, rabbits themselves must digest a significant quantity of vegetation to meet their nutritional needs, with the caecum and colon being of greater importance than that of canine and feline species (Carabaño et al, 2010). Because of the special nature of their digestive systems, they also have more microbial activity in their digestive tract when compared to other species, to aid digestion of vegetation and roughage.

One major part of rabbit nutrition behaviour is the consumption of a special type of faeces called caecotrophs. These caecotrophs contain vitamins and amino acids produced by microbial activity, and are directly consumed from the anus (Pollock and Irlbeck, 2011). This process allows for a much more efficient digestive system as it enables the absorption of essential compounds that would be lost by other species.

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