Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Providing A Healthy Diet

Bunnies have incredibly delicate digestive systems. It is of utmost importance to provide the correct foods in the correct amounts to ensure a healthy bunny!

Importance of providing a healthy diet:
  • maintains a healthy and efficient digestive system in the bunny.
  • maintains and improves the overall health of the bunny.
  • wears down the bunny's ever-growing teeth naturally, preventing malocclusion (overgrown teeth)
  • prevents obesity
  • prevents GI stasis (gastrointestinal stasis), a condition in which the bunny's gut slows down/stops.

The following are the correct foods a bunny should eat and the amounts they should be given:

1. Timothy Hay
  • Amount: No matter the age of a bunny (excluding unweaned baby bunnies, of course), he/she MUST eat unlimited Timothy hay. When the bunny finishes the given amount, DO NOT hesitate to place more.
Oxbow Timothy hay and how it looks like.

  • Why hay?
    • The muscles in the intestine need something to push against to move food through the gut. Hay provides roughage and fibre for a bunny's gut to move efficiently.

      If a bunny does not consume a high-fibre diet, this could lead to a severe, potentially fatal-within-days condition called GI stasis, in which the bunny's gut slows down/stops moving.
    • Chewing hay wears down a bunny's ever-growing teeth properly, preventing malocclusion (overgrown teeth).
    • Munching on hay reduces a bunny's stress and feelings of boredom. This is important when it comes to the well-being of a bunny. A stressed bunny tends to lose his/her's appetite.

  • Types of hay
    • There are actually two main types of hay: Timothy hay and Alfalfa hay. Timothy hay is high in fibre. Alfalfa hay is high in protein and calcium, lower in fibre.

      Oxbow Alfalfa hay and how it looks like.

      Difference between Timothy hay and Alfalfa hay

    • For young bunnies (below 6 months old), along with unlimited Timothy hay, offer 1/4 cup of Alfalfa hay daily. Protein and calcium are important for growing bunnies.
    • For adult bunnies (above 6 months old), it is NOT recommended to feed them Alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay would be too high in calories and protein for an adult bunny.

  • Important things to note about hay:
    • If you noticed the hay you purchased has mould, dump the whole package immediately. Bunnies have delicate digestive systems; eating spoiled food could easily lead to severe problems.

  • Consequences of eating too much hay? 
    • As far as I know and researched, there are absolutely NO adverse effects when a bunny eats large amounts of Timothy hay. The idea of offering unlimited amounts of a certain food might sound strange, as other popular pets such as dogs and cats only have 2 - 3 meals. Bunnies are completely different, their digestive system needs to be constantly moving. Besides, the bunny will stop eating when he/she is full.
    • However, too much Alfalfa hay will have a bad effect. The bunny may get addicted to it, refusing to eat Timothy hay. Although somewhat yummier to bunnies, Alfalfa is much lower in fibre compared to Timothy.

2. Pellets
  • Amount: 
    • 2 - 6 months old: 1 tablespoon full in the morning, another tablespoon full in the evening.
    • 6 months and above: 1 tablespoon in the morning, 1 tablespoon in the evening. (1 tablespoon for every 2lb the bunny weighs.)

  • Why pellets?
    • Pellets - provided they are good and sold by a reputable brand, not simply carelessly packed in a random plastic bag - provides nutrients and calories missing from other foods the bunny consumes.

  • Important things to note about pellets:
    • The above is my recommendation. However, no matter the brand of pellets you choose, DO NOT ever purchase the following type of pellets:

      Colorful pellets - they usually have a high sugar content, despite claiming to be made of vegetables or carrots. This makes the bunny selective; he/she starts choosing sweet foods, such as the pellets, only.

      Pellets mixed with nuts/grains/seeds/corns/oats - the added foods are dangerous to bunnies. This is because these foods, when in the intestines of a bunny, produces gas. A built up of gas causes a loss of appetite and may eventually lead to GI stasis.
    • So, make sure the pellets you purchase are generally brown in colour and contains nothing else except for the pellets themselves.

      This is how Oxbow Essentials Adult Rabbit Food looks like.
      Other safe rabbit pellets would look similar to this.

    • If you notice any of the pellets are discoloured or mouldy, please do dispose of the whole packet and purchase a new one. Bunnies have delicate digestive systems, and it's always better to be safe than sorry.

  • Consequences of eating too much pellets?
    • The bunny may become obese. Obesity in bunnies causes other problems like liver disease, heart disease, arthritis, and respiratory issues.
    • Reduces amount of hay the bunny consumes. There is not much 'space' left in the bunny's little tummy after he/she finishes the pellets. And less hay consumes means less fibre in a bunny's gut, which leads to an inefficient digestive system.

3. Vegetables and herbs
  • Amount: 
    • 2 months and below: No veggies yet! 
    • 3 - 5 months:  ½  cup of mixed greens daily for every 2lb (~1 kg) the bunny weights. Split into 2 - 3 feedings.
    • 6 months and above: 1 - 1½ cup of mixed greens daily for every 2lb (~1 kg) the bunny weights. Split into 2 - 3 feedings.
    • Note: Herbs should only make up about 1/4 of the total amount of greens.
    • Tip: Imagine the vegetables being grinded up into paste and loosely packed into a measuring cup to estimate the amount.

  • Why vegetables?
    • Increases the bunny's daily water intake. Water helps the gut to move smoothly.
    • Vegetables contains fresh and natural nutrients which pellets and hay may not have.
    • Boosts the bunny's mood and makes him/her happy! Bunnies absolutely love fresh vegetables.

  • Types of vegetables:
    • Baby bok choy
    • Cabbage
    • Chye sym
    • Kale
    • Kangkong (aka 'water spinach')
  • Types of herbs:
    • Basil
    • Cilantro (aka 'coriander' or 'Chinese parsley')
    • Mint
    • Parsley

  • Important things to note about vegetables:
    • Feed your bunny a variety of vegetables (2 - 3 types) every day, switch the types of vegetables fed every week.

      Some vegetables are high in a certain substance and could have unhealthy side effects to the bunny when consumed consecutively for a period of time. For example:

      Kangkong - high in oxalic acid/goitrogens
      Sweet potato leaves - high in protein
      Cabbage - high water content (may cause soft stools or even diarrhoea if consumed in excessive amounts) 
    • It is essential to wash the vegetables to remove chemical pesticides.
    • All vegetables must be fresh. DO NOT give your bunny cooked vegetables.
    • Vegetables kept in refrigerators should be taken out 15 minutes prior feeding, so that they wouldn't be chilling-cold when your bunny eats them. Rinse slightly with clean, drinking water to wet the vegetables as well.

  • Consequences of eating too much vegetables?
    • Reduces hay the bunny consumes. Bunny's head is filled with yummy vegetables only. Again, this means that the bunny would eat less hay!

4. Fruits
  • Amount: 
    • 2 months and below: No fruits yet!
    • 3 - 5 months: 1/4 teaspoon daily for every 2 lb the bunny weights.
    • 6 months and above: 1 teaspoon daily for every 2 lb the bunny weights.

  • Why fruits:
    • As fruits are sweet treats, it boosts the bunny's mood and makes him/her happy.
    • Increases bunny's water intake. Water helps the gut to move smoothly.
    • Fruits contains natural nutrients which pellets and hay may not have.

  • Types of fruits:
    • apple (remove skin, seeds and stem)
    • banana (remove peel)
    • blueberry (it is advisable to split a berry into several parts to prevent choking)
    • carrot
    • grape (remove skin and seeds)
    • guava (remove skin and seeds)
    • mango (remove skin and seeds)
    • papaya (remove skin and seeds)
    • pineapple (remove skin and seeds)
    • pear (remove skin and seeds)
    • strawberry 
    • tomato (remove seeds)
    • watermelon (remove skin and both white and black seeds)

  • Important things to note about fruits:
    • Wash all fruits thoroughly to remove the chemical pesticides on them.
    • If there are parts of the fruit you would not consume (eg: slightly flattened/brownish), DO NOT give them to your bunny.
    • All fruits given must be fresh. DO NOT give cooked/flavoured/dried fruit to your bunny.

  • Consequences of eating too much fruits?
    • Reduces bunny's hay intake. Bunny's little head is filled with delicious fruits only - and this leads to reduced consumption of hay.
    • Fruits are high in sugar. Consuming too much fruits cultivates an environment suitable for the growth of harmful bacteria in the bunny's gut.

5. Water
  • Amount: Fresh, drinking water should be available for your bunny at all times.
  • Why water? (Other than the fact that it's needed by all living beings)
    • Water allows the gut to act smoothly. Without water, a bunny may have slight constipation even if he/she eats a lot of hay.
  • Important things to note about water:
    • Even it isn't finished, change your bunny's water at least twice daily to prevent bacterial growth.
    • Offer the water you would drink to your bunny. DO NOT give tap water. Bacteria and other potentially harmful substances are present in tap water, which is why humans don't usually drink them either.

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