This Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) we are talking diet! We’ve recently changed our rabbits and guinea pigs diet to what has traditionally been called a ‘Low Calcium Diet’. Following the advice of our exotic vet specialists we are now seeing this as the standard ‘normal’ diet that we recommend all our adopter’s should feed their new family members!
Check out the blog below which explains all…..
Whether you are relatively new to the bewitching spell of bunnies, or a lifelong, self-confessed rabbit addict, you will know the importance of making sure they are always passing plenty of droppings and eating lots of hay. You can tell so much about a rabbit from just looking at their droppings because the colour, shape, size and consistency reveal so much about their dietary habits and gut health.
At the RSPCA Manchester & Salford Branch it is part of the staff’s daily routine to go ‘poop sleuthing’ to make sure we have happy buns with happy guts. However, the staff are also trained to monitor each rabbit’s water consumption and urine output. This area is not so universally understood as important as ‘poop sleuthing’ but can provide vital clues about a rabbit’s health and in-so doing help you make the right choice as to what food (other than hay) to feed them.  In this blog we will explain why it is so important to become a ‘wee detector’ too!

A litter tray lined with newspaper and hay is the easiest way to monitor urine output

To help with your quest you will need to:
– Check your rabbit’s toilet area daily (it is helpful if they use a litter tray for this).
– Make sure the tray is lined with something that will enable you to see the urine/residue e.g. newspaper, megazorb.
– Know the size of your bowl or bottle (how many ml of water it contains) and you change/monitor it daily.
– Remember what you have fed them in the last 24 hours.
We prefer bowls to bottles but whichever method you use measure how much water it takes to fill so you can see at the end of the day how much your bunny has slurped!

Rabbit urine comes in all sorts of varying colours. It is knowing what is ok, that we need to get to grips with first. Please see our rough guide below, however if you are unsure please contact your vet ASAP.

Example of ‘milky’ wee (L) – a sign of too much calcium in the diet
Why do rabbits need a low calcium diet?
As humans, if we eat/drink more calcium than we need in a day then we simply excrete it in our number twos! Whereas with rabbits (and guinea pigs), if they ingest too much calcium it is, instead, processed through their kidneys and excreted through their urine. At first that doesn’t sound too problematic, that is until you learn more!
Rabbit (and guinea pig) urine has a high pH, which means it is more alkaline, and although this is a common feature of herbivores, it makes them more prone to urinary tract infections. To make matters even more concerning, because excess calcium is disposed of through urine, the high pH creates an ideal environment to turn the extra calcium into crystals, which can in turn develop into bladder stones! Rabbits can also build up calcium ‘sludge’ in their bladder, making it difficult for them to pass urine. All of these condition can prove very uncomfortable for a rabbit and can make them unwell.
Get into the habit of checking your bunnies litter tray – again this pic shows high calcium levels in the diet which we need to avoid.
With good diet management these conditions can be managed, or avoided altogether, so at the centre we check urine daily and whenever we see milky wee in particular we know it is a sign that we need to take action!  Previously we would just switch a bunny on to the ‘Low Calcium Diet’, but with us finding so many rabbits, so frequently, having noticeable milky, chalky wee we have taken the decision (after consultation with an exotic vet specialist) to switch all our rabbits and guinea pigs on to a ‘Low Calcium Diet’. After all, prevention is better than cure!
Mum and babies tucking in on romaine lettuce

What we feed daily:
– 90% Variety of hay – we primarily use farm hay bales with additional specialist meadow and timothy (we avoid hay in plastic, shrink-wrapped packets as often low quality and expensive). We use the Haybox for our specialist, fancy hay!
10% Variety of lettuce (Romaine lettuce tends to be best value for money)
Treats:
Fibastix, hay cookies and grain-free pellets (occasionally).
– Keep dried ‘forage’ to a minimum (as we can’t always be certain of calcium content).

What we now try to avoid:
– Alfala hay/treats
– Kiln dried grass (can be high in calcium and has caused issues with some adopter’s rabbits).
– Greens with high calcium content: spring greens, cavolo nero, kale, parsley.
– Milk based treats (they shouldn’t be eating animal products anyway!)
– Fruit or root vegetables (neither suitable for a rabbit digestive system).
Below is a table of what we feed our small furries on a weekly basis, a meal planner if you like!
A variety of good quality hay has always been at the centre of our rabbits diets and it remains so!
NB Please always seek veterinary advice if you have concerns about your rabbit’s health. They are prey animals and notorious for hiding signs of ill health until it is often too late. Keep a watchful eye for any subtle changes in behaviour, droppings, wee and appetite.
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