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MANY rabbit owners do not understand the nutritional needs of their pet, leading to health problems in their rabbit. Because of this, the focus for this year's Rabbit Awareness Week, from June 17 to 25, 2017, is getting the nutrition right for pet rabbits, and focusing in particular on the importance of feeding high-quality hay and grass as the majority of their diet.
A rabbit should eat its bodyweight in hay and grass each day, which should be about 85 to 90 per cent of its diet, the rest being made up of leafy greens and pellets rather than ‘muesli’-style food. It is also vital that the hay is of high quality and not bedding hay. John Chitty, president of the BSAVA, said owners should ‘smell the cliche’ when choosing hay; if it smells nice that was a good way to judge quality. He also emphasised that rabbits shouldn't be fed lawn cuttings and that carrots should only be given as a treat as they were too sugary to appear everyday in the diet.
The pet rabbit population in the UK has been estimated to be between 900,000 and 1.1 million. The PDSA Animal Wellbeing report found inappropriate diet was the number one issue identified by vets that needs addressing in rabbits. Up to 75 per cent of owners fed hay and 75 per cent fed pellets as the main food source. However, 31 per cent of rabbits were not being fed enough hay in their diet.
Richard Saunders, veterinary advisor to the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, said that the health benefits of hay are ‘incredible’, and that some of the biggest welfare problems for rabbits from dental and gastrointestinal disease to obesity and fly strike are often caused by poor diet.
To mark Rabbit Awareness Week, which is in its 11th year, practices around the country are running health check events and vaccination, microchipping and neutering clinics. A PR toolkit, including a poster (pictured), is available to download from the Rabbit Awareness Week website at www.rabbitawarenessweek.co.uk. Last year's Rabbit Awareness Week was supported by over 4000 veterinary practices and retailers.
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