by Kimberly Whitfield, DVM
Rabbits, one of the cutest, unassuming pets, are also one of the most challenging to care for. When I jokingly call a rabbit a mini horse it’s because rabbits colic and need to have their teeth floated, just like horses. So a six pound lagomorph is really like a 600 + pound horse.
Just like horses, rabbits digest their food in their hind gut. This makes them very susceptible to gut/digestion problems. And the pain from gas can kill a rabbit.
Also, like horses, rabbits’ teeth never stop growing. Usually they are able to grind them down on their own when they meet properly. But sometimes teeth grow unevenly, creating peaks and sharp points. This can cause severe pain by poking and tearing at the lining of the mouth, lead to infections in the mouth, and also lead to a rabbit not eating, which results in colic. That’s why rabbits need to have their teeth checked during their annual physical exam. They usually will have to have them filed down sometime in their lives. How often this has to happen depends on their genetics and diet.
It is very important that rabbit owners make sure their bunny is eating regularly. It doesn’t take many missed meals to put a rabbit in serious trouble. It is also important to make sure they are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. Rabbits should have plenty of a variety of fresh greens, have hay available at all times, and have a small amount of pellets daily.
Feeding a high-quality food is essential. Just because a food has lots of colors doesn’t make it the best. In fact it’s just the opposite. There are some fantastic foods out there and I usually recommend Oxbow to my clients. Rabbits should have alfalfa hay and pellets when they are young because they need calcium for proper development. Once rabbits are older, however, the calcium actually can lead to problems like bladder stone formation. So a rabbit’s diet should change as it grows.
Dr. Whitfield practices at the Animal Medical Center on Merrimon Avenue, Asheville.