Last week, we were lucky enough to have been joined by Guen Bradbury for another fantastic live webinar on “Managing Bodyweight in Rabbits” sponsored by Burgess Pet Care.

As there was so much content to get through and so many fantastic questions, we didn’t get the chance to get through them all, but Guen has kindly answered any questions about “Managing Bodyweight in Rabbits” that were missed below! If you missed the webinar or want to recap, you can catch it here

How do I encourage exercise in rabbits? Is walking rabbits appropriate?

Good question. Best to think about ‘activity’ not ‘exercise’ in rabbits – you want to increase the amount of time that the rabbit spends moving around in its day, not increase the amount it moves in a set one-hour period. Best way to increase movement is by requiring the rabbit to graze – it then has to move around to find its food. If you can’t do that, scatter hay or place hay in multiple different areas of the enclosure, scatter pellets (if you use them), and ensure you have a big enough enclosure that varies enough (moving toys, access to the outside, etc.) that stimulates the rabbit to explore it. Walking rabbits is not appropriate – being confined in a harness is very stressful for a prey rabbit, they have no dependence on humans so don’t follow humans, and there is a risk to the rabbit’s health if it is anywhere near dogs.

Many people feed cabbage or kale. But isn’t it important to stress a variety of greens and not just one or two vegetables especially if we want them to eat hay and vegetables and limit pellets or not feed pellets at all?

Yes – we should encourage as much variety as possible. However, bear in mind that the most variety (given that it’s 80% of diet) will be in the hay – so it’s essential that owners feed good quality hay. Leafy greens should be a very small part of the diet, so if there is less variety there, it’s not the end of the world…

You recommend bulk buying hay. In my experience non-commercial bales having given my pets mites or is full of dust. I purchase big bales from pets at home. Is this what you mean? She is a normal BSC but is hay and nugget. What about the risk of parasites within the hay?

Hays can contain dust and parasites. Pet-ready hay should not. A small proportion of horse hay bales may contain parasites. You have to judge the hay when you buy it and work out whether or not you want to take the risk. If you have a good supplier of quality hay, stick with it!

How do you advise to build in seasonal variation in a rabbits diet?

Fairly easy for a rabbit grazing grass outside, much harder with a rabbit that cannot graze. However, recommend that owners pick and offer fresh weeds, fresh tree branches, and grass – this will introduce an element of seasonal variation into the diet.

Is malnutrition ever seen in rabbits? Do concentrates need to be given if a rabbit is pregnant or feeding?

Yes – malnutrition is seen – typically in rabbits with dental disease that can’t eat enough food, or in obese rabbits that can’t eat caecotrophs from their anus. However, in young healthy rabbits, a diet based almost entirely on hay and grass does not cause ill health.

We do recommend concentrate foods for lactating does and growing rabbits. The work hasn’t been done, so we apply the precautionary process and recommend concentrate foods so we don’t cause problems.

Can rabbits get problems from eating a lot of fresh grass in the spring?

Great question. A rabbit that grazes throughout the year should self-regulate effectively and not encounter problems on spring grass. However, rabbits that rarely eat grass and that are given a large pile of very lush spring grass may have gastrointestinal distress. Rabbit diets should be transitioned slowly to avoid microbiome disruption.

Do you find that nuggets/muesli being sold in large bags encourages owners to feed it as a staple?

Yes definitely. Similarly, selling hay in small bags encourages owners to feed small amounts. Definitely something that should be considered.

Is it ok to separate a pair of rabbits at feeding time? As I’ve always been advised to keep rabbit pairs together at all times as the rabbit bond is so complex. Thank you, Val, from Tamworth UK

I would avoid separating them by reducing the difference between feeding time and non-feeding time (by ensuring they always have access to good quality fresh hay), and increasing the area over which any food is scattered. That reduces the competition between rabbits for food. If you do need to supplement one rabbit with food, I suggest that you sprinkle a few nuggets on the floor for one rabbit to find, and you get the other rabbit to eat nuggets from your hand (more efficient). Otherwise use distraction – give a puzzle feeder, for example. There shouldn’t be justification for fully separating rabbits in order to give them food – you should be able to find a way to differentially feed them without resorting to that 🙂

The webinar was a huge success, with a 98% quality rating from attendees and was jam-packed with useful information about educating owners about diet in order for rabbits to maintain a healthy bodyweight, and enable their rabbits to have a good quality of life.

Below are just some of the lovely comments we had from attendees:

Thank you for taking the time to provide this material online in easily accessible webinars that can also be revisited as well (really useful for refreshing my memory on certain facts)!

Guen Bradbury is an excellent and confident speaker. The talk was incredibly interesting, and I look forward to further talks from her, sponsored by Burgess. Thank you very much.

Really professional talk. Speaker was excellent, all content was easy to understand (1st year) and learnt a lot from both the talk and the Q&A

Thank you very much for the great webinar, many thanks to the speaker for sharing their extensive knowledge

A huge thank you to Burgess Pet Care for sponsoring this webinar!