Particularities of feeding of domestic rabbits

Feeding guidelines in rabbit production. Conditions for achievement a stable healthy gut flora (bacterial population). Particularities of functioning of the animal digestive system. The role of proteins, calcium, and phosphorus in the rabbit's diet.

Рубрика Сельское, лесное хозяйство и землепользование
Вид статья
Язык английский
Дата добавления 12.02.2018
Размер файла 25,7 K

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Bobina G.N.,

Olentsova Y.A.



Bobina G.N., Olentsova Y.A., Krasnoyarsk State Agrarian University, Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

Rabbit production is widespread in many countries. It is important to feed rabbits correctly. An incorrect diet can be the underlying cause to many health problems. The best food for rabbits is grass and wild plants as they are palatable, low in calories, high in fibre and wear the teeth down.


Rabbit production is developing into significant agricultural enterprise in the United States and in many other countries. It is important in several European countries, such as France, Spain, and Italy, where rabbit is regarded as a gourmet meat.

Domestic rabbit is cage-raised, it lends itself more readily than other farm animals to handling by people with special needs and opens up a new field of activity for them. They derive a great deal of satisfaction from producing meat rabbits, spinning Angora wool and garments, or just raising rabbits as pets.

Rabbits are strict herbivores that eat a variety of plants in the wild. Although they prefer grass and leaves, they can digest more fibrous foods and are able to survive on sparse vegetation. They do not need a high calorie diet, as their digestive system has evolved to use bacterial fermentation to break down fibre and form nutrients.

Rabbit's teeth are continually growing and being worn down, to cut and grind food before it enters the stomach. Any undigested food that reaches the colon is split into large and small particles, and sent in opposite directions. The small particles pass into the cecum, which is the fermentation chamber full of bacteria. These bacteria break down the particles to form volatile fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and other nutrients. Large particles that are difficult to break down pass rapidly through the colon, are compressed, and are excreted as hard fecal pellets. Once or twice a day, the motility of the colon changes and the cecum (fermentation chamber) contracts to expel its contents as slightly larger, softer fecal pellets. These are known as cecotropes.

Rabbits eat these pellets of feces, the cecotropes. They are often consumed as they come out of the anus, and are a rich source of nutrients. If this cycle is broken, it disrupts the healthy bacteria that live in the rabbits digestive tract. In very young rabbits, this can cause death by enterotoxemia, i.e. overproduction of toxins by a population of bacteria that is unbalanced and out of control. It can take a while for a rabbit to achieve a stable healthy gut flora (bacterial population), hence why young rabbits are so susceptible.

Leafy green vegetables are very good, such as spinach, cabbage, kale and carrot tops. Remember that when a new food is introduced, it can cause a flurry of cecotropes, which must not be interpreted as diarrhea.

Rabbits on a low fibre diet tend to produce softer cecotropes which can stick to the fur around the anus, especially if the fur is fluffy. If this same diet is high in calories, as many of the commercial ones often are, then the rabbit is more likely to be fat and unable to reach their anus to eat the cecotropes. The end result is that a foul smelling mass of matted fecal material accumulates under the tail which is unpleasant for both the rabbit and the owner. Moreover, the skin under the matted feces becomes sore and the smelly, moist area attracts flies.

Feeding guidelines are as follows.

А cup of pellets weighs about 4Ѕ ounces. The actual amount necessary depends оn the individual rabbit's metabolism and the pellet's caloric content.

Fresh vegetables are important and low in calories. For each pound of body weight, pet rabbits can be fed ј cup daily of mixed vegetables, such as alfalfa or radish sprouts, carrots and carrot tops, broccoli stems and flowers, mustard or turnip greens, and spinach. High starch vegetables (e.g., corn, peas, beans) shou1d be avoided because they can cause overgrowth of cecal bacteria and enteritis. Leaf crops with а high moisture content and low fiber can cause diarrhea, so they shou1d be fed in limited amounts. Iceberg lettuce is especially bad in this respect. Treats or pellets containing seeds, nuts, dried corn, or honey should be avoided because they are too calorie-rich and because their poor digestibility can lead to cecal impaction. Healthy treats include small amounts of fruit (especially bananas), raisins, or oatmeal. Treats can be used to monitor appetite and to reward good behavior. Nutritional supplements, such аs vitamins and salt blocks, are usually unnecessary for pet rabbits. Fresh water should always be available.

Plenty оf grass hay is essential for good pet rabbit health. Нау propels fur through the gut and thus reduces the risk of cecal impaction and gastroenteritis. Нау also satisfies the rabbit' s need to chew and helps in litter training. Grass hays, such as timothy, brome, orchard, and seedless oat, should be fed. Mixed grass hays give the rabbit а chance to "forage" and help prevent fussiness over food. Legume hays, such as alfalfa and clover, should be avoided for pet rabbits because these are too rich in protein and calcium. The protein can lead to problems with overproduction of cecotropes, which in turn leads to growth of undesirable bacteria in the cecum. The calcium can cause urinary bladder sludge. However, because hay is so important for stabilizing the gut flora, feeding а clover-based hay is preferable to feeding no hay at all. Various research experiments carried out in many countries (especially France) in the last 20 years or so have resulted in reliable recommendations for the manufacture of rabbit feeds for meat and milk production in temperate European conditions.

The experimental technique consists of manufacturing feeds in exact but varied mixes, feeding them to rabbits and assessing production by weight gain or number and weight of young in a litter. The best feeds are thus established and the best mixes selected, allowing nutrition experts to draw up recommendations for several categories. The most common feed categories in intensive European rabbitries are for breeding females (lactating does, pregnant or not), young rabbits of weaning age (post-weaning or peri-weaning feeds, the latter also consumed by the mother) and rabbits for fattening. Also included in the range supplied by livestock feed manufacturers is a mixed feed that can acceptably cover the nutritional needs of all rabbit categories providing the breeder's objective is not maximum productivity (table 1).

Table 1. Feed intake and growth of New Zealand White rabbits aged between five and nine weeks, receiving ad lib a concentrated feed rich or poor in fibre, with and without wheat-straw pellets 5 mm in diameter

Fibre-rich feed

Fibre-poor feed

Feed composition, %







Crude fibre



Method of administration


+ straw


+ straw

Intake (g/day)






Wheat straw(S)





Total F and S





Gain in live weight(g/day)





These standards have been established for environmental conditions in Europe and are also based on the relative costs of nutrients in European countries. They are reference standards, but can be varied slightly for better economic performance according to locally available cheap feed resources. The upper and lower limits (which should not be exceeded) are listed at the end of this chapter.

Lactating does need the richest, most concentrated feed. They produce a milk three times richer than cow's milk, at the rate of 100 to 300 g per day, and have few reserves in relation to the demand made on them. The next category is growing rabbits (far more research work has been done on this than any other category). Young rabbits are followed by pregnant non-lactating does. Their feed can be slightly less rich than that of young growing rabbits. The last category is bucks, which do not need a rich diet.

The rabbit's response to the quality of the proteins in its diet, long a controversial issue, has now been established beyond doubt. Researchers have found that growing rabbits need feed that contains certain amounts of ten of the 21 amino acids that made up the proteins. These are called the basic or essential amino acids. With two additional amino acids which can partially replace two of the essential amino acids, this is the full list for rabbits: arginine, histidine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, phenylalanine plus tyrosine, methionine plus cysteine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. rabbit feeding digestive protein

Studies on the calcium and phosphorus requirements of growing rabbits have shown they need much less than lactating does. Does transfer large amounts of minerals into their milk: 7 to 8 g a day in full lactation, of which about one quarter is calcium.


1. Cheek, P.R. Applied Animal Nutrition: Feeds and Feeding (2nd ed.)/ P.R. Cheek. - Concord: Upper Saddle River, Nj., 1999. - p.391;

2. Manning, P.J. The Biology of the Laboratory Rabbit (2nd ed.)/ P.J. Manning, D.H. Ringer, C.E. Newcomer. - New York: Academic Press, Inc., 1994. - p.385;

3. McNitt J.I., Rabbit Production, eighth edition/ J.I. McNitt, N.M. Patton, P.R. Cheeke, S.D. Lukefahr. - Danville: Interstate Publishers, Inc., 2000. - p.493;

4. Patton, N.M. Domestic Rabbits/ N.M. Patton. - Danville: PNW Publication 2001. - p. 310;





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