A survey of UK veterinary professionals, carried out by Supreme Petfoods, found that they believe that less than 40% of all rabbits and guinea pigs are being fed correctly, with lack of owner knowledge on how to feed judged to be the major cause.
The main consequence of this is dental disease. On average, vet clinics are seeing 16 rabbit and guinea pig consults each month and 75% of these cases involve providing nutritional advice to improve health, the survey found.
Veterinary professionals identified that small pets are often being overfed concentrate that is too low in fibre, are not eating enough hay and not being given the correct amount of fresh greens. This has led to pets being presented with conditions such as dental disease and obesity.
In 44% of consults where a nutritional recommendation was made, the dietary change was recommended to help combat dental disease, while in 25% of cases, a dietary change was recommended to help manage weight.
Vets and vet nurses highlighted that they had significant concerns about the level of weight gain and obesity in small pets and have estimated that 55% of rabbits and 47% of guinea pigs are overweight. A further 13% of dietary recommendations were made to help support urinary tract health. In 19% of cases, a liquid recovery feed was used.
The fibre content of diets for rabbits and guinea pigs was reported as the most important decision-making criteria when making a nutritional recommendation and 32% of respondents said they looked for a rabbit food containing around 20-30% fibre; although 9% vets said that they were unsure about ideal levels.
A further 22% said they would look for a rabbit food with 70-100% fibre but this can’t even be achieved by feeding hay alone, which has a crude fibre level of around 35%. Although rabbits can live on hay and water alone, most experts recommend also providing some fresh leafy green vegetables and a measured amount of commercial feed to ensure vitamin and mineral intake.
Supreme Petfoods offers free rabbit nutrition packs, which contain rabbit care guides that focus on the correct amounts of hay, concentrate and fresh greens that should be fed, using an easy-to-understand visual guide.
To order free rabbit nutrition packs, veterinary practices and pet shops can email firstname.lastname@example.org.