The importance of hay in a rabbit's diet cannot be overstated and a poor diet can lead to major problems with dental disease and obesity...
The importance of hay in a rabbit's diet cannot be overstated and a poor diet can lead to these very common problems.
Obesity can make it difficult for the rabbit to clean itself properly, leading to skin problems and "sticky bottom" which can in turn lead to flystrike, a potentially fatal illness. It puts more strain on the rabbit's joints, may cause fatty liver disease and is a major cause of "sore hocks", where the fur on a rabbit's hind feet becomes too thin and broken skin or abcesses occur.
Obesity in rabbits is usually caused by the rabbit being fed too much dry food and not enough hay. Any dietary changes should be made gradually and in consultation with your vet, particularly for very obese rabbits. Gradually reduce the amount of dry food and vegetables, always ensuring that the rabbit has plenty of hay to eat.
Dental disease can be hereditary but the leading cause is dietary. If rabbits are not fed the correct diet they do not receive the right levels of calcium and fibre needed to keep their teeth healthy. Overgrown teeth cut into the rabbit's tongue and cheeks, causing them pain. Often the first signs of dental disease will be that the rabbit is dribbling, dropping bits of food from its mouth or has stopped eating altogether.
Dental disease can be difficult to treat and much of it can be avoided simply by feeding the correct proportional diet of 80% hay.
Some rabbits will happily eat hay until the cows come home and some will only eat it under duress i.e. when there is nothing more tempting to eat.
Try your rabbit with different types of hay to see which they prefer while gradually reducing the amount of dry and fresh food you give them. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to totally cut out dry and fresh food but this should only be done in consultation with your vet. At no time should you "starve" your rabbit to force it to eat hay.
Top tip from a Bunnyhugga reader: rub some banana on your hands and then rub it through the hay - most rabbits can't resist banana and this should encourage even the fussiest hay eater!