The Greatest Myths Of Rabbit Nutrition

The Greatest Myths Of Rabbit Nutrition

“It’s easier to smash an atom than a prejudice.”

Albert Einstein

1. “Rabbits should be given 100 grams of vegetables per kilogram of body weight per day.” (100g rule)

This rule was established many years ago on the Internet as a rule of thumb for the amount of fresh fodder required. It was not a question of an ideal quantity but of the need necessary for survival. At a time when people were supplementing hay and dry fodder with some vegetables, the rule helped them to realize that a certain amount of fresh fodder was important for rabbits.

Unfortunately, the rule was so unquestioned and years later still placed in a completely wrong context and presented as an ideal quantity.

Rabbits in the wild almost only eat fresh food, so the amount is not sufficient to survive in everyday life to provide them with a balanced diet. It is always recommended to feed so much green fodder that it will last until the next meal and to supplement this with fruit vegetables, tuber vegetables and little fruit (as treats). Fresh food, such as hay, should be available around the clock.

One says “the Internet never forgets”, but it is apparently less the Internet and more the circle of keepers who for years carried this rule on and held on to it without questioning it. Probably because it is easier to pass on a rule than to deal more deeply with the subject. We experience this again and again when owners demand clear rules and plans. These give many owners the assurance that they are doing everything right.

*Note: The rule has been reformulated in the meantime: “Basically, you should always give so much that it will never be eaten completely! As a rough rule of thumb: a rabbit needs about 80 g fresh fodder per 1 kg rabbit weight in winter with little green fodder to survive (to get enough vitamins and nutrients so that there are no deficiency symptoms). The amount of vegetables really needed depends on the quality and composition of the fresh food and the requirements of the individual animal. […] Basically, rabbits are allowed to eat their fill of vegetables…”

2. “Wet fresh food is incompatible and causes digestive problems.”

Whether a rabbit eats wet fresh food or takes dry fresh food and drinks with it, it does the same: water and fresh food in the digestive tract. Both are completely unproblematic, as long as the rabbit is used to fresh food. Wild rabbits also eat wet fresh food on rainy days without any problems.

Many breeders and keepers feed wet fresh food without ever having had any problems, as is confirmed by scientific experiments.

But how did this rumour come about?

In one respect, wet fresh food is to be seen more critically than dry food: A pressed fresh food stored in warm or sunny conditions, which is also wet, ferments particularly quickly and fermented fresh food does not get to the rabbit. Therefore one should always store fresh food loosely and do not leave wet fresh food lying around for too long.

3. “The basic food of rabbits is hay.”

Wild rabbits are Folivore. They feed on a wide variety of wild herbs, leaves, roots and young grasses. Our domestic rabbits still have an almost identical digestive tract and the same nutritional requirements. Their basic food is therefore meadow herbs and grasses. Hay, on the other hand, is dried grass (and sometimes a little dried herbs), and during the drying process a lot of liquid and vitamins and nutrients are lost. Hay is therefore not on a par with the natural staple food, but merely a non-perfect substitute for the staple food of our rabbits.

See: Between deficiency and abundance: The secret to a diet that meets your needs.

Hay is inferior and one-sided in comparison to the actual basic food (meadow herbs).

4. “Rabbits must eat all the time.”

Studies have shown that adult rabbits eat about 50-80 meals a day. They do not eat continuously, but in many small portions. How often they nibble on the food depends on the type of food (energy content, palatability…) and the attitude (boredom…). There is no question of constant eating. The right thing would be: “Rabbits need a wide range of food around the clock and eat smaller quantities throughout the day. The main portion of the food is taken up in the twilight times.

5. “In the past we used to feed dry food, today we feed dry food-free”.

Depending on where one starts “earlier”, this statement is more or less wrong. Dry rabbit food has only been on the German market since 1953. Previously, rabbits were fed without industrial feed. It was not until 1953 that people started to feed rabbits with ready-made feeds. Today, they are moving away from this again because the disadvantages and consequences have become known.

6. “Herbs have a medicinal effect and should therefore be fed little. On the one hand they can cause side effects in healthy rabbits, on the other hand they are no longer effective in case of illness”.

The natural staple food of rabbits are herbs, they are ideally adapted to a herb-rich diet. The above statement probably refers more to the human being who is an omnivore. Human nutrition is not comparable to rabbit nutrition. An animal, whose basic food is herbs, has no problems with their utilization.

That herbs, which were fed before, do not work in the case of illness any longer, is wrong. On the contrary: By the regular herb admission many diseases can be prevented. Special storage methods, drying methods and special procedures (wraps, infusions etc.) are used to ensure that herbs unfold their full effect.

The herbs packaged in pet shops are therefore usually less effective. However, rabbits can handle the effects of different herbs perfectly and select them accordingly in order to achieve self-medication or to compensate for undesired effects. See also Self-medication and selection behaviour

7. “Herbs/carrot green etc. contain too much calcium and should not be overfed.”

Since the staple food of our rabbits is herbs, it is of course absolute nonsense to claim that their staple food is not ideal. Rabbits specialize in the absorption and utilization of herbs.

Nevertheless, here is the explanation of the calcium problem again:

Calcium is a vital mineral that must be added to the body through food. Normally also calcium surpluses are no problem, because the high water content in the natural food of our rabbits (herbs consist to approx. 80% of water) dilutes it and so it is excreted again without problems. However, if the water content is lower (concentrate feeding – hay is also a concentrate!), the calcium accumulates in the organs in concentrated form. Due to the lack of water, a concentrated calcium slurry is formed, which deposits well. If more water were available, it would never come to this concentrated form of calcium, the water would dilute the calcium and easily rinse it out (with a lot of water it comes to a good flushing) and deposits would not occur at all. The culprit of many bladder and kidney diseases is therefore not calcium, but first and foremost dry feeding – which is unnatural.

If one feeds a lot of fresh food appropriate to the species, then calcium is not a problem. It becomes a problem with concentrate feeding, especially if the concentrates contain a lot of calcium (dry food, hay…). Dried herbs have on average a lower or similar calcium content compared to hay.

8. “Rabbits must eat a lot of hay. If they don’t, there’s something wrong and they should be forced to do it.”

Rabbits often prefer to eat fresh food rather than hay and the owners are very worried because their rabbits do not eat large amounts of hay. However, rabbits know what is good for them, so they prefer fresh food. Hay is only a substitute for fresh meadow plants (the actual staple food of rabbits), it is vitamin- and water-poorer than fresh fodder and therefore disadvantageous as fodder. If rabbits do not eat hay, this is therefore not problematic at all, if it gets many grasses, herbs, leafy vegetables etc. in return. This is even much healthier than a hay-heavy diet.

If you feed a lot of meadow green or other leafy fodder, the rabbit will automatically eat little hay and choose the healthier food (fresh fodder).

9. “Rabbits can’t select poisonous plants.”

A myth, which holds itself quite stubbornly, since many owners are understandably afraid to poison their rabbits. However, rabbits have the possibility to perceive plant poisons with their senses (taste, smell…). Since poisonous plants produce their poisons to keep predators from eating, anything else would be nonsense. Rabbits take a test bite, with which they learn to assess the plant. It even goes much further: rabbits are able to use the toxins in plants by consuming them specifically for diseases. Our industry uses these active ingredients in drugs. I have summarized more detailed information on this topic here: Selection behavior in poisonous plants

By the way, today animals are used in research to determine non-measurable differences in food. Animals, for example, prefer organic vegetables to conventional vegetables in the laboratory, without humans finding a significant difference in the laboratory with state-of-the-art test methods!

The selection ability of rabbits, however, also has its limits! For example, highly poisonous plants should not be offered. The selection behavior is complicated by an insufficient attitude and feeding.

10 “Fodder plants with many essential oils are not suitable as fodder”.

Essential oils are diverse and their effects are just as diverse. Fennel, for example, contains many essential oils and these have a digestive regulating and antispasmodic effect. Essential oils are among the bioactive substances, a deficient supply of bioactive substances leads to various diseases according to today’s state of science. They are attributed a health-promoting effect by scientific studies in the human field.

Essential oils give plants their healing effect and protect them from predators, bacteria, viruses and fungi. Secondary plant substances have an anticarcinogenic effect (against cancer), antimicrobial, antiviral, antispasmodic, expectorant, antithrombotic, antioxidant, immunomodulating, calming/stimulating and anti-inflammatory. They lower cholesterol levels and influence blood sugar and blood pressure.

Essential oils primarily contain monoterpenes, which have a positive effect on various diseases (especially respiratory diseases, digestive disorders). In concentrated form they can easily damage the health (irritate the mucous membranes, cause allergies), but if essential oils are fed in the plant and in a varied diet, they have a positive effect on the health of our rabbits. The food plants of wild rabbits contain a lot of essential oils, which are therefore an important component of the feed.

11. “All cabbage varieties and clover must be banned from the diet because they have a bloating effect”.

Cabbage is indeed a wonderful winter food, wild rabbits often feed on cabbage, because cabbage is the only thing that still stands on the fields in winter when there is snow.

12. “Feeding a lot of fresh food leads to stomach overload or other digestive problems.”

Rabbits consume an average of thirty meals a day. If fed rationed, the rabbit is forced to eat two main meals and to distance itself far from the natural “30 meals”. Wild rabbits have a wide variety of food around them around the clock – hundreds of herbs, grasses and other plants. Rabbits are therefore able to manage their food well.
But how does the feeding of unlimited fresh fodder affect the digestive tract and eating behaviour? If one feeds rationed, the rabbit hastily stuffs the food into itself because it is used to having only hay available afterwards and no species-appropriate feeds (meadow herbs etc.). Furthermore, it takes only main meals at the times when it receives fresh fodder. If, on the other hand, it always has a wide range of food at its disposal, it can comfortably eat its 30 meals without having to loop – as in nature. An ad libitum diet is therefore very gentle on the digestive organs, as the natural eating rhythm is not disturbed. Stomach overloading occurs, however, when the rabbits are starving to a portion of fresh food and cannot get enough because they know that there will only be one-sided hay afterwards.