Feeding pet rabbits
Rabbits are strict herbivores with a versatile appetite. They can remain healthy on a number of different diets. The best diet is one that the rabbit enjoys and will keep it occupied, slim and active. Dental disease, obesity and some gastrointestinal problems can be prevented by feeding the correct diet.
Rabbits are popular pets and the market for rabbit food is big. Many types of commercial foods are available and heavily marketed. The formulation of diets for pet rabbits is based on information gained from commercial rabbits, which are bred for their fur or meat. These rabbits have no individual value and do not live long in comparison with pet rabbits that can can live for 10-15years. Unlike commercial rabbits, pet rabbits do not need to grow quickly or reproduce prolifically so their nutritional needs are completely different. There is very little research into the nutrition of pet rabbits and the anecdotal experience of rabbit owners and breeders has been passed on. This has led to some myths and mistaken (or maybe unmistaken) beliefs, especially about poisonous plants.
In my opinion (as a vet and rabbit owner), the ideal diet for rabbits is grass, wild plants and a range of herbs and vegetables with some fruit and root vegetables ( despite warnings about sugars and starches. This diet is easier for those of us that have access to the countryside or have large enough gardens to grow enough weeds to feed our rabbits on but many owners do not have access to wild plants. They have to rely on the supermarket or greengrocer for leafy green plants for their rabbit. Fresh grass may not be an option so a constant supply of hay is necessary. A hay-only diet may not meet all a rabbit's nutritional needs and should be supplemented with leafy green vegetables and herbs and a small amount of fruit. On this type of diet, nuggets or pellets are optional. Although they are easy to store and convenient, they are fattening and are consumed quickly. They are useful for owners that find it difficult to provide a constant supply of leafy green plants or vegetables. Nuggets or pellets are essential for rabbits with dental problems that find it difficult to chew through hay or eat leafy green plants. The quality of nuggets and pellets varies between food manufacturers. Rabbit food manufacturers want to sell as much of their food as possible so the claims on the side of the food packets can be optimistic.
Muesli mixes and sugary treats are never a good idea, whatever it says on the side of the packet. These diets are responsible for many of the health problems that thousands of pet rabbits have suffered from since they came on the market. 'Suffer' is the right word for a rabbit that has a dental spur lacerating its tongue or has flystrike because it was so fat that it couldn't reach under its tail to eat its caecotrophs.