Dry Food

 

TIP – The main thing to remember, is to view giving bunnies the dry pellets/mix as a complementary food.  So don’t give too much as they are greedy & will over eat. This will then result in them becoming fat & having health problems. View hay & grass as their main staple diet.

Dry food should only make a small portion of your bunnies diet. Some bunnies have a diet very much like their wild cousins, no dry food just a grass/hay based diet. These bunnies are getting enough nutrients from their diet without the need for dry food.

A wild rabbits’ diet consists of a high volume of low nutrient food e.g grass. The pellets/mix is the opposite, it is a small volume of high nutrient food.
Wild rabbits have to spend a lot of time grazing because of the low nutrient food they consume. This  huge amount of grazing means they are continually wearing their teeth down & constantly keeping their guts moving.
It is difficult for a domestic rabbit to replicate the wild rabbits grazing as it is very hard to give the rabbit the amount of space & freedom needed. This is where the hay & grass comes in to play with a domestic rabbits diet.
They need to keep grazing to wear those continually growing teeth & keep their guts moving, so providing hay/grass can help replicate the wild rabbits diet. Obviously, a domestic rabbit cannot continually graze on dry food as they would become obese.

When you’re looking for a good based dry food it can be a bit of a minefield as there are so many.  For me personally, the fibre content in the food has definitely got to be one of the ingredients that is well within the limits. Fibre is important as it keeps the guts moving & keeps them healthy. However, you also need to take into account the other ingredients. I used The Rabbit House site for nutritional analysis to decide what the best food was for my bunnies. Click here to go to their site for a comparison of dry rabbit food.

Any muesli based food should generally be avoided, & food containing fruit, fed only as a treat. The muesli & fruit dry food often doesn’t have the correct dietary requirements, in particular the fibre is often quite low & the fruit can lead to a high sugar & high starch content. They also promote selective feeding & this can lead to health problems like obesity, which in itself brings a whole load of problems including teeth issues, gut problems & diarrhoea.
Often the problem with dry food is usually down to the owner giving the rabbit too much. This is usually combined with no hay or little hay, giving too many treats on top of the food & not enough exercise. All this leads to obesity which will shorten a bunnies life.  Read My Experience below to see why I changed from muesli food to pellets.

The amount to feed your bunny is not easy to put an exact figure on. Opinions out there seem to differ significantly & keep changing on exactly what is the recommended amount. I personally think it is all down to each individual rabbit, what type of food you feed
& how much exercise they have. Click here to read about the quantities I give mine & how I came to these amounts.

MY EXPERIENCE

When I first started keeping rabbits, the only food you could buy them back then was the muesli based. Up until 2016, all my rabbits were fed on a muesli mix & very few of them had gut or teeth problems. Any teeth issues were caused by genetics or were age related.
Non were overweight or did selective feeding.  This was because a measured amount was given to each pair & if any food was left by the next feed then a reduced amount was given & their weight monitored.  They also had access to plenty of hay.

In 2016 the death of one of my rabbits forced me to have a rethink on the type of food I was feeding them. His name was Hank & he was a 2 year old male. He had been fed in the morning as usual & there was nothing untoward, by lunch time he was dead. At the time a lot of my bunnies had passed away through illness & age including Hank’s partner just 2 days before.

Hank

I decided to have a post mortem on Hank & it was found he had a perforated stomach.  In his stomach was a mass of compacted food which had caused an obstruction in his guts.  No fluid or gas could exit his body so his stomach burst killing him.  This happened in less than 12 hours.  The vet said the cause was he’d been given too much food.
I struggled to understand how it could have happened as the amount of muesli food hadn’t changed for years & it was always carefully measured.  I wondered if the stress of losing his partner & the muesli food were not a good combination.
The bunnies who were left had all been affected by a death & became extremely upset over the huge change in their family.  The stress meant lots of gut upsets & despite my best efforts I could not get any of them right for long periods of time, even when they had all got new partners & settled.
It was thought the muesli food was not helping & in light of what happened to Hank,  if they were eating more of a natural diet their guts may have coped better with the stress & maybe Hank would not have died. I also had several other reasons for changing their food to pellets.  These were:

  • The amount of dust found in the food seemed very high which was not good for them in particular Rumble as he had an allergy & dust set him off.
  • Lack of hay being eaten. There were some good hay eaters but there were also some bunnies who barely ate any even though I encouraged them with endless tempting ways.  I also noticed that these bunnies tended to be more susceptible to gut issues, namely gut stasis.
  • Over the years the colouring of the food had become brighter & I had misgivings about giving such highly coloured food.

In all honesty though, it was Hank & the gut upsets that motivated me to change their food as I could not risk it happening again.  If it did & I hadn’t done anything… well, it wouldn’t have sat well with me. I know there is a possibility it could happen with pellet food but I feel it is a lesser risk.

Initially I moved everyone over to Burgess Excel pellets.  Most bunnies moved over to it reasonably well with just a couple protesting but they eventually came round. I noticed the gut issues did reduce & slightly more hay was being eaten.
However, I did further research on dry food & I noticed that Burgess Excel was at the lower end of the recommended fibre & that was the main ingredient I definitely wanted to be well within the recommended amount. The amount is a minimum of 18%, Burgess was 19%. The fibre is what helps their guts stay healthy & working.  Also once again, there seemed to be a lot of dust.  Ever since I noticed the dust issue even with the muesli food I have sieved their food.

Burgess Excel taken out of the bag. Not sieved yet. Notice the dust.
Burgess Excel being sieved.
Dust from the Burgess Excel.
Burgess Excel sieved & ready for use.

After extensive research I came across a pelleted food that contained everything within the recommended amounts especially the fibre which is 23% in this food.  The food is a natural rabbit pellet by Allen & Page.  I moved them all on to this food except Rumble & Bubbles, Bubbles was ill at the time & didn’t need any more stresses.  I have to admit, initially most of them were not keen. They did come round in the end though.
The first thing I noticed is that they all ate a huge amount of hay along with all the pellets, this was great on the hay side of things but also meant weight gain.  So I took each individual pair & reduced their pellets until their weight remained the same each week.
I was really surprised just how much hay they were all eating, most of them were eating double the amount they were before. I was very pleased as I would prefer them to eat hay rather than the pellets.  Since the change over, only one out of them in just over a year has had a gut upset & that was partly because they had a health issue.
The other thing I noticed was how well all their coats were looking, they had a real shine to them! Their poo was looking better too, bigger & browner.

As with all dry rabbit food, you are always going to get a certain amount of dust because in transport all those pellets will rub each other.  The Allen & Page pellet is a much more compact pellet than Burgess, so it produces less dust.

Allen & Page Natural Rabbit Pellets.
Allen & Page taken out of the bag. Not sieved yet. You can barely see the dust.
Allen & Page being sieved.
Dust from Allen & Page. Might be hard to tell from the photos but the Allen & Page definitely has less dust than the Burgess Excel.
Allen & Page sieved & ready for use.

But I didn’t stop there, I admit I had got a touch paranoid about these gut upsets especially since Hank’s death.  So I also put them on to a food called Fibafirst.  It is a hay based food & comes in sticks. The fibre is 30% in this food. They all love these & they smell great.

Fibafirst Box. 2kg.
Fibafirst sticks.
A Fibafirst stick.


My Dry Food Quantities & How I Calculated the Amount

In my experience the quantity has all come down to the individual rabbit. My Flemish Giant, Teddy, eats less pellets for his bodyweight than the smaller rabbits.  This is because he eats a ton of hay.

Initially, I gave 4 scoops of the Allen & Page pellets to each pair of rabbits except Teddy & Daisy. I gave 6 scoops to them because of Teddy’s size. This amount was given twice a day.

My scoop.

I also weighed them every week.  The first couple of weeks everyone started to lose weight but then I started to see an increase in their weight.  It must have been at this point they were all eating more hay. I also noticed they were drinking more water which corresponds with a greater hay intake.

So I decided to reduce the amount of pellets they were given. I deducted 1 scoop of their morning feed & continued to monitor their weight. They were still gaining weight & a further increase in hay consumption was happening.  So I reduced again, deducting 1 scoop of their evening feed. This worked & their weight’s stabilized. I had added the Fibafirst sticks by this point, 2 for Teddy the Flemish Giant & 1 each for everyone else per day.

Below is my dry food quantities for each pair of bunnies & their hay consumption. I have also added their approximate weight to give an idea of the size of the rabbits.

Toffee & Patch. 
Approx. weight:  Patch – 2kg. Toffee 2.1kg.
Amount of dry food:  3 scoops twice a day & half a Fibafirst stick each twice a day.
Amount of Hay:  Patch ate a batch of hay that is the same size as her per day.  Toffee eats slightly less per day.

Annie & Thumper.
Approx. weight:  Annie 2.5kg. Thumper 2kg.
Amount of dry food:  2 scoops twice a day & 1 Fibafirst stick each twice a day.
Amount of Hay:  Annie eats a batch of hay that is slightly greater than the size of her. Thumper eats roughly the same.

Teddy & Daisy.
Approx. weight:  Teddy 6kg. Daisy 2.7kg.
Amount of dry food:  2 scoops twice a day & 1 Fibafirst stick each twice a day.
Amount of Hay:  Teddy & Daisy eat a batch of hay twice the size of Teddy per day.

Rumble & Tilly.
Approx. weight:  Rumble 2.1kg. Tilly 2.1kg.
Amount of dry food:  4 scoops of Burgess in the morning & 4 scoops of Burgess in the evening. 1 Fibafirst stick between them per day. See Rumble & Tilly’s food change over story below.
Amount of Hay: A handful each.

In the summer months, less hay is eaten because my rabbits have access to the outdoors allowing them to eat grass. They prefer grass to hay.  Their water consumption reduces too as the grass provides moisture whereas the hay doesn’t.

Rumble & Tilly’s Food Change Over.

Rumble & Tilly

Rumble & Tilly’s change over to the Allen & Page came later than the others. Rumble had another partner, Bubbles, who was ill at the time I changed the food over for everyone else. I did not want her to have any more stress so kept them on the Burgess.  Her illness continued for several months & only when she died & Rumble had a new partner did I start the change over. These two have been the most resistant to this food. Rumble has never been a really good hay eater, he does eat some everyday but never as much as everyone else. Tilly when I brought her home was indifferent to the hay.

Once bonded & Tilly was fully settled I started to make the change over.  This was in Jan 2018, I initially started with just one scoop of the Allen & Page mixed in with the Burgess that they were on at the time. Often the Allen & Page would be left in their dish until very late in the day after a mornings feed. By each mealtime though the dish was empty.
I had a reasonable amount of Burgess to use up so I did a mixture of one third Allen & Page & 2 thirds Burgess mixing it in a tub. Once that tub was done my next mix was two thirds Allen & Page & one third Burgess. In March the Burgess was used up & they went fully onto the Allen & Page much to their annoyance. This is when a huge battle of wills commenced. For the next month they barely ate any of it leaving a lot most days.
As the weeks rolled on they continued to eat very little of it.  I was weighing them every week & unsurprisingly there was a lot of weight loss. I was so concerned I spoke to my vet. He advised that their weight shouldn’t drop any lower than 20% of their normal weight.
That basically meant neither could go below 1.75kg, Rumble was dangerously close weighing in at 1.81kg. Tilly was doing ok at around 2kg. I was reassured by the vet that they would not starve themselves to death but I did wonder especially knowing how stubborn Rumble could be.

We had now just got into May & at last I started seeing some improvement.  Rumble had gained a little weight & Tilly had remained the same. It didn’t last for Rumble as the following week he lost again.  However, things had changed.  They were now having regular access to the outside & were getting a lot more exercise.
The Allen & Page was being eaten most days but the 3 scoops they were getting twice a day was only enough to maintain their weight without so much exercise. So that explained why most of the food was going yet there was still some weight loss.  I  increased their food to 4 scoops twice a day with the aim of them both gaining some weight. I continued to monitor & throughout the summer we were pretty up & down with the weights especially Rumble.  As we headed into 2019, Rumble stabilized but by May he was losing weight & so was Tilly.  Rumble had an infection caused by his allergy, it was quite severe as it had got on to his chest.  It took several weeks of antibiotics to get him over it & when Rumble was ill, Tilly always stressed & reduced her food intake. No dry food was being eaten & not enough hay. In a desperate bit to keep him eating I changed their food back to Burgess Excel, it worked. He started to eat more & so did Tilly.  His infection had gone now but he was back to losing weight. This time it was a behavioural issue, in the summer he is so relaxed outside he cannot be bothered to come inside for his food. He was eating but only a very small amount of dry pellets, all veg was being eaten by both & a little hay. My plan for now is to keep him ticking over & when winter is here & he isn’t outside I will see if there is a weight gain. If not it’ll be the vets. His allergy seems under control at the moment & obviously if there are any other signs of illness he will go to the vets sooner.

Update: Rumble steadily improved & as of 2020 had gone back to eating normally. However, in May of 2020 Rumble sadly passed away.

Rumble so relaxed he can’t be bothered to go in for food. He does practically stay like that all day!

I had to have a lot of tough love with Tilly & Rumble as I believe that the Allen & Page food is the better food for them especially if it increases their hay intake. The fact that they beat me in the end is ok as at least I tried, & I understood with Rumble’s allergy it was important not to have him stressed & to keep him eating. I like the Allen & Page food because it pushed all my bunnies over to eating a lot more hay than they used to, & I would prefer them to eat hay to pellets.  This is my routine that works for my bunnies in maintaining their weight & keeping them healthy. I should also point out they have vegetables, forage & on occasion fruit.

In my opinion you have to find what works for you & your bunnies.  Not every rabbit runs well on pellets.
As for the muesli mix, I found it doesn’t usually have enough fibre in it. My muesli mix only had 11.8% of fibre whereas the recommended amount is a minimum of 18%.  For the poor hay eaters that wasn’t a good diet. If your rabbits eat a lot of hay & you aren’t overfeeding the muesli mix then it is likely the hay eating will compensate for the lack of fibre.  I know nowadays you are made to feel a ‘bad’ bunny parent if you feed the muesli mix but if it is working why change?

If you are trying to change your bunnies food for the better but they are used to ‘sweeter’ foods, treats & lots of fruit & veg, they will definitely put up a fight & refuse the hay or pellets.  It’s a battle of wills sometimes but you’ve got to hold fast on your tough love, they will have a much better, healthier life in the end.  The most important thing is not to overfeed them, make sure they are having the correct nutrients & make sure they are eating plenty of good quality hay.