Pet rabbit obesity is an issue that needs to be addressed, a specialist nutrition and welfare conference has been told.
The second Rabbit Nutrition and Welfare Symposium, hosted by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association in central London, also heard every rabbit should have a rabbit sized bundle of hay a day, and commercially prepared food had an important role to play in supplementing a pet’s diet.
The event brought together over 60 pet food manufacturers, retailers, welfare organisations, vets and academics to discuss the latest science on rabbit welfare topics and how the sector can work together to improve the wellbeing of the 900,000 pet rabbits in the UK.
The collaborative event was a great success with renowned rabbit experts, including Dr Nicola Rooney, Richard Saunders MRCVS and Molly Vagra MRCVS, presenting on all aspects of rabbit welfare before agreeing three key messages for rabbit owners.
- A rabbit sized bundle of good quality hay a day
Hay was the buzz word of the day with all delegates in agreement that every rabbit should have a rabbit sized bundle of hay a day. Rabbits need a high level of fibre in their diet, and hay is the most common source of this for them. Hay quality is important too but a clear and simple message on quantity is needed for rabbit owners as a first step.
- Commercial rabbit food has a role to play
The experts agreed that commercially prepared rabbit food has an important role to play in supplementing a pet rabbit’s diet but portion control is vital. How to feed is considered as relevant as what to feed. Food provides nutrition but also creates opportunities for a rabbit to express natural behaviour through foraging (scattering feed, puzzle feeders) and bonding with owners (hand feeding), both enhance well-being.
- Fit bunny, not fat bunny
Rabbit obesity is an issue that needs to be addressed. Education on what is a healthy body shape for rabbits, increased opportunities for exercise and following feeding guidelines on rabbit food packets are the practical steps needed. Food (taken from the daily portion) can also be used to encourage activity, for instance, digging and foraging for food, reaching for food on higher platforms and in hanging devices.
Michael Bellingham, PFMA Chief Executive explained: “This seminar has been a highlight in our year. The range of delegates from industry to vets and welfare bodies, quickly reached consensus in all areas. Without doubt it is ‘hay all the way’ and there is a need to collaborate on education. We have all been working to improve rabbit welfare and what has become very clear today is the potential for us to do this more effectively if we all have a collaborative approach. We look forward to bringing the next steps to life.”
The PFMA Rabbit Size-O-Meter is a simple chart to help owners assess whether their rabbits are a healthy size. This is free to download at: https://www.pfma.org.uk/rabbit-size-o-meter