July is known for its hot weather, barbecuing, and of course independence day and fireworks. But did you also know that this month is Adopt a Rescued Rabbit Month too? Rabbits are the third most surrendered animal to shelters in the United States (closely matched with birds), and the most common reason was the inability or reluctance to care for them. People think that rabbits are easy, low maintenance pets, when in reality, they do have specific husbandry requirements and veterinary care is essential to their health and well-being. This post will focus on considerations to think about for our fuzzy lagomorphs (no, rabbits are not rodents) friends.
- Rabbits have specialized gastrointestinal physiology
There are entire medical book chapters dedicated to the gastrointestinal tract of rabbits! The GI system of rabbits is often a cause of illness and so it’s important to understand the physiology as well as nutritional requirements. The large intestine is what is exceptionally specialized and it has two parts: the cecum and the colon. The cecum is essentially a fermentation vat and helps to break down fiber and starch. The colon is able to separate digestible and indigestible particles. What is really neat, is that digestible particles are propelled backward, into the cecum, where they can be further fermented and broken down. The cecum also houses fundamental bacteria and other microbes.
- Fiber should be a diet staple
Fiber from hay is crucial for your rabbit’s health, and it keeps their gut moving the way it should. A rabbit who doesn’t get enough fiber can have decreased gastrointestinal motility, known as GI stasis. If food is trapped in the GI tract too long, this can change the microbiome that is so important, permitting bad bacteria to take over. Ensuring your rabbit has plenty of fiber in their diet, will guarantee that their gut motility remains sufficient.
- Healthy teeth make a happy rabbit
Rabbit teeth are known as elodont, which means that grow continuously throughout their life. They also have something known as anisognthaism which literally means “unequal jaw”. Their lower jaw is narrower than the upper jaw. These two features can cause dental disease in rabbits quite commonly, especially without the proper diet (see #2 above). When rabbits eat hay or other proper vegetation, they chew in their normal, horizontal fashion. This is compared to when they eat denser, more solid food items such as pellets, and they chew more vertically. This leads to decreased tooth wear which eventually leads to overgrown teeth. This can cause quite a problem, especially when it causes them to stop eating.
These are just a few features in the rabbit’s anatomy and physiology that makes them so special! Rabbits can make wonderful pets, but it’s important to understand how to practice good husbandry to give them a long and healthy life.