Rabbits are opportunistic eaters and prefer to graze throughout the day. A healthy rabbit diet will consist mainly of hay and grass given in an unlimited supply. While a rabbit will certainly eat dog food, giving your rabbit dog food is not a good idea.
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Dog food is typically high in carbohydrates, protein, and fat which a rabbit cannot quickly metabolize. High protein diets in rabbits can cause kidney and liver disease, which can be extremely serious and potentially fatal. The rich source of carbohydrates in dog food can cause your rabbit to become obese, leading to other potentially deadly diseases. Your rabbit should never eat dog food but instead eat a diet rich in hay, grass, and leafy green vegetables.
Rabbits should be healthy to ensure their skeletal and muscular structure stays strong while still maintaining optimum organ health. Rabbit obesity is a prevalent issue within the species due to its small size and the ongoing availability of sugary treats. Rabbit obesity can cause several health issues and drastically shorten a rabbit’s life.
The biggest concern with an obese rabbit is the multiple health issues that coincide with obesity. Some common diseases and conditions often connected with obesity include:
- Kidney Damage – While a dog needs plenty of protein in its food, a rabbit does not. Too much protein can lead to obesity and irreversible kidney damage. A rabbit’s digestive system is designed to process plant matter, and kidneys are strained when a rabbit is overweight or overeats protein.
- Urinary Tract Infections – Obese rabbits are prone to more urinary tract infections. Further, frequent urinary infections can damage the kidneys, leading to kidney disease. High-calorie foods which lead to obesity have more calcium, which can cause blockages and hard build-ups in the urinary tract.
- Dental Damage – Obese rabbits tend to eat foods outside of hay and grass that cause them to put on weight. Without grass, a rabbit doesn’t properly grind its teeth to keep them healthy. Instead, sugary foods or high carbohydrate treats can damage the teeth and lead to dental disease.
- Digestive Distress – Eating the wrong foods for a rabbit can quickly lead to obesity. When a rabbit is too overweight, its digestive tract is not functioning as it should. Rabbits need fiber and grasses to stay healthy. Sugary foods and treats, combined with dense carbohydrates, can lead to diarrhea or even intestinal infection or blockages.
It can be challenging to determine if your rabbit is too fat for its age, size, and breed. Rabbits are unusual in shape, and often their thick fur can make them appear larger than they are. To determine if your rabbit is overweight, consider the following advice for a healthy rabbit:
- Can you feel the hips, spine, and ribs? If these bones are hidden under a layer of fat, it could be challenging to feel them with light prodding.
- How do the ankles and tail look? Overweight rabbits often form fat rolls around the tails and ankles or sometimes get an extra fold of skin just under the chin.
- Does my rabbit have a defined curve? A rabbit should have a smooth curve that extends down to the neck and back up over the rump. No defined curve could indicate your rabbit is overweight.
Realizing your rabbit is overweight is the first step to helping your rabbit reach a healthy weight again. Typically, diet and exercise are the keys to helping your rabbit lose some extra pounds. If your rabbit is overweight, try to exercise your rabbit more often. Additional exercise could mean more time spent outside the cage hopping around or added enrichment toys to play with and chew.
The second way to get your rabbit to lose weight is to modify its diet. If your rabbit is heavier than it should be, immediately remove any treats, including fruit, from your rabbit’s diet. If, after eliminating treats, you notice your rabbit still needs to lose weight, you can eliminate pellets, leaving your rabbit with hay or a grass-only diet. Continue this diet for three to four months until your rabbit reaches an acceptable and healthy weight.
While dog food is certainly not the proper diet for your rabbit, eating only rabbit pellets could lead to obesity and an unhealthy rabbit. A rabbit’s diet should be all about balance, combining the right amount of minerals and vitamins for optimum health.
Related: Can Rabbits Eat Guinea Pig Food?
Maintaining an appropriate balance of the right foods will help keep your rabbit healthy. The bulk of your rabbit’s diet, about 75%, should be hay and grass. Your rabbit needs a continuous stream of hay and grass to keep its teeth healthy and get the right amount of fiber in its diet. Green leafy vegetables, like broccoli, kale, and spinach should make up another 15%. The remaining 5% of your rabbit’s diet should include high-quality rabbit pellets, fruit, and the occasional treat.
In addition to providing the right nutritional balance for your rabbit, ensure you give your high-quality rabbit foods. Give your rabbit a variety of hays and grasses, including oat grass, wheatgrass, alfalfa, and timothy hay. Ensure your rabbit’s pellets are high-quality, containing at least 12% protein.
Ensure fresh fruits and vegetables are organic if possible. Organic foods will ensure the plants have not been treated with harmful pesticides or insecticides. Always be sure to thoroughly wash any fresh fruit or vegetable before giving it to your rabbit, and remove any uneaten food from your rabbit’s cage after a few hours to prevent rot.
What Should I Do If My Rabbit Ate Dog Food?
Rabbits are opportunistic and will eat just about anything put within their reach. If your rabbit has accidentally nibbled some dog food, there is no immediate need to panic. Dog food does not contain any toxic chemicals or ingredients that could harm your rabbit.
Feeding your rabbit dog food intentionally or for longer periods could have detrimental health implications and is never recommended. If you notice your rabbit has ingested dog food, simply monitor your rabbit to make sure it does not have any health issues or digestive distress.
Always observe your rabbit if it has ingested foreign food or a potentially harmful substance. These small animals can decline quickly, so that astute observation can be pivotal. Some common symptoms that may indicate your rabbit is not feeling well include:
- Different activity levels, including lethargy or restlessness
- Glazed Eyes
- Vomiting or Diarrhea
- Drinking more water than usual
If you notice the above troubling symptoms, be sure to contact your veterinarian immediately. You may also reach out to the ASPCA or visit their website for medical advice on administering treatment for accidental poisoning or toxicity.
Although relatively robust and healthy, rabbits have a sensitive digestive tract with complex nutritional needs. While dog food will not immediately harm a rabbit, eating dog food long-term can have serious health complications. Not only can dog food cause obesity leading to related diseases and conditions, but dog food does not provide enough fiber essential for a healthy rabbit digestive tract. Instead, rabbits should be fed a balanced diet of hay and grasses, high-quality pellets, and green, leafy vegetables.