Posted: 21 September 2016
What do you do if your patients wont eat?
Hand feeding is an option, and works well with dogs and cats, but with rabbits it’s quite challenging. Syringe feeding may be another option, but in many instances it’s better to try to encourage them to self-feed first.
As a species they need to eat regularly. If they are unwell and go without food for even a day, they can become significantly at risk from gut stasis and hepatic lipidosis.
Rabbits are a prey species, and as such become unsettled if they feel threatened. It’s therefore very important to ensure they feel safe and secure for them to feed willingly.
Encouraging self feeding
- Keep away from predators – never house your herbivore patients in the same room/ward as dogs, cats or ferrets. The sound and smell of hunting animals will stress and unsettle them.
- Cardboard cover – a simple cardboard box placed into the housing and feeding area will allow the rabbit or guinea pig to hide if they feel uneasy. Lots of loose hay or shredded paper will also provide areas that give a sense of security.
- Crepuscular feeders – rabbits normally feed in the wild around dawn and dusk so it’s particularly important to be aware of the length and strength of light. You may have to move them to somewhere darker and quieter if you are to expect them to feed alone.
- No bright lights – sometimes it helps to turn some of the lights down to reduce the overall brightness. As a result your patient will feel less exposed and at risk.
- Monitor temperature and humidity – monitor your ward and ensure they don’t become too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. A hot panting patient will be too stressed to eat.
- Two’s company – herbivores are generally very social animals, and will feel stressed and uneasy if alone. It helps to bring a pet companion into the clinic with your patient. Together they will comfort each other and make it more likely that they will eat.
- Minimise disturbances – herbivores like to be left alone when feeding, so once you know they are active, eating and foraging, let them get on with it.
- Water all the time – always ensure there is plenty to drink. It’s accepted that many rabbits that are unwell will drink from a water bowl if slightly dehydrated. Offer fresh clean water in a bowl and from a dropper bottle, and change it every day.
- Hay nets and racks – rabbits generally like to pick and choose their food to select the best. Small hayracks work well as do feeding balls that you can fill with good quality hay and herbs. Try stuffing cardboard tubes with fresh hay.
- Hay as bedding – by using fresh dust free hay for bedding, many rabbits will selectively eat whilst settled in their comfy secure bedding area.
- Beware dust and mold - many owners will buy hay from local farming or agricultural supply stores in the form of bales. There is however a risk with hay bought this way. Dust and mold spores are very common, and will potentially cause respiratory inflammation and infections. We’d generally encourage rabbit owners to buy dust and mold free hay in smaller quantities to ensure it’s fresh.
- Familiar food – encourage the owner to bring in some of the animal’s normal food. This way you can check to see exactly what the animal has been fed recently, and you will ensure that you don’t risk them not eating by sudden changes in diet.
- Change diet gradually – if you are hospitalising a patient for some time, and require them to be fed a better quality diet, make the change gradually over several days.
- Scatter food – some rabbits select their food off the floor. You may get some success by placing small piles of healthy fresh and dried herbs and grass around the housing or run. This encourages them to move about foraging.
- Use flowers – many fibrevores will select food on colour. Flowers are often a favourite, including yellow dandelions (so common as a week for much of our spring and early summer). Broccoli and rocket flowers are also yellow and are often enjoyed later in the summer.
- Herb garden – it’s well worth investing in some grow bags or large pots outside the practice where you could grow fresh herbs. Rocket, rosemary, parsley, thyme and mustard are ideal, cheap and easy plants to start with.
- Only buy the best – there are some excellent products available for rabbits that will encourage them to eat. At Burgess Pet Care we can deliver the promise of affordable quality.