Can you change from one rabbit food to another? Everything you need to know about how to change your rabbits’ food.
Are you thinking of changing your rabbits’ food? But don’t know where to start? Check out our guidance for how to safely switch your rabbits’ diet.
Or skip ahead to the relevant section for your bunny questions:
- Understanding our rabbits’ delicate digestive systems
- Why should I change my rabbits’ food?
- Do I need to tell my vet I’m changing my rabbits’ food?
- My rabbit is not eating its food - what do I do?
- How to change your rabbits’ food: Caution is key
- Step one: Choose the best rabbit food for your bunnies
- Step two: Start slowly replacing the old food with the new
- Step three: Keep an eye on your rabbits’ overall health and wellbeing
- Step four: Keep replacing your rabbits’ old food with their new food until their food has been completely replaced
A rabbit’s digestive system is extremely delicate. It’s also very clever and allows our rabbits to digest all the important nutrients and crucial fibre they need, even when they can’t do so the first time round.
Rabbits will eat their high fibre, tasty feeding hay and food. They can’t quite digest everything they need the first time, so they’ll excrete soft rabbit poo, or sticky droppings, called caecotrophs.
There’s lots of good stuff still left in there so they’ll then eat these caecotrophs again! This might sound strange but rabbits eat their poo because it means their bodies will have another go at digesting all the essential nutrients and fibre they need.
In general, rabbits are quite discreet about this process and will often hide away in their housing to do so. They’ll eat the soft droppings straight from their bottom, so you’ll rarely see them lying around. If you do notice any caecotrophs, or soft droppings in your rabbits’ housing, this is a sign something isn’t right, and we would recommend contacting your vet as soon as possible.
The second time round, rabbits produce hard droppings. These are the ones you’ll find in and around their rabbit housing and will need to clean out every day.
There may be lots of reasons to change the food your rabbits are eating. Here at Burgess Excel, we strongly encourage all owners to move away from muesli. We worked with the University of Edinburgh on research that revealed rabbit muesli diets encourage selective feeding. Selective feeding is when rabbits eat the sugary and high starch elements of the muesli diet, but leave behind the high fibre parts. Imagine if you gave children two plates, one filled with a healthy salad, and one filled with cakes and sweets - which one do you think they’d go for? Probably not the one packed the vitamins and minerals!
Muesli is bad for rabbits as selective feeding can increase your rabbits’ risk of:
- Dental disease - they aren’t eating enough fibre to help wear down their teeth which continue to grow throughout their lives.
- Obesity - overweight rabbits are more susceptible to conditions such as diabetes and pododermatitis (sore hocks or feet).
- Producing less rabbit poo - this can be a sign of a condition called gut stasis, which is a potentially fatal condition where the digestive system can completely slow down.
- Uneaten caecotrophs (the soft rabbit poo or sticky droppings) - if your rabbits don’t eat their caecotrophs, they are more susceptible to flystrike, a horrible condition where flies are attracted to the area and lay eggs. These eggs then hatch into maggots which eat into the flesh around their bottoms.
Other reasons you may change your rabbits food include:
- Your current food is out of stock or has been discontinued.
- Your rabbits have grown older and now need a tailored diet, for example senior rabbit food.
- You want to include more variety in your rabbits’ greens.
Generally you don’t need to let your vet know that you’re switching rabbit food brands. However, if your rabbit has a history of digestive issues, or any recurring health conditions, it is best to seek the advice of your vet.
Your vet may also advise you to change your rabbits onto a more specialist diet, suited to their needs. If they do, they will advise you as to the best way to move them across to the new food.
If you notice your rabbit is not eating, this could be a sign they are quite unwell. It does not mean they no longer like their food and you need to try something different. The best thing to do is to take them to your vet as soon as possible, preferably the same day.
While you wait to take your rabbit to the vet, keep an eye out for any other changes in their general wellbeing or behaviour. For example, are they producing the same amount of poo as normal, are they eating their caecotrophs, and has their normal behaviour changed? Keep note of anything unusual and let your vet know when you arrive. The more information, the better.
Your vet will likely give your rabbit a full check over, with particular emphasis on their stomach and abdomen. Rabbits not eating is a common sign of a condition called gut stasis. Gut stasis is where the rabbit’s digestive system slows down and sometimes stops completely. It is a very serious condition, and in some cases can be fatal. Generally the earlier you notice the signs and see your vet, the more chance of a positive outcome.
The best diet for rabbits’ is one that is high in fibre and carefully balanced with all the essential nutrients they need. The ideal diet for rabbits should consist of:
- 85-90% high quality feeding hay or fresh grass
- 5% extruded nuggets (not muesli!)
- 10% rabbit safe fresh greens
- The occasional healthy rabbit treat
- Constant access to fresh, clean water
Because our rabbits’ digestive system is so delicate, us owners need to be really careful if we decide to move our rabbits from one food to another. Even changing rabbit foods from the same brand, for example from a junior rabbit food, to an adult rabbit food, requires a careful transition period.
This also applies to fresh greens. If you want to introduce your rabbits to a new healthy green, it’s important to also introduce these slowly to reduce the risk of any tummy troubles.
If you are looking to change your rabbits’ pellets over, firstly look for a brand that has something formulated for your rabbits’ needs. Indoor rabbits can require a specialist diet with added vitamin D. Junior rabbits have a higher metabolic rate than adults, so look for a junior rabbit food with a higher protein level. If you've got some golden oldies at home, your senior rabbits could benefit from tasty nuggets designed just for them. For example, added glucosamine for ageing joints is good to look out for.
Although only 5% of your rabbits’ diet, rabbit pellets can play a vital role in making sure your bunnies get all the vitamins and minerals they need. In general, the signs of good quality rabbit nuggets are:
- High in beneficial fibre.
- Vitamin A and vitamin C to support the immune system.
- Vitamin D3, which has an important role in calcium absorption, vital to support bone and dental health.
- Vitamin E has an antioxidant function which aids the body’s natural defences.
- Formulated with minerals such as zinc for healthy skin and coat, iron to support the blood, and copper for nerve function.
- Made with tasty ingredients, like mint or oregano, which ensure your bunnies love their nuggets, but also sneak some additional fibre into their diet.
Our Burgess Excel rabbit nuggets are high in fibre and made with a carefully formulated balance of nutrients, designed for your rabbits. For junior rabbits, our Junior and Dwarf rabbit food contains elevated levels of protein for those growing buns. The unique formula of our Burgess Excel Light Rabbit Nuggets helps to promote lean body mass, with L-Carnitine to support the correct weight. Our tasty adult rabbit food range includes a variety of flavours, including mint, oregano and Nature’s Blend, a recipe inspired by the Great British hedgerow.
All of our rabbit nuggets are made at our very own factory, in the heart of Yorkshire. We make our rabbit nuggets using a process called thermal extrusion. Most of the ingredients that make our nutritious nuggets are ground down into a fine flour and mixed together. We then add steam and water to make a soft mixture which can be pushed through a piece of equipment called a die plate. The die plate is what gives our nuggets their shape.
Using heat in our nugget process has great benefits! We know our rabbits need a high fibre diet, and using heat means the starch in our food is gelatinised. Gelatinised is a word we use that means cooked. By cooking the starch it can then be easily digested by your small animals. Using heat in our process also ensures any harmful bacteria or viruses are killed before our pellets are in your rabbits’ food bowl.
Due to the complexity of your rabbits’ digestion, rabbits can be sensitive to food changes so it takes 14-28 days to completely transition your bunnies onto new rabbit nuggets, or a new fresh green. In the first few days, measure out your rabbits’ normal nugget intake for the day. Take out a small amount of old rabbit nuggets, and replace with the same, small amount of new. Give the bowl a mix around to make sure your rabbits will eat a combination of the two.
Each day, slightly reduce their old food, and replace it with slightly more of their new food. Patience is key here. Changing your rabbits’ food too quickly can cause digestive issues, which can lead to serious health problems.
During the 14-28 day transition, keep a check on your rabbits. You know your rabbits best so will likely tell if your bun is under the weather. Some quick things to look out for are:
- They are continuing to eat lots of tasty feeding hay like normal.
- They are eating their caecotrophs (or sticky droppings) and producing lots of hard droppings like normal.
- Their hard droppings look like they normally do. Healthy rabbit poo is generally round in shape, firm, dry, and light brown in colour. Keep an eye out for your rabbits’ poo getting smaller or darker. Contact your vet if you notice any changes.
- Your rabbits are drinking their fresh, clean water.
- Their behaviour is unchanged. Changes in behaviour such as hiding away, staying very still or moving slower than usual can indicate something is not quite right.
If you notice any of these signs, or any other behaviours that are concerning, contact your vet as soon as possible.
Step four: Keep replacing your rabbits’ old food with their new food until their food has been completely replaced
At the end of the transition period, your rabbits should be eating their new rabbit nuggets happily with no issues!
If you are unsure about how to switch your rabbits’ food, you can get in touch with our consumer care team who will be happy to help. Pop your question on our online form, or give us a call on +44 1405 862241. We’re available Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm.