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Sand and pellets – questions answered

We were recently approached by an owner with a list of questions which we put to our Specialist Vet Adviser, Dr Richard Saunders, and Vet Nurse and Editor of Rabbiting On, Claire Speight. Their answers are below

Regarding diet, please remember that it is not possible for one guideline to be suitable for every rabbit because they all have different activity levels and health issues, and there are differences between the pellets themselves.

Owners need to use any recommendations as a guide, look at their own rabbits, use the ‘Rabbit Size-O-Meter’ body condition score to check they are not too fat or too thin and adjust how they feed them accordingly.  Activity levels, as well as food intake, influence obesity, so it is important that rabbits have 24/7 access to a suitable exercise area too

1) “Sand, even children’s play sand, is too fine and can cause eye, ear and respiratory irritation and issues.”

Although this is a possibility, we have to remember that Chinchillas have sand baths, using sand finer than children’s sand,  and it doesn’t cause them issues. We are not worried about the fineness of children’s play sand getting into lungs etc. It’s designed for children, even if rabbits have their faces closer to it. However, we do have concerns about diatomaceous earth being used, and we would not recommend that.  Respiratory and skin issues are more likely with builder’s etc. sand, which is very alkaline

The only caveat we would give is that there could be a difference between rabbits and chinchillas eyes; if there is any wetness/pus etc., around the eyes of rabbits, sand will stick to it. So owners need to make a decision based on their own rabbits.

2) “Should graded topsoil be a preferred digging substrate as opposed to children’s play sand?”

This may be a better option and certainly more natural, and it will hold together better.

3) “Graded topsoil is a more natural, safer substrate than children’s play sand.”

As above

4) “Sand can be harmful to your rabbits if ingested via grooming after digging. Would graded top soil pose less of a risk if ingested”.

Such a small amount should make no difference – the sand should be dry, so most shouldn’t stick to the rabbits coat anyway.  We do not recommend that sand if used, is present in any area where it can get wet, as it may clump around their feet

5) I also understand that on the RWAF website and In the ‘On The Hop’ rabbit care handbook magazine, it is stated that an average-sized adult rabbit should have an “egg cup” (30g) am & pm of chosen pellet and in total this makes up approximately 60 grams of pellets per day, per average-sized rabbit. I have seen rebuttals for this amount online in rabbit care groups stating that 60g in total for one rabbit per day split into 2 x 30g portions is far too much and would cause obesity. Could you provide clarification on this amount?

The amount of pellets required is a fraught and contentious topic. In the wild, rabbits eat no concentrated food and manage to live, thrive, survive and reproduce without it. On the other hand, their teeth are perfect,  and they don’t live very long. . So we would say that rabbits in captivity need vanishingly small quantities of concentrated food, and that should be fed effectively as a training food, a treat to balance the vitamin and mineral content of the hay, grass, weeds and leafy vegetation they receive, and where rabbits are unable to extract enough nutrients from their forage (typically because of dental issues) to maintain their weight. If rabbits are given ad-lib good quality hay, and leafy fibrous vegetation and weeds, one should adjust their pelleted food to an amount that maintains their weight and body condition score, which will vary with the size and activity levels of the rabbit and with the season. We would suggest 60g for an “average,” e.g. 2.5kg rabbit in low to average body condition as a starting point, adjusting down if gaining weight, and starting at half that for an overweight rabbit, adjusting up as required.   We would suggest ensuring that your rabbit has had a full veterinary clinical exam, including the teeth, before taking a rabbit completely off pellets.

The exact amounts to be fed will vary with the food’s energy density, which varies between brands. However, this is a relatively small variation as most commercial rabbit concentrate foods are low in fat and moderate in protein, with broadly similar nutritional analyses, and the differences will be minimal, especially if the concentrate forms a relatively small part of the diet

Furthermore, I have also seen debate on instances where feeding unlimited amounts of pellets would be necessary. Could you provide some answers to the following questions?

We can’t see any situation where that would be a good idea!

6) Do kits (non-inclusive of giant breeds) need access to unlimited amounts of pellet feed until adulthood?

I have never recommended or fed any baby rabbits, regardless of size, ad-lib pellets. From an early age, they should get used to hay/grass being the mainstay of their diet. Even giant breeds should be fed in the same way, with amounts adjusted upwards for body size.

7) Do giant breed kits need access to unlimited amounts of pellet feed until they reach adulthood?

As above.

8) Do giant breed adult rabbits need access to unlimited amounts of pellet feed? If not, do giant breeds require additional grams of pelleted feed daily, and if so, how much?

They should not have unlimited pellets; as above, their diet should have based on hay/grass. A useful rule of thumb is a level tablespoon of pellets per kg of ideal body weight daily – can be split into two meals.

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