As a child and a teenager, I always thought that a product or service that is available for sale must be safe, because otherwise it wouldn’t be offered. One day I went to the pharmacy to try out some diet pills I had read about in a magazine (I was a teenager…) and the pharmacist told me that they were recently taken off the market, because scientists found that they caused severe liver damage. I wondered why they didn’t thoroughly test the pills in the first place and the pharmacist just shrugged and smiled. That’s when I realized that not everything offered is safe and that many people will try to make money off of just about anything for as long as they can get away with it.
When we go to our local pet store, they have a variety of food options for rabbits. Pellets, honey bars, yogurt drops, carrot treats, corn on the cob, and even sweet potato crisps. Most of them proclaim that they are the most ideal option and that they have large amounts of added nutrients that are “essential for your rabbit’s health”. Everyone wants the best for their little bunny friends, so these companies play on our fear of not providing all of the necessary nutrients. The question is, if the treat is so incredibly healthy, why is it even necessary to add vitamins? Wouldn’t it be healthier to get real vitamins in normal doses instead of created ones in large amounts?
We recently talked to a vet who told us that she frequently treats rabbits with terribly deformed teeth and various health issues. She said that most of these issues are caused by the food options mentioned above. When we asked her if she made the rabbit owners aware of the relation between food and health issues, we didn’t get a clear response, which makes me think the answer is “no”. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that a yogurt drop is immediately going to cause horrible health issues. I like to think of the food options mentioned above as the worst fast food out there. It tastes good, sure. It probably won’t have any negative effects when consumed in small quantities or occasionally. But if this fast food is the only thing we ever eat or if it’s a part of our meals every single day, I’m sure we’d experience various health problems eventually.
For me, this wasn’t an easy thing to accept. We all go to pet stores looking for the very best for our pets and we’re often being lied to. Why? Because we are more likely to go to a pet store for the best pellets rather than the best carrot selection – which would be the much better treat option for a rabbit. So they tell us that the bag of pellets is ideal instead. Fact is, pellets were created as a convenient and cheap way to quickly fatten up rabbits bred for their meat. These rabbits were never meant to live long enough to have health issues. All the treats came along later, because people love to spoil their pets and there is money to be made that way.
I am creating this post, because raising awareness is the first step to change. An adult rabbit’s diet should mainly consist of hay or grass, which needs to be available at all times, and a variety of vegetables and herbs as well as some roots, sticks, leaves and fruit. Any time you are planning on changing your rabbit’s diet, it is necessary to take at least 2 months to gradually move towards the goal diet. Consulting your vet along the way is a great idea.
Let’s take a look at the ingredients of some of the “treats”.
My “favorite” are yogurt drops. Rabbits would never eat dairy products in the wild and have a hard time digesting them. They contain sugar, vegetable oil, whey powder, dried skimmed milk, yogurt powder, corn starch, lecithin, ascorbic acid, and vanilla. Not one of these ingredients is going to go into Bunny’s body, that’s for sure.
The carrot treats consist of wheat, corn, wheat germ meal, and finally as the 4th ingredient, carrots. What? Rabbits do not eat wheat or corn in the wild. There is nothing in wheat or corn that a rabbit needs and in fact, they have a hard time digesting either. Instead of a carrot treat, why not grab a baby carrot out of the bags they sell at every grocery store? Already cut, already washed. Just as convenient. So why not feed a real carrot?
Next. Honey Bars. The ingredient list is extremely long and the the words get more and more complicated. Milo, whole corn, sunflower seed, wheat, dehydrated alfalfa meal, oat groats, ground corn, propylene glycol, glycerin, buckwheat, gelatin, wheat middlings, safflower seed, soybean meal, feeding oatmeal, oats, soybean hulls, honey, corn gluten meal, propionic acid (a preservative), vegetable oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), potassium sorbate (a preservative), and so on. Honey is an animal product and hard to digest. Besides from the sunflower seeds, the oats, and maybe the alfalfa meal, none of the ingredients even sound like a healthy option for a rabbit. It is recommended that no more than one sunflower seed is given a day, though, so this goes completely overboard. This treat is an overdose of fat, starch, and vitamins.
Those green rings for nibbling are next. They contain corn, toasted wheat, alfalfa, soybean splits, calcium phosphate, manganese, iron, zinc, copper, dandelions (WOW, an appropriate plant!), chlorophyll, vitamin A acetate and palmitate (source of vitamin A), and d-activated animal sterol (source of vitamin D3). I am only going to comment on the last ingredient. It comes from animal skin/fat. It’s a way to provide animals that don’t get any sunlight with Vitamin D3 (such as those bred for meat). And it comes from ANIMALS!?
It’s important to read the labels and check the ingredients before purchasing anything. If you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably not natural and not necessary. Starches are generally not easily digestible for a rabbit and seeds contain too much fat to feed regularly. Dairy and honey are animal products that rabbits don’t need nor can properly digest. While we all want our buns to be healthy, too many vitamins can actually cause health issues – same goes for humans.
I understand that sometimes pellets are the only option, especially for rescues and shelters. You may need to “fatten up” a thin rabbit or maybe you feel safer offering your picky rabbit 1/4 cup of pellets every day in addition to hay, vegetables, and herbs. In those cases, plain pellets made from timothy hay are the best option. Just remember that pellets are very filling and every pellet eaten will take the place of hay, vegetables, and herbs.