The results of a rabbit feeding trial were announced to delegates attending the Pet Industry Federation’s Forum on Tuesday 28 November at Whittlebury Hall in Northamptonshire.
The year-long research study into the differences between feeding muesli and nuggets to rabbits, commissioned by the Pet Industry Federation, and run in conjunction with Hadlow and Moulton colleges was established to validate a previous study (Meredith et al., 2015; Prebble et al., 2014; Prebble et al., 2015) on the subject of diet presentation and its effects on weight, feed intake and dental health.
32 rabbits were split across Moulton and Hadlow and were not kept in laboratory conditions, but in outdoor pens to simulate how a rabbit may be kept in an outside home environment. The rabbits were allowed free access to hay and water and were provided with driftwood logs as a non-nutritional chew. Both food presentations were similar in nutritional composition and based on FEDIAF guidelines, which provide the most current recommendation for pet rabbits and each set was offered the feed at maintenance levels.
The dental health was assessed by a specialist veterinary surgeon at the beginning, middle and at the end of the study. Dental assessments looked at malocclusion, elongation, slanting wear, ridging, fractures of incisors; direction, elongation, step/wave mouth, missing teeth and gingival health of cheek teeth, as well as facial indicators of dental health.
Announcing the results of the trial at the Forum, Drs Ambrose Tinarwo (Hadlow College) and Wanda McCormick (Moulton College) revealed that there was no significant difference in either the weight, body condition score or dental health of the rabbits regardless of whether they were fed muesli or nuggets. Both sets of rabbits gained a small amount of weight during the trials and there was a general improvement in dental health in each set which could, the researchers felt, have been attributed to the hay quality and non-nutritional chew.
Importantly, all the feed was consumed each day by both sets of rabbits on each diet, so there was no evidence of selective feeding.
In concluding, Dr Tinarwo explained to delegates that the trial suggested that feeding the correct amount of feed to maintain a healthy body condition score was more important than whether they were fed nuggets or muesli; and that if this was done incorrectly, then concerns regarding dental health and weight would remain for both diet types. He also concluded that the importance of good quality hay as the primary diet could not be underestimated in helping to ensure that rabbits remained healthy.
Nigel Baker, CEO of PIF said: “We were delighted to have worked with Hadlow and Moulton colleges on this research and are very grateful for the time they have spent establishing the trials and carrying them out with their students. Theses interesting results show, most critically, the importance of conveying correct husbandry advice to pet owners, specifically with regard to their feeding regime.
“We look forward to moving on with further studies into defining quality hay and collaborating with both manufacturers, retailers, welfare charities and other trade bodies, to enable owners to have as much correct information about how to feed their rabbits as possible, to help safeguard rabbit health and welfare.”