Pellets

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Pellets provide rabbits with an easy source of essential nutrients. Some rabbit owners choose to feed their rabbits a pellet-free diet due to teeth problems, chronic GI issues, and obesity. However, a pellet-free diet requires much more effort and care as a rabbit can easily suffer from malnutrition without the provision of proper vitamins and minerals.

For an adult rabbit, we recommend that you feed at most 1/8 cup to 1/4 cup of pellets per rabbit per day for every 5 lbs of rabbit. Too many pellets may lead to obesity, a lack of teeth wear, cecal overproduction, poopy butt, and behavioral disorders.[1] However, baby rabbits can be fed unlimited pellets, as their bones and muscles need plenty of protein and calcium for proper growth.[2]

Type

The type of pellet (alfalfa or timothy) fed usually depends on the age of your rabbit. Generally, alfalfa-based pellets should be fed to rabbits under 7 months old and timothy-based pellets to rabbits over 7 months old. However, it ultimately depends on the nutrition values listed on the back of the bag. Both types of pellets can meet nutritional requirements for rabbits.[3] Typically, commercial alfalfa-based brand pellets will have more calories, protein, and fat, and less fiber than a timothy-based brand. See Rabbit Pellets Comparison Chart for more information about some acceptable brands for both adult and young rabbits.

Good rabbit pellets appearance
Bad rabbit pellets appearance
Good pellets do not include whole dried fruit, seeds, nuts, or other colored crunchy things. There should be only pellets and maybe hay and herbs and nothing else. As Town & Country Veterinary Hospital says,[4]
The problem with these foods is that each type of seed or ingredient has different nutritional content, and pets develop preferences for certain seeds or pieces. They can easily develop a deficiency when they become “picky eaters” and only eat certain parts of their food.

Additionally, key findings from a research study conducted by The University of Edinburgh in conjunction with Burgess Pet Care suggested that feeding muesli-style diets to rabbits is associated with abnormalities that can lead to painful dental and digestive problems, such as dental disease, lower gut motility, selective feeding, obesity and urinary tract stones or sludge.[5]

Some of these muesli mixes may contain foods such as corn and beans which are not recommended for rabbits to eat in general. These foods have the possibility of causing GI obstructions.[1]

Guaranteed Analysis

When choosing a pellet, you should look at the guaranteed analysis on the feed label to find out how much of various critical nutrients are in the feed, usually by percentage.

Dana Krempels, Ph.D., recommends that a good pellet should have the following qualities:[2]

  • at least 22% crude fiber
  • no more than approximately 14% protein
  • about 1% fat
  • about 1.0% calcium

The Textbook of Rabbit Medicine recommends the following food analysis:[6]

  • Crude Fiber: > 18%
  • Indigestible fibre: > 12.5%
  • Crude protein: 12–16%
  • Fat: 1–4%
  • Calcium: 0.6–1.0%
  • Phosphorus: 0.4–0.8%
  • Vitamin A: 10 000–18 000 IU/kg
  • Vitamin D: 800–1200 IU/kg
  • Vitamin E: 40–70 mg/kg
  • Trace elements: Magnesium 0.3%, Zinc 0.5%, Potassium 0.6–0.7%

Suzanne Trayhan recommends the following:[7]

Lucille Moore recommends the following analysis:[8]

  • Calcium: 0.6% minimum and 1.1% maximum unless rabbit has special need of low-calcium feed.
  • Crude fiber
    • 14-18% minimum, 20% maximum for most rabbits
    • 20-25% for rabbits kits between 3 and 9 weeks of age
  • Crude protein
    • 13-17% for pet rabbits
    • 17-20% for long-haired, outside, and lactating rabbits and larger breeds (e.g. Flemish, Checkered Giant)
    • 12-14% for young rabbits between 3-9 weeks of age
  • Fat
    • 1-5% for the general rabbit
    • 3-6% for pregnant or lactating does
    • 4-8% for long-haired, wool-producing rabbits (e.g. American Fuzzy Lop, Jersey Wooly, Angora)
  • Phosphorus: 0.4% minimum
  • Salt: 0.5% minimum and 1.0% maximum
  • Vitamin A: about 4500-5000 IU/lb
  • Vitamin D: no more than 2000 IU.

In general, the lower the protein level and the higher the fiber, the better. Rabbits should have very little fat in their diets - 5% in some pellets is way too high for a house rabbit. You will want a low number for calcium, especially in rabbits with bladder, sludge, or kidney problems.[7] See Nutrition for Rabbits for more details.

As Trayhan further says,[7]
It can be difficult to find a pellet that matches all of the requirements. In that case, try to choose one that is as close as possible. Focus on the factors that are most important to your needs. If you have a rabbit with kidney/sludge problems, then get a low calcium number. If your rabbit is obese, concentrate on low fat and high fiber. For rabbits with gut problems, I would want high fiber.

Storage

Rabbit pellets should be stored in a cool (15°C/59°F) dry vermin-proof place and be fed within 90 days of milling date.[1] Buying rabbit food in bulk is discouraged for owners with a small number of rabbits as food older than 6 months has a compromised nutritional quality due to degradation of vitamin content, especially over hot summer months.[1] The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E may have a shelf-life of only 3 months.[8]

Ingredients

Rabbit pellets can contain many ingredients that might not be readily understandable to a rabbit owner. On a feed label, ingredients will be listed in order with the ingredient present in the highest amount listed first.

Specific Ingredients

  • Calcium propionate: mold inhibitor.[8]
  • Corn gluten meal: Added for palatability.[8]
  • Lactobacillus: probiotic/prebiotic.[8]
  • Non-dietary nitrogen (NDN): Should not be found in rabbit food. Rabbits do not utilize NDNs well and can cause toxicity.[8]
  • Molasses or cane molasses: Added for palatability. High in magnesium.[8]
  • Oat mill by-product: brans or middlings.[8]
  • Papaya: aids digestion.[8]
  • Proprionic acide: mold inhibitor.[8]
  • Safflower oil: Added for palatability.[8]
  • Streptococcus: probiotic/prebiotic.[8]
  • Saccharomyces: probiotic/prebiotic.[8]
  • Wheat middlings: granular by-product of grain milling.[8]
  • Yucca: helps control ammonia in rabbit waste.[8]

Collective Terms

Collective terms, also known as group terms, may be present on a rabbit feed label. As Lucille Moore writes, [8]

It has been claimed that only lesser-quality feeds have group terms listed, and this is done as a cost cutting measure so the manufacturer can use lower-quality ingredients. This is not necessarily true: many reputable feed manufacturers use the terms in order to be able to produce a nutritionally consistent product. The nutritional quality of any feed ingredient can vary significantly, depending upon multiple factors, and using the group terms allows manufacturers to keep the nutrition of the product the same without having to constantly relabel (and raise the price).

The following is a list of ingredient collective terms with what food products in varying quantities may be present in the feed.

  • Animal products: bone meal, meal, blood meal, fish meal, and feathers.[8] Should not be found in rabbit feed.
  • Animal protein products: hydrolyzed poultry feathers, fish meal, milk products, and other items not natural to a rabbit's digestive tract.[8] Should not be found in rabbit feed.
  • Forage Products: alfalfa meal, grass hay, soybean hay, lespedeza meal, dehydrated silages.[8]
  • Grain products: barley, oats, wheat, corn, rice, rye.[8]
  • Molasses products: beet or sugar cane molasses, beet pulp.[8]
  • Processed grain byproducts: wheat millings, corn, gluten feed, rice bran, wheat bran, brewers' dried grains, distilled dried grains.[8]
  • Plant protein products: cottonseed, soybean, canola, peanut, linseed and sunflower meals, cultured yeast.[8]
  • Roughage products: hulls of cottonseed, soybeans, oats, peanuts, rice; apple products, beet pulp, citrus pulp.[8]

Extra Resources

The following articles include more information about the ingredients of pellets.

Below are discussions about pellet ingredients.

A table of the ingredients of common rabbit pellets can be found in the article Rabbit Pellets Comparison Chart.

Further Reading

See Also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Emma Keeble, Anna Meredith, et al., Rabbit Medicine & Surgery, 2006.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Dana Krempels, Ph.D., What Should I Feed my Bunny?
  3. Susan Smith, Ph.D, Alfalfa- and Timothy-Based Pellets: What’s the “Skinny?”, San Diego Rabbit News, Spring 2004
  4. Town & Country Veterinary Hospital, Charlene Arendas, DVM, Quick Tips for Rabbits and Guinea Pigs
  5. Rabbit Awareness Week, The Research
  6. Frances Harcourt-Brown, Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, 2002.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 House Rabbit Network, Suzanne Trayhan, How to Choose a Good Pellet
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 8.12 8.13 8.14 8.15 8.16 8.17 8.18 8.19 8.20 8.21 8.22 8.23 Lucille Moore, Rabbit Nutrition and Nutritional Healing, 2e, 2013.