Effects of Food Quality on the Daytime Activity Levels of the Domestic Rabbit

Nicola Clements Rolfe, Richard Saunders

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster

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With the focus of many domestic species moving to enrichment, an easy form of enrichment for pet rabbits is to spend more time eating. In order to do this without the risk of obesity and health problems, though, they need to be accessing only large amounts of low-nutrition, high fibre food. Naturally, wild rabbits eat a large amount of low-quality, fibrous vegetation and the majority of their time is spent feeding. However, in captivity, they have access to far more “easy” calories in the form of complementary, commercially produced food. In fact, many pet rabbits are fed so much of this high-nutrition food that, not only are there issues with obesity, but even animals of a healthy weight are not eating much of the long fibre (e.g. hay) that they need to maintain their dental health by wearing down their teeth. If they can be encouraged to spend more time eating lower nutrition food to achieve the same calorie levels, this will not only maintain a healthy weight and optimum dentition but also prevent boredom. This study used the protein content of the food as the marker of nutrition. Wild rabbits select the forage with the highest level of digestible protein to graze on first when given the choice , and show changes in food preference over time relating to the nutritional make up of different plant species through the seasons rather than availability . This would suggest that protein, rather than calorific content alone, is the driver of satiety. A set weight of each food (part of the normal diet of the rabbits involved so as not to cause any gastrointestinal issues) was given in the morning, then scan sampling taken of behaviour through daylight hours using an ethogram based on Gunn and Morton . At the end of this period, the remainder of their normal daily diet was given. There was also constant access to water and unlimited hay. The foodstuffs varied in protein content, which is being used here as the measure of how nutritious a food is. Subjects were two mixed sex, neutered pairs of rabbits.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes
EventCompanion Animal Nutrition Conference 2020 - University of Northampton, Northampton, United Kingdom
Duration: 13 Feb 202013 Feb 2020


ConferenceCompanion Animal Nutrition Conference 2020
Abbreviated titleCAN 2020
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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