Dear Rabbit Owners
I hope you enjoyed your Christmas that 2009 is a good year for you.
Two days ago it was very cloudy, so I decided to keep Marge locked up for the day. It is not easy cleaning out the buns houses when she is around, as I have to make sure the she is kept separate from the other two. While I was fetching them fresh water from the room next door to them, I heard what I thought were monkeys on the roof. When I got back to the bun enclosure, I saw Marge and Chelsea Bun lying head to toe. I immediately picked up Marge who was still attached to Chelsea. With her came a huge clump of fur. I always worry that Marge being twice Chelsea’s size would really do damage to her sister, but judging from all the battle scars, I think they came out square. In my books, there is nothing worse than a rabbit fight!
Today I want to talk about digestion.
Digestion begins in the mouth. The food is mashed up by the teeth and mixed with saliva, which contains proteins that begin breaking down the food. When the food is swallowed it enters the stomach where it is mixed with stomach acid and digestive enzymes, which continue the digestion process. It then moves out of the stomach into the small intestine where nutrients are absorbed into the body, and then it continues on into the large intestine where the food particles are sorted by size. This is where it gets interesting. The larger particles of indigestible fibre drive the smaller fragments of digestible fibre backwards into the cecum, which is a large blind-ended sac located at the junction of the small and large intestines. This is where our appendix is, but the rabbit’s cecum is much larger. The indigestible particles are then passed out in the fecal pellets (regular round droppings) and the cecum begins the fermentation process that will produce what is commonly referred to as night droppings or cecotrophes, which a rabbit will eat directly from the anus. You can tell the difference between normal droppings and cecotrophes by their soft, shiny clumped texture and often more pungent odour.
A rabbit’s cecum maintains a delicate mix of protozoa, yeast and good bacteria, which is crucial to keeping your rabbit healthy. If something upsets the delicate bacterial balance (such as stress; some oral antibiotics such as penicillin & related drugs; a high fat, low fibre diet; too many carbohydrates, etc.), bad bacteria will begin to grow. These bad bacteria produce toxins that can be harmful or fatal to your rabbit. On the other hand, the products of good cecal fermentation are crucial to healthy gut flora, because through coprophagy, the oral re-ingestion of the cecal droppings produced by this fermentation process, the rabbit can absorb by normal digestion the special nutrients and vitamins contained in the cecal droppings. Some evidence suggests that bacteria from these [re-ingested] cecal droppings help the food digest while in the stomach.
Now if your rabbit gets a bout of diarrhea, this is more than likely the night droppings that you are seeing. Diarrhea of the day droppings is very rare. This is why no refined sugars or carbohydrates should ever be fed to your rabbit.
When a rabbit is fed an improper diet that is, one that does not contain an adequate amount of [indigestible] fibre or one that is too high in carbohydrates the Gastro-Intestinal (GI) tract cannot function properly and it begins to shut down, causing various degrees of what is called GI stasis. GI stasis, if not taken care of immediately, can cause your rabbit to die a very painful death.
My Peter Rabbit had several bouts of GI stasis, due to the fact that he had no incisors. This made it very difficult for him to eat grass or hay which is essential for the normal digestion. Just before he had his last bout of GI stasis, he was on antibiotics. It was this with a combination of a lack of fibre that finally caused him to be in such severe pain, that we put him to sleep at 3am one morning.
I hope that this letter has not been too serious, but it is crucial that all rabbit owners understand the importance of fibre in a rabbit’s diet. With the correct diet, so many rabbit sicknesses can be avoided.
Here are the details of the company that sells and distributes Bunny Chow and Bunny Chow Orchard Grass. I have had many people emailing me asking where they can get these two products from. An idea, is to go to your local vet/pet store and ask them to order it for you. Company Rolf C Hagen 031 5699100.