Pellets were originally created as a source of quick calories for many species of farm animals. Pelleted feeds could be customized to provide the quickest means of growth for animals raised for meat purposes which provided farmers with more profit upon slaughter. Fortunately, times change and so do how we treat our animals. However, not all pelleted feeds are created equal and it is very important to understand where the pellets come from, how they are made, and what purpose they are designed for.
While no longer needed to sustain a rabbit (hay should be the main element in your rabbit’s diet), pellets do serve an important role. Unable to provide the natural foraging a wild European Rabbit would have, we must supplement our rabbit’s forage with vitamins and minerals to make up for that deficiency. The pellets that we once used for adding calories to a diet can now be used as a balanced source of vitamins and minerals.
- Hay (Timothy, Orchard, Oat, Meadow, Blue Grass, Brome)
- Hays are a natural source of digestible fiber, crucial to a rabbit’s digestive health. Hays that are sun-dried provide a natural source of vitamin D.
- Often mislabeled as “bad”, Alfalfa is a nutritious, high quality source of protein. When balanced in a pellet, it is an incredibly beneficial ingredient.
- Flax Seed
- Flax Seed is a healthy source of fat (omega-3). Fat is easier to digest and is converted to energy more efficiently than carbs.
- Chelated Minerals
- Chelated minerals are minerals that have been attached to organic compounds to maximize absorption in the body. A pellet that uses chelated minerals is generally of higher quality.
- Grains (Wheat, Oats, Barley)
- Grains are composed of carbs and are more difficult to digest than alternatives. Carbs encourage the growth of bad gut flora leading to increased risk of digestive ailments. Carbs are inferior to fats as a source of energy. Carbs often contribute to obesity as they are high in calories and harder for a rabbit to regulate intake.
- Soy contains high levels of phytate, a molecule that binds to minerals so that your rabbit cannot absorb the minerals. Soy is a poor source of protein as it contains inhibitors that actually block the body from digesting the protein.
- Vitamin D3
- Rabbits are far more sensitive to active D3 than most animals. Vitamin D3 (often made from animal sources) stimulates the kidneys to absorb more calcium, preventing the body from expelling it. This can lead to urine sludge issues. Sun-dried hays and ingredients contain healthy D2 that a rabbit can convert as needed.
- Sweeteners (Molasses, Fruits, Honey)
- Sugars encourage the growth of bad gut flora. One of the leading caused of life-threatening Gastrointestinal Stasis is bacteria imbalance in the digestive tract. Sugars should be avoided and owners must resist temptation to satisfy their rabbit’s sweet tooth.
How much pellets you feed depends on the pellet and your situation.
Pellet Feeding Directions
Your pellet manufacturer should have feeding directions that ask you to either free-feed or measure a daily amount to feed.
The Benefits and Problems with Free-Feeding
Free-feeding is beneficial to owners and is helpful when feeding bonded pairs. Rabbits who are not consistent hay eaters can also benefit from a free-feeding pellet. However, there are things to consider before choosing a free-feeding formula. Free-feeding can sometimes lead to a decrease in hay consumption. Hay is important for a rabbit as it causes the rabbit to chew in a grinding motion. This is the best way to keep dental health in-check and can actually help correct minor molar abnormalities. Your pellet should be balanced to provide all the necessary fiber and nutrients for a rabbit. Choosing a free-feeding pellets that contains low-quality ingredients can lead to digestive issues. You will likely be buying more pellets when choosing a free-feed formula as your rabbit will do the regulating. It is also important to buy a high quality pellet so your rabbit can better regulate their calorie intake. Pellets high in grains and carbs can lead to overeating.
The Benefits and Problems with a Concentrated Pellet
A concentrated pellet allows an owner to have complete control over the amount of pellets their rabbit receives. This ensures that the rabbit gets the desired amount of nutrients on a daily basis. The owner can also expect to buy fewer pellets, often saving money. However, concentrated pellets should be fed carefully and according to directions. Concentrated pellets are meant to supplement a diet consisting of high-fiber grass hay. If a rabbit does not eat their hay but eats their pellets, their diet will be unbalanced. Owners need to encourage hay consumption before pellet consumption. Concentrated pellets can be hard to feed to pairs who may share their pellets. This can lead to one rabbit getting more than the other. Owners should have separate feedings if using a concentrated pellet with pairs.