Rabbit Research Requires Muesli Rethink
Two years of research at the Dick Vet have linked muesli-style foods to life-threatening dental and digestive problems in rabbits.
The announcement has been welcomed by a number of animal welfare charities, including the RSPCA and has led to retailers, such as Pets at Home, removing muesli-style rabbit food from their shelves.
The research was carried out at the Hospital for Small Animals by the Exotic Animal and Wildlife Service, under the Knowledge Transfer Partnership, with B.I.S (Department for Business, Innovations and Skills) and Burgess Pet Care.
The research was subjected to rigorous controls by the University of Edinburgh Veterinary Ethical Review Committee, and during the trial the rabbits were monitored by a Home Office Inspector and at all points by a vet.
The study is currently under peer review awaiting publication.
The welfare of the rabbits was of paramount importance to all involved in the trial. Further information about the research findings is available on the Rabbit Awareness Week website:
Key Findings from the study
Feeding muesli-style foods, with or without hay, is linked with abnormalities that can lead to painful dental and digestive problems that require veterinary treatment, such as:
- Slower gut motility, which can put rabbits at a high risk of gut stasis, a condition which is often fatal as rabbits depend on a constantly moving digestive process which is maintained through a high fibre diet.
- Eating less hay, which can lead to abnormal growth of teeth. This often develops into painful dental disease, or in extreme cases ‘roots’ so large they penetrate the jaw or eye sockets.
- Urinary tract problems, as eating muesli reduces the animal’s water intake.
- Dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) and flystrike as muesli leads to rabbits not eating their caecotrophs - soft moist droppings that they eat directly from their bottom and which are an essential part of their diet. This can in turn lead to flies laying their eggs in the soiled and matted fur under the tail. Maggots hatch out 12-24 hours later and then burrow into the living flesh. This is known as flystrike.
- an imbalanced diet lacking in vital vitamins and minerals, due to selective feeding (rabbits picking their favourite parts of the muesli mix) and not eating all their caecotrophs.
- eating muesli-style foods without hay causes rabbits to become overweight or obese
Advice for owners
Several retailers have taken the decision to take muesli-style products off the shelves and Burgess Excel, who were the Dick Vet's partners in this research, has ended muesli production for rabbit food.
Owners who are currently feeding their rabbits muesli style food are encouraged to speak to their vet about how to safely transition their pet onto a hay and nugget/pellet based feeding plan (with leafy greens).
The transition should be done slowly, over 14-28 days by gradually reducing the amount of muesli and increasing the proportion of hay and nuggets until they have completely replaced the mix.
Good quality hay and/or grass should make up the majority of a rabbit’s diet and water and hay/grass should be available at all times.
This study only looked at rabbits but may have implications for other small animals that require diets high in fibre, such as guinea pigs, chinchillas and degus, Owners of these animals should also speak to their vets about how to provide the best diet for their pets.