Rabbits are herbivores and need to eat plants and vegetation. Being an herbivore is not a choice, like a person choosing to be a vegetarian. Herbivores developed special adaptations that allow them to digest plants and extract nutrition from a nutrient-poor diet. Their digestion process is so specialized, that if they do not eat a proper diet, they develop serious health problems.
The Path Of Digestion
Eating plants and vegetation is tough on the teeth. Plants are very coarse and fibrous, and teeth wear down quickly. Herbivores compensate for the extreme tooth wear with their constantly growing teeth. Rabbits have 28 teeth: 4 upper incisors and 2 lower incisors, plus 22 cheek teeth (premolars and molars, 11 on each side). Rabbits grasp food with their lips, cut off a piece with the incisors and crush the bit of food with their cheek teeth.
Rabbit teeth grow quickly; they overgrow if enough fiber isn’t eaten to wear them down. Spikes may develop that cut into the cheek or tongue, or the roots can become impacted, causing pain and abscesses.
Hay supplies an important source of fiber for pet rabbits. Hay consists of dried grasses, such as timothy, orchard grass, oat hay and brome. Alfalfa is richer than grass hay, and contains less fiber but more calcium and protein. Pellets, even high-fiber pellets, are not nearly as abrasive as hay and grass. **For the full article, pick up the 2008 issue of Rabbits USA or click here to buy the issue.**