EDIT July 2018
Oxbow have re-released these and they are now available again.
For many years, rabbit owners have been giving the Oxbow Papaya Fruit Plus tablets to their rabbits to help prevent hairball build up. Although, not scientifically proven to help, the anecdotal evidence and owner testimonials are overwhelming with positive results.
These little tablets contain the active enzymes Papain and Bromelain. These enzymes are thought to break down some of the mucus in the gut. They do not break down the fur itself. It is the mucus that binds the fur together inside the gut and this causes the faeces to get clogged with too much hair. This can show as mis-shapen poops or, if particularly bad, will look like a string of pearls. These are very hard for the rabbit to pass naturally and can cause a gut slow down or blockage resulting in an emergency situation.
Unfortunately – Oxbow decided to discontinue these tablets on 1st September 2014 and they have not produced a direct replacement (There are a few still available on Amazon). They now offer the Oxbow Natural Science Digestive Support Supplement which is great…but has not active enzymes in it so is no use for hairball prevention.
But there is another way….
As always, lots of fluids are needed to help a rabbit whilst it is moulting, along with daily grooming. The best brush for rabbits is the cat zoom groom by Kong. It is soft and rubbery so does not hurt or damage the skin like slicker brushes and combs can do. Feed the rabbits their fresh greens / herbs soaking wet as this helps to get more fluids in as well.
Pro C by Vetark is a fabulous product that can be added to the drinking water daily. It contains probiotics that help the gut cope and also extra vitamin C. Rabbits metabolise more vitamin C when they are stressed and moulting is a stressful time. This helps the entire rabbits system cope a bit better during the moult. It can turn the water a shade of green so don’t worry if this happens. Use for a 5-10 day course. This is generally a product that I would always recommend to keep in the cupboard for use at any times of stress of illness.
I have searched around for an alternative enzymatic product and found something that may work. It is a Bromelain supplement called ‘Natures Own’ with no added nasties in it. Each tablet contains 100mg of Bromelain. The Oxbow tablets contained 23mg of Bromelain as well as 2.9mg of Papain and 1-2 tablets could be given daily. This means, if using these ‘new’ Bromelain tablets that are 100mg…you can cut them into quarters thus feeding 25mg per quarter. This can be given as a daily dose and increased to half a tablet (50mg) per day for when the rabbit is moulting.
I MUST stress that I have not tested these tablets in rabbits – but have been looking for an alternative that is as close to the Oxbow tablets as possible. This recommendation is purely based on the fact that these new tablets contain Bromelain in a sufficient dose that almost matches the Oxbow tablets. It is not an exact replacement. You can always discuss this with your vet before use and always stop if any tummy upsets occur.
I would be very interested to hear from anyone does choose to use these and if you notice any improvements.
So…firstly its important to NEVER feed a muesli mix style of food as this has been scientifically proven to cause selective feeding, dental and digestive issues. It is also chocked full of sugary stuff and grains that rabbits don’t need in their diet.
But this then leaves us in the sometimes bewildering world of pellets. Which brand? Do I choose the cheapest? Are they all the same anyway?
In general, as with the rest of life, you get what you pay for. In my opinion, Supreme Science Selective are the best extruded pellet available in the UK (Oxbow pellets for people in the USA). They have the highest crude fibre content and no added sugar – along with the correct ratios and percentages of other vitamins and nutrients. A close second is Burgess Excel Adult LIGHT. I specify the light version as this has no added sugar (unlike the regular adult version). The other great thing about these two brands is they offer a life stage option. Basically, rabbits over 4 years old should be fed a ‘mature’ version of the diet which has the percentages and ratios changed to better suit an ageing rabbits needs.
Oh and beware of the term ‘beneficial fibre’…this is a marketing term that makes the fibre content look higher than it is! Its always the crude fibre content that’s important.
At the lower end of the market (and diets I would not recommend) we have Allen & Page and Dodson & Horrell. These were born out of ‘breeder pellets’ and are generally low quality. They are lacking in essential vitamins and the pellet itself does not work the teeth as well as an ‘extruded’ pellet (like the above 2 examples).
For a more detailed comparison – check out this brilliant pellet food comparison table.
As always, the pellet part of a rabbits diet should be minimal – no more than 5% of its daily ration. 80% should be a choice of different good quality hays and 10-15% can be fresh food such as lovely herbs (basil, mint, coriander (cilantro) and parsley) or non root vegetables such as cabbage and kale (be aware that gassy veg for us can also be gassy veg for bunnies).
Lastly, all dietary changes should be made gradually over a 10 day period to minimise the risk of dietary upset.