Rabbit Nutrition and Critical Care Feeding


Kara M. Burns, MS, MEd, LVT,VTS (Nutrition) presented this distance-learning event for the veterinary medical students at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine as part of the Lafeber Company Student Program. This recording is approved for 1 hour of non-interactive continuing education credit.



Rabbits are popular pets because they are small, relatively easy to care for, fastidious, quiet mannered, and can be litter-box trained. Nutritional management of a rabbit should provide sufficient fiber to support normal gastrointestinal motility as well as to ensure sufficient amounts and types of digestible nutrients are available to the cecal microflora for fermentation. Rabbits also need enrichment and thus, the diet should stimulate normal foraging behavior throughout the day.

Nutritional management begins with assessment of the pet, the animal’s food, and the method of feeding. From this assessment the veterinary nurse can begin to formulate a feeding plan. The nutritional assessment is similar to that performed in other species. It begins with a detailed history of the animal, a nutritional history, husbandry practices, and the animal’s environment. A systematic physical examination should be performed and the body condition score (BCS) and pets’ weight recorded. The five point BCS system appears to be most useful in assessing the BCS in rabbits and small mammals. Body condition scoring should be performed at every visit and documented in the medical record. With rabbits, husbandry, diet, and/or disease may lead to loss of body fat and is suggestive of starvation. Excessive loss of muscle is indicative of advanced starvation, forced inactivity, or altered metabolic states.

The approach to small mammal critical care must balance our understanding of these special species with general principles true for all animals. Rabbits are prey species. Their instinctive drive to survive depends on the ability to be alert and respond quickly. Prey species also possess acute senses of smell and hearing to support their survival instincts. Signs of pain or illness are often quite subtle. Prey species such as the rabbit tend to mask pain and discomfort, particularly when frightened, and yet it is crucial for the veterinary team to recognize and manage pain promptly. Stress can lead to physiologic changes that promote gastrointestinal stasis, shock, and even death.

In critical rabbits, dehydration and hypothermia must be addressed before beginning nutritional support. Monitor body weight and eliminations closely, and offer familiar food items ad libitum.

In the rabbit, nutritional support relies upon high levels of dietary fiber. Mild to moderately ill individuals are often assist fed. Aggressive fluid therapy, often in the form of oral and subcutaneous fluids, helps to keep the food bolus hydrated as it moves slowly through the gastrointestinal tract.  If the patient exhibits weakness, dehydration, and/or has been anorectic for more than 24 hours, use of a feeding tube is recommended to minimize stress and improve the odds of success. Nasogastric tubes are a viable choice for the rabbit.


Learning objectives

After completing this session, the viewer will…

  1. Understand the nutritional needs of the rabbit
  2. Perform a nutritional assessment and make a nutritional recommendation for rabbits
  3. Demonstrate understanding of critical care needs of the rabbit
  4. Demonstrate understanding of the nutritional needs of critically ill rabbits.


Webinar recording



Complete the brief quiz. With a passing grade of 70% or higher, you can download your continuing education (CE) certificate for 1 hour of CE credit in jurisdictions that recognize American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) Registry of Approved Continuing Education (RACE) approval.

Test your knowledge


RACE approval

This program is approved by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) Registry of Continuing Education (RACE) to offer a total of 1.00 CE credits to any one veterinarian and/or 1.00 veterinary technician CE credit.

To cite this page:

Burns K. Rabbit nutrition and critical care feeding. Feb 23, 2022. LafeberVet website. Available at https://lafeber.com/vet/rabbit-nutrition-and-critical-care-feeding/