The main consequence of this is dental disease. On average, vet clinics are seeing 16 rabbit and guinea pig consults each month and 75% of these cases involve providing nutritional advice to improve health.
Veterinary professionals identified that small pets are often being overfed concentrate that is too low in fibre, are not eating enough hay and not being given the correct amount of fresh greens. This has led to pets being presented with conditions such as dental disease and obesity.
In 44% of consults where a nutritional recommendation was made, the dietary change was recommended to help combat dental disease, while in 25% of cases, a dietary change was recommended to help manage weight. Vets and vet nurses highlighted that they had significant concerns about the level of weight gain and obesity in small pets and have estimated that 55% of rabbits and 47% of guinea pigs are overweight. A further 13% of dietary recommendations were made to help support urinary tract health. In 19% of cases, a liquid recovery feed was used.
The fibre content of diets for rabbits and guinea pigs was reported as the most important decision-making criteria when making a nutritional recommendation and 32% of respondents said they looked for a rabbit food containing around 20-30% fibre; although 9% vets said that they were unsure about ideal levels.
A further 22% said they would look for a rabbit food with 70-100% fibre but this can't even be achieved by feeding hay alone, which has a crude fibre level of around 35%. Although rabbits can live on hay and water alone, most experts recommend also providing some fresh leafy green vegetables and a measured amount of commercial feed to ensure vitamin and mineral intake (source Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund).
Taking into account all extruded small pet foods available in the UK, Supreme's Science Selective contains the highest fibre content, with 25% Crude Fibre - the legal measure of fibre in a pet food.
Quality, palatability, knowledge and fibre content were all cited as important criteria when making a brand recommendation. Supreme ranked highest among vets when recommending a food for small pets, with respondents stating that Supreme was also the first brand that they would recommend in the next 12 months.
Asked to say what they would most like to change to improve the health and wellbeing of small pets, the top answers given by veterinary professionals were improved owner education and better diets. Supreme supports veterinary teams to educate owners with free rabbit nutrition packs, which contain rabbit care guides that focus on the correct amounts of hay, concentrate and fresh greens that should be fed, using an easy-to-understand visual guide. There is also a poster for the waiting room and samples of Science Selective, with a money off next purchase coupon included in the packs. To order free rabbit nutrition packs, veterinary practices and pet shops can email firstname.lastname@example.org
*The online survey was carried out in September 2019 and based on feedback from the 372 veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses who responded.