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correcr use of foraged plants - a personal opinion


Wise Old Thumper
A personal opinion.
The predominant component of a normal rabbit diet should be about 90% hay or grass.
Foraged wild plants are intended to replace the veg component or the pellet component in rabbits which get at least 1 hour outside daylight a day .(Permanent house rabbits need about an eggcupful of pellets for the vit D3 compoment)
When using foraged plants with less starch & sugars about 1 1/2 - 2 times the volume of human veg is needed.They can often be combined with fresh safe herbs.

With longstanding gut motility issues/ frequent stasis where no pathological cause can be found it is often helpful to add a handful of safe tree or shrub leaves or safe tree twigs into the hay to add a different fibre - lignin which is totally indigestable. Chickweed can be be likewise used to add mucilage to ease the passage of ingesta.

A hay eating rabbit should never have the hay eating component withdrawn.

In cases where a rabbit goes off "grass & hay" the underlying cause should be always be establish by a vet.

Straightforward "mucky bum" - unformed or uneaten caecals only is easily addressed by a hay only diet, followed by very gradual reintroduction of other dietary components one at a time, once the caecals have returned to normal for 4-5 days. Rabbits can live perfectly healthy lives on hay alone provided that it is a very good quality meadow hay with a good mix of different grass types.

In cases of abnormal caecals AND clumps of waste faeces stuck together with caecal material (not just stuck on the outside) this should be investigated immediately if it hasn't already been done so. This type of faeces indicates disease of the proximal colon as well as the caecum. The commonest cause is E.flavescens. which is easily treated.

Diagnosed megacolon buns need individual help. Again, the 1st approach is to stimulate gut motility with additional fibre types from tree leaves/brambles, which has the added advantage of reducing the risks of mild dysbiosis in stagnant gut contents. In this situation or situations where abnormality of the gut microorganisms is predicted, & not responding to standard measures, a course of blackthorn leaves gathered when the sloes have fully ripened can be extremely helpfull. Those available commercially have been gathered throughout the year. I do NOT advocate the use of this source, simply because neither of my rabbits will touch them until a specific stage of growth. It has been a repeating pattern for 8 years now, & sensitive to within a week. Also Wildies cannot access these leaves until they fall. These leaves need to be obtained from a known source - gathered ourselves, at the correct time, or in an emergency some RUers keep a small surplus.
Neither is blackthorn for general feeding long term. I only recommend it as an aide in the recovery of stasis or difficult situations where the gut had become colonised by abnormal bacteria eg E.coli & others, which can cause poor motility in their own right.
Diagnosed megacolon buns have many absorbtion issues should the caecal wall become diseased.

Certain tree leaves/brambles will NOT cure coccidiosis (tannin component) but are a good preventive measure advocated by "medirabbit" & used traditionally.

I personally think that weight loss of known cause or undergoing investigation can be addressed simply by increasing gut motility - bramble leaves being a good starter. Bunny can then eat more.
In this situation an increase in carbohydrates or protein from human veg/pellets can sometimes cause mucky bum issues, & carefully chosen types of forage used in the veg component of the diet can overcome this. However the excessive use of foraged wild plants may have inadequate fibre for a rabbit & if there is a reduction in the grass or hay component prove too rich for a rabbit.
My warning to grass eating rabbits is that spring grass is very rich & the change back to grass after winter feed should be made very cautiously

Rabbit selection of foods is different from us. When presented with wild foods NOT pellets or human veg they will tend to choose the plants which help their condition. A common pattern is for them to take a taste for a couple of days (find out what it does for them) & then really go crackers for it, or, if it is unhelpful, leave it. Again the wild plant component should be limited.
In certain situations only of restabilising gut micro organisms & improving motility TREE leaves, twigs & brambles can be fed freely in with the hay component. The usual pattern is for the rabbit to vary his intake of the tree leaves according to his gut function.

I have never intentionally advocated a forage only diet to anyone. There have been a few very rare situations when a rabbit has become forage only dependant because of GI disease. In these situations I have advised to continue with the forage until the underlying disease is diagnosed & treated. My subsequent advice has been to gradually ween the rabbit to grass & then hay.
IMO collected grass needs to be collected fresh 3 times a day & any uneaten grass removed before putting down fresh.

I deeply regret there have been recent misunderstandings & poor communication about a particular rabbit. What was done was so far from my intention, I couldn't understand what had probably happened until today.

My rabbit Thumper had extensive incurable disease throughout his whole gut, with a collapsed caecum for 10 months (non functional) as well as incurable diease of major absorption areas of the gut wall. His feeding was highly irregular. He should have been impossible to feed at all & died from malnutrition because his ability to process food was less than a human gut. His thread was a journey into the unknown & not intended to be imitated generally, & certainly never without a clear understanding of the malfunction of the gut.

Above all a rabbit needs fibre fibre fibre.

Some may still disagree with me strongly. Should they do so, I welcome rational, & informed discussion.
I have nothing to add and have no idea of anything that has gone on but I just wanted to say I always find your posts on foraging fascinating and informative, so thank you very much for sharing xx
I have no idea what has happened but I have never seen you suggest that hay/grass was replaceable. It is largely thanks to you that I feed a lot more forage than I would have done, but I don't feed veg, I don't see the need when my guys have oodles of hay, go bonkers for their pellets and enjoy their forage, even if at the moment it is just various bought dried stuff sadly.

I am always astounded by your knowledge, both of bunnies and of the properties of wild plants, also of your ability to watch wildies and learn from them. I am sure in your place I wouldn't have thought anything beyond 'cute' :oops:. I am sorry there has been a mix up.
Similarly no idea what has happened - and your advice based on your experience is obviously what has helped rabbits you have helped and has been wonderful in helping so many.

As you know I greatly respect your knowldge.

I would just mention though that my rabbits wolf down nearly all forage at all times - (though they do have constant meadow hay available at all times and also eat huge amounts of that )..

But they are not picky about their leaves nor the year time for most forage plants - they will eat spring growth as well as autumn - though the leaves will not have the sugars in in spring they will have a different range of goodies. Autumn leaves are 'sweet' leaves. (brambles are an exception as is ground elder - both have distinct no eating times as they become bitter as a protective mechanism)

Most rabbits kept in domestication do not have as much access to grass and the mix of wild plants in those grasses, and hedgerow plants, that wild rabbits would have. They are therefore forced into a much higher quantity of hay (dried grasses) which in itself is unnatural - particularly when that hay is of a specific or monocultural type.

Therefore feeding a wide range of forage is no more or less unnatural than the predominantly hay diet. You rarely see wild rabbits eating dried hay!!!!

The very specific hays now on the market are also often miles away from what a wild English rabbit would eat (historically there were not fields of alfalfa for example).

However I think we have to bear in mind that rabbits are very widespread in Europe and have adapted to actually ingest a wider range of available wild foods than we give them credit for - although the vast majority of their diet will be mixed grasses and meadow plants with the odd hedgerow.

As always a domestic rabbit needs to be introduced to things gradually - it was not born and brought up in the wild.
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Your advice is wonderful. Don't know what has happened but please don't stop.

This ^. I dont know what happened but it would be a real shame if you didnt post your wonderful advice because of someone or at least a minority misunderstanding something youve said. Keep up your wonderful advice.
Just adding my gratitude for your wonderful advice Thumps. I only need to look at Hector today to have to recall all the help you've given us.


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Thank you everyone for your replies. They are very kind.

It's quite difficult to advise on RU because some people haven't got the basic concepts yet, others are well advanced, yet others "exploring unknown territory" but with so much experience & knowedge, that it can be done by them safely, however it wouldn't be safe for someone to do this without the basic concepts. So my original post is aimed at basic concepts.

On RU I have 3 further concerns.
a) That the forage gathered is safe. So I restrict my posts to plants which are easy for a complete novice to identify, or if they do make a mistake - rabbits eat both anyway. I'm a bit stretched to grasp how someone might think a hawksbit is a dandelion, but even should they do so, both are equally good rabbit food.
b) The human concern, that people who live in cities without allotments, shouldn't feel totally left out or that their care of their rabbits is in any way lacking, just because they can't obtain forage.
c) Those who do forage either need to secure sufficient supplies to overwinter, or it should be such a component of the diet, that seasonal adjustments can be made without GI upset.

I'm not anti human veg. There were once terrible problems with stasis on RU & a few buns which went into stasis easily. Together with a few other RUers we felt that one problem for this specific group of buns might be the fluctuations presented to the rabbit gut when a stomach full of high nutrient veg & pellets suddenly hit the digestive system & the effect of this on the microorganisms. It was our efforts to even this out in a practical way plus increasing the fibre to improve underlying gut motility which led to the "forage" concepts.

I think Parsnipbun & I could rabbit on for ages & you would be teaching me far more than vice versa Parsnipbun.:D I enjoy your points although on the surface we may appear to disagree, in some areas, I know that you have a large number of very healthy buns. Some have health issues because of the buns you take on, & not a single one has had health issues because of diet. I listen to you with great interest.
In the interests of truth, both Thumper & now Benjie have forage only diets, but in my area of intensive grain farming, for various reasons we have lost so many chalk downland plant species that it's heartbreaking. Tiny lanes which one glowed with pastel shades in summer have become a "bowling green desert".
It is very difficult for me to collect enough forage to sustain a single bunny although I know my area very well to a 7 mile radius. Its an eternal battle against council mowing! Thumper had a forage only diet as his illness progressed so the changes were made slowly. Benjie has snuffles with a very poor initial prognosis. His forage only diet is experimental, to reduce dust inhalation. The change to forage only was made very gradually in both cases & over many months. I simply don't actively advocate it, because for most people it's unrealistically time consuming, difficult to obtain in sufficiently large quantities, & does need a good background knowledge of the various components of a rabbit diet.
I have no issue with you at all Parsnipbun. It is only that for the purposes of the forum, I don't want a "beginner" to misunderstand.

How right you are about the vast range of habitats rabbits have adapted to. With different habitats, comes different diet. I think that the big thing to remember is the dietary changes would have come slowly, & in some cases over several generations.

I don't find much difference seasonally either - the one exception being blackthorn. Its incredibly difficult to find out much about it. Wildies don't climb into the hedges for it & too right!! Not only are the thorns formidable, but if we accidentally stab ourselves deeply the tip of the thorn invariably breaks off causing various issues. Once the leaves fall a frieend noticed that her wildies scoffed every fallen leaf & I found the same in my area.
Without further information relevant to rabbits I can only advise what I know to be very safe. There's this very unusual & marked time specificity when my 2 will eat it. After that, Thumper ate the fresh leaves so avidly that a car bootful only lasted 3 days! My leaves & leaves gathered like them were also very helpful indeed to start rabbits eating in an exotics vet hospital after full treatment had been given. Time & time again the overall effect has been to stabilise the gut microorganisms when pathogenic bacteria are causing issues.
2 rabbits only eating it at this time isn't much to go on. The large quantities they eat & subsequent use in a vet hospital was actually a better "clinical trial" than those done on drugs for rabbit use.:D

Re Hay You make an excellent point about hays made from 1 type of grass only. This is a difficult issue for our friends in the USA. where so much hay is monoculture.
Even the different grasses have different nutrient, vitamin & mineral content, such that wildies change from grass type to grass type almost on a daily basis. I freely admit that grass identification is a closed book to me. I can only manage about 12 species & after that it's "well this one is different from that one!":lol:

For the sake of openness, I still don't know what actually happened. I OK'd what was an excellent forage diet to help a bunny gain weight by pm. I assumed the owner knew enough by now to use it for the veg/pellet component only. I have a lot of issues, rainfall not the least at the time! I simply forgot who'd I'd OK'd this diet to, & was asked to join the thread later. After I joined the thread, I saw that initial tests showed an E.coli problem. I knew that blackthorn was helpful in this situation. I was fully aware that tannins don't cure coccidiosis (which hadn't been diagnosed at the time, only subsequently) they are only a good preventive measure.
No body has actually told me to my face what went on.
I've been rapped across the knuckles for doing herbal medicine - I don't. There's a world of a difference between a medicine & allowing a rabbit to choose foods from their natural menu. The blackthorn has been blamed for increasing gassy abdo pain which was present before the blackthorn was used.
It's been a mares nest of confusion, very unpleasant & distressing, apparently with most of the discussion about my shortfalls taking place on social networking sites.. All could have been avoided if someone who knew who was going on had simply pm'd me "Did you really mean to do that?" I'd have said "Heck no - lets put it right".
Yes, I also lost my temper with the owner - in very trying circumstances & apologised.
So with that in mind, I put up this thread to avoid similar misunderstandings in the future.

When I mention about some plants which rabbits seem to favour in certain situations having certain properties, I can't even say that is the correct reason why rabbits eat them. I can't ask the rabbits themselves. I imagine that if I could the answer would be "Because it makes me feel well & fit. Why do you eat your food stoopid!":lol:
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Judy, I have no idea who has been having a go at you or for what reasons; I certainly haven't seen anything on social network sites :? As you know already, I am very very grateful for the help and the leaves that you have provided for Barney. Your knowledge is very helpful to a lot of people. I am not sure what you think has been going on, but it is nothing that I am part of, just so you know. :wave:
I am very interested in your wisdom Judy, your knowledge and insight is amazing. I am always willing to learn and try my best.

I have ongoing problems with one of my bunnies, Mr Bennett. The other two have wonderful giant golden poos, although I stopped SS pellets about 5 months ago because Cutie-pie was getting dirty bottoms. They now live on mainly root vegetables, herbs and hay only.

At a loss with Mr Bennett, he is an indoor dental bunny. He is the one bunny that has come along and has all the problems your other bunnies have never had.

!. Always had small dark poo.

2. Had 6 or 7 dentals last year. They were as close as 7 weeks apart. Its been 5 months now due to a new expensive hay he eats. Oxbow Orchard Grass Hay.

3. Frequent dirty bottoms.

Other than the above he is in good health, active and has 24/7 freedom to free range. He maybe slightly overweight.

He is still on a small amount of SS pellets. He is a fussy eater, one day he will eat dill the next leave it. It would great to find a way to stop or at least reduce the amount of dirty bottoms he has. He is getting stressed at me cleaning him every few days.
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Judy, I have no idea who has been having a go at you or for what reasons; I certainly haven't seen anything on social network sites :? As you know already, I am very very grateful for the help and the leaves that you have provided for Barney. Your knowledge is very helpful to a lot of people. I am not sure what you think has been going on, but it is nothing that I am part of, just so you know. :wave:

I don't know either, so I accuse no one, nor does it really matter now. I was told about the social media by a "real life" friend of about 7 years standing & sadly relationships are "strained" there now. That was the rap about herbal "medicines".

The only thing I can do to correct any misunderstandings is to post my basic concepts clearly, to avoid a recurrence of the "disaster".
If anyone finds a basic fault with them, let's get it ironed out.
I don't know either, so I accuse no one, nor does it really matter now. I was told about the social media by a "real life" friend of about 7 years standing & sadly relationships are "strained" there now. That was the rap about herbal "medicines".

The only thing I can do to correct any misunderstandings is to post my basic concepts clearly, to avoid a recurrence of the "disaster".
If anyone finds a basic fault with them, let's get it ironed out.

What was the disaster? :?
I love reading about your forage knowledge and about your beautiful relationships with Thumper and now with Benjie.

My wonderful family of rabbits are fed local hay (small baled, organic) and grass with some pellets and quite a bit of human veg over the winter and as much forage as I can find (not always very much at all). They seem to really like brambles and will always happily chew apple and willow branches when I can get them.

Keep up the good work. Sorry to hear that there have been misunderstandings.
I don't know what went on, but I think your support and input on RU is invaluable. If it wasn't for all the forage threads on RU I'd still be feeding loads of hay, eggcup of pellets per bun, and for their greens dandelions and bought veg, despite having rabbits for years :oops: whereas now I can feed them wild forage which is by far their preferred option. My buns eat loads of hay, in fact my four buns eat more hay than my 2 large goats :lol: but they all love forage. I think that your input helps more people and their buns than you could possibly know :thumb: the experienced foragers on here are of immense help to people like me who might read your information and learn from it. Since joining RU I've learnt so much and my buns lives are better for it :thumb:
Thank you so much for your posts Tulsi & Zoobec.
I am so delighted that your furry friends enjoy their own foods. I've never mentioned that once they have tasted their hedgerow menu there's no going back!
On the other hand, its nice for us to get out & be more aware of our natural environment.
Thank you.
I just wanted to say that I find your posts on forage and digestive function, so interesting and informative. I always feel like I am learning something new. The digestive function of rabbits is something I am very interested in, so I really appreciate others more experienced, sharing their knowledge.
Hi read all this with interest. I'm not sure I'm the type of person who would enjoy foraging. Gardening brings me out in rashes! However I have a field in front of my house that will soon be yellow with dandelions and a row of blackberry brambles leading out of my estate. I'm tempted to give some to Millie and Maddie therefore. They are house bunnies I've had for nearly 3 months, who have a handful of pellets between them in the morning and a "salad" in the evening. So far they've had no digestive problems apart from a few cecals one day when I think I introduced cauliflower leaves too quick. They are good hay eaters!

Is there a best time to feed blackberry brambles? The ones by me are just starting to grow new leaves. What do you do about the spikes on the leaves? :oops: I never knew they had these until recently!

The field is a big dog walking place would it still be okay to feed dandelion leaves from there if they have been washed?

I don't intend to replace their "salad" but thought I could add in the odd bramble or dandelion for variation?
I have always found your advice very helpful. It was your advice, and the leaves you so kindly sent, that helped my Floppy have another few months before he passed.

Although eventually he did pass away at a young age, as I knew he would with all his health problems, I have used wild forage to help my other buns through periods of stress or illness. I am convinced this has helped them recover.

Unfortunately, I'm not very confident at picking things unless I know exactly what they are, which doesn't leave me with much, but it is still helpful.

I hope you will continue to post on foraging threads, and hopefully I can gain more knowledge :wave:
i have found both your advice thumps and parsnip bun to be very informative. from both of your advice/opinion i have helped my bunny on her mucky bum situation. i took her off the pellets/muesli...still a mushy poop problem.....took her off pro-fibre pellets (which are supposed to be good for rabbits and used to work in the beginning for her).....seems to have stopped the mush poop problem!!! who knew!!!!

plus she is not a hay or even much of a grass eater!! (sigh.....naught rabbit...giving so much problem to her mummy) so i have to get her to eat forage as thats the only thing she does eat ...only just got her liking blackberry leaves again...she didnt like them for quite a while....this is what i have to deal with such a picky eater.

i also think that the owner should know their rabbit too, and thus interpret peoples advice to reflect the bun in question. as i could have put my rabbit on hay only diet but then she would have starved and then into stasis as she just plain refuses to eat hay. also owners should be adaptable, just because it worked before doesnt mean it works now...as we all age, and so our stomachs get more sensitive. ie. i cant eat mayonnaise or mushrooms after 8pm! i just cant process it as well when i was young teenager who could eat everything and anything! :D
Really interesting thread :)

What you are saying makes a lot of sense to me given that I have had horses most of my life and have done an equine nutrition course (my horses are on natural grass land and only fed hay and a vit a min supplement in addition).

Would it be possible to post a foraging thread for new bunnie owners such as myself please?