Do you have a house rabbit?
If you do, you need to know the studies are done, and the evidence is in: Indoor rabbits are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency.
Rabbits obtain Vitamin D when the sun shines on their skin. Unfortunately, window glass blocks those vital UVB rays, leaving house rabbits vulnerable to vitamin deficiency. In turn, Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium metabolism, leaving deficient rabbits with poor-quality bones and teeth.
What Does Vitamin D Do?
We all know that calcium is vital for strong bones and teeth. Rabbits get calcium from their food, but it’s only beneficial if it passes out of the gut and is absorbed into the bloodstream, and for this Vitamin D is essential.
Lack of Vitamin D means inadequate blood levels of calcium, which often leads to health problems.
Rabbits lacking in calcium, especially as young, growing animals, are going to have poor-quality bones and teeth. In the long term, this could contribute to dental problems such as uneven tooth growth, poor-quality enamel and the tooth root problems commonly found in pet rabbits.
People who care for rabbits are often painfully aware of how common dental disease is in their pets. If trips to the vet to get your bunny’s teeth trimmed are part of your monthly schedule, then consider that Vitamin D deficiency could be part of the problem.
Of course, dental disease is complex and depends on lots of other factors, such as genetic makeup and the rabbit’s diet, but it looks increasingly as if poor bone and tooth quality due to lack of Vitamin D is significant.
Researchers believe that this lack has an overall weakening effect on the immune system, resulting in regular infections, such as the snuffles, and other far-reaching effects, such as contributing to cardiovascular problems. Overall, it’s clear that this vitamin is essential for optimal health.
So what can you do? It’s simple: Make sure your rabbit gets some sun every day.
Harness Training to Get More Vitamin D
For house rabbits, consider using a harness indoors. Once he’s comfortable, you can take the rabbit outside and still keep him safe. Perhaps find a patch of grass that hasn’t been treated with pesticides, and let the rabbit quietly graze for 30 minutes a day.
This way, the rabbit benefits not only from the sunlight but also the added boost of chewing on the diet that nature intended. Chewing on fibrous grass is a great way to wear down the teeth (in a good way), so you have a double-whammy of goodness right there for the taking.
If you don’t have access to grass, try taking the rabbit out and about on your shoulder as you run errands. Or, if your apartment has a balcony, set up a safe, escape-proof outdoor run there so your rabbit can sunbathe.
A Secure Outdoor Run
Another possible solution is to put the rabbit in an outdoor run for part of the day. Obviously, this has security implications if you have predatory wildlife in the area, but don’t dismiss it without first balancing the pros and cons.
Get your daily dose of cute with this video of baby bunnies playing outside:
In a sturdy, fully enclosed outdoor run, the rabbit is protected and the risks minimized, balanced against the long-term benefit to the rabbit’s health. Make sure to:
- Move the run onto a clean patch of grass every day.
- Give the rabbit a shelter or hide, plus shade from direct sunlight in hot weather.
- Protect your pet from direct wind and rain.
Remember, even getting outdoors for 30 to 60 minutes a day could make a positive difference in your rabbit’s health.
If this is not possible and your rabbit lives entirely indoors, think laterally. If you can’t take your rabbit to the sun, then take the sun to the rabbit in the form of an artificial UVB lighting used by reptile keepers.
Speak with your local exotics specialist about how to correctly set up and maintain a UVB bulb to provide your rabbit with that much-needed UVB exposure.
Last but not least, experts advise against dietary supplements of Vitamin D. This fat-soluble vitamin can easily build up in fat reserves, and too much of a good thing is just as bad as not enough.
- “Effects of ultraviolet radiation produced from artificial lights on serum 25-hydroxy Vitamin D concentration in captive rabbits.” Emerson, Whittington, et al. American Journal of Veterinary Research, vol. 75, April 2014.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Dec. 11, 2015.