Why Your Pet Bunny Needs Vitamin D
Spring has arrived and with it comes an increase in the number of people who get a pet bunny, especially for Easter. Although rabbits are cute and look cuddly, there are many things about bunnies people don’t know, including their need for vitamin D.
Yes, in addition to learning all there is know about how to feed, handle, and play with your pet bunny (and whether you should get one in the first place), you also should be aware that domestic pet rabbits often suffer from insufficient vitamin D, and that can lead to many health problems.
Pet rabbits usually live indoors, and since this is not their natural habitat, they can suffer from a lack of sunlight and thus enough of this essential vitamin. As in humans, insufficient vitamin D can result in a number of health problems.
In rabbits, those health challenges can include cardiovascular health issues, a weakened immune system, and dental problems. Here’s what a new study has to say on the topic.
You may know that vitamin D assists with calcium absorption in humans, which in turn contributes to bone health. Bunnies need vitamin D for the same reason. Based on the new report in the American Journal of Veterinary Research, rabbits who were exposed to artificial ultraviolet B (UVB) light showed a twofold increase in their serum vitamin D levels.
That was great news for those bunnies, since their peers who are not exposed to UVB light (real or artificial) are at great risk of health problems. However, if you have a pet bunny or plan to get one, exposing your rabbit to sunlight so he or she can produce vitamin D is one of the things you need to consider.
According to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, one of the chronic problems rabbits experience if they don’t get enough UVB is dental disease. Cardiovascular issues, including heart attacks, can affect bunnies, as can an increased susceptibility to infections.
How to keep your bunny healthy
One way to expose your rabbit to enough sunlight is to provide suspended ultraviolet light in her enclosure. Talk to your veterinarian about how much artificial UV rays your bunny needs each day. Another option is to give your bunny vitamin D supplements in his food.
If you are thinking about keeping your domestic bunny outdoors, think again. Domestic rabbits are not like their wild relatives. Pet bunnies are susceptible to temperature changes and can literally die of a heart attack from stress if they even see a predator.
Along with sufficient vitamin D, there are many other things you need to know about how to care for a pet bunny. The video explains some critically important tips on how to handle your pet rabbit.
PetFinder provides some interesting information regarding myths surrounding pet rabbits, while the SPCA offers some critical information on feeding, housing, and socialization. If you have decided to make pet bunny part of your family, be sure you know how to handle the challenges, including the rabbit’s need for vitamin D, in as stress-free a way as possible for both you and your bunny.
Author's Note: I personally do not encourage anyone to keep a pet rabbit. However, anyone who chooses to do so should be fully aware of the responsibilities that go with being a rabbit parent. I also applaud those who run legitimate domestic rabbit sanctuaries.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Emerson JA et al. Effects of ultraviolet radiation produced from artificial lights on serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration in captive domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculi). American Journal of Veterinary Research 2014; 75(4): 380