Lapis ISSN 2398-2969

GI: anatomy and physiology

Contributor(s): Vetstream Ltd, Glen Cousquer, Virginia Garner-Richardson, Jill Pearson


Wild diet
  • The wild rabbit is a grazer, although they will forage on leaves and shoots at low level.
  • The diet will vary according to the availability of herbaceous biomass within the environment.
  • The wild rabbit will graze on grass for 4-6 h/day. Grass is abrasive and encourages the side-to-side chewing action essential for proper wear of the molars.
  • The diet of the wild rabbit is approximately 20-25% crude fiber, 15% crude protein and 2-3% fat.

The function of fiber within the diet

  • Fiber is a key component of the rabbit's diet and the anatomy, and physiology of the rabbit's digestive tract reflect the rabbit's adaptation to a high fiber diet.
  • Fiber promotes normal peristalsis and, in order to be digested, requires the rabbit to chew for long periods of time. The act of chewing, in turn, promotes an even wear of the teeth.
  • The particle size and digestibility of the fiber is important. It is the large indigestible particles (lignocellulose) which drive normal peristalsis. The smaller digestible particles are fermented in the cecum to produce B vitamins and volatile fatty acids.


This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to purchase a 30 day trial, or Login


This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to purchase a 30 day trial, or Login

Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Ferreira C C & Alves P C (2009) Influence of habitat management on the abundance and diet of wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus algirus) in Mediterranean ecosystems. Euro J Wildlife Res 55 (5), 487-496 ResearchGate.
  • Martins H, Milne J A & Rego F (2002) Seasonal and spatial variation in the diet of wild rabbits in Portugal. J Zool 258 (3), 395-404 ResearchGate.
  • V Altbäcker, R Hudson, Á Bilkó (1995) Rabbit-mothers' diet influences pups' later food choice. Ethology 99 (1-2), 107-116 Wiley Online Library.
  • Fekete S (1989) Recent findings and future perspectives of digestive physiology in rabbits - a review. Acta Vet Hung 37 (3), 265-279 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Stevens E C & Hume I D (2004) Comparative Physiology of the Vertebrate Digestive Systems. Cambridge University Press.
  • Brown S A (1998) Rabbit Gastrointestinal Physiology and Disease. In: Proc 41st Annual BSAVA Congress.
  • Hillyer & Quesenberry (1997) Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents - Clinical Medicine and Surgery. W B Saunders.
  • Lebas F, Coudert P, de Rochambeau H & Thebaut R G (1997) The Rabbit: Husbandry Health and Production. In: FAO Animal Production and Health Series. Rome.
  • Harkness J E & Wagner J E (1995) The biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents. Lea & Febiger.