Charles Kimenju feeds his rabbits on what looks like very dry grass that one may consider unpalatable to the animals.
“This hay is what is good for rabbits. Many offer their bunnies green matter but it may lead to death,” says Kimenju, who keeps the rabbits in his parent’s home in Loresho-Kangemi.
Kimenju, a third-year communications student at Daystar University, knows too well the danger of feeding rabbits lush green matter.
The 24-year-old recently lost 10 rabbits to bloat after he fed them fresh vegetables.
Animal experts say that bloat is caused by feeding the animals fresh green matter as well as poor maintenance of rabbit pens.
“When the 10 animals died, I had 50 rabbits. I had seen them grow after starting with only six. I bought them from my uncle in 2013 at Sh1,000 each from a capital of Sh10,000 my father gave me.”
That day, he went to a farm near his parent’s home, uprooted weeds and passed by the market and bought sukuma wiki (collard green) to feed the animals.
“I had done it before and I had also seen a friend do it,” says Kimenju.
He fed the rabbits the vegetables and the weeds but it did not take long for him to see there was a problem.
“I was shocked to see five of the bunnies stretch on the floor of the pens in discomfort.”
Distressed, the farmer contacted his uncle and explained the symptoms.
“He told me the rabbits were suffering from bloat,” says Kimenju. “He advised me to withdraw the feeds. Unfortunately, 10 of the rabbits died,” says Kimenju, who sells his rabbits in Kangemi at an average price of Sh1,000.
He has over 60 rabbits of Flemish Giant, Californian White and the Dutch Earlobe breeds.
Patrick Kariuki, a rabbit expert at the National Rabbit Breeding and Training Centre in Ngong, says bloat, which is always characterised by the swelling of the stomach, is often triggered by excess gas in the animal’s digestive system.
When bloated, bunnies become inactive and sit hunched at a corner of the pen with their eyes partially closed.
Others might also sit with their stomachs pressed on the floor or upright with an unnaturally straight posture.
The stomach further becomes extremely hard and grossly distended. This can cause the blood supply to be cut off from the stomach or intestine.
Kariuki says bloat can quickly lead to shock and then death.
“Any green vegetable should be wilted to reduce moisture content before giving to rabbits,” he says.
Wilting fodder like lucerne, which has high protein content, is highly recommended.
High protein leads to high production of nitrogen gas which leads to stomach bloat.
According to Kariuki, when a rabbit bloats, don’t feed it until the condition is under check.
“Gently massaging their tummies can also help to remove the excess gas.”
He warns farmers against feeding the animals pellets made from different ingredients.
“Some companies manufacture plant-based pellets while others animal-based. Abrupt change in diet can also cause bloat.”