Influence of diet on calcium metabolism, tissue calcification and urinary sludge in rabbits
Rabbits absorb more calcium (Ca) from their diet than they require, and excrete surplus via urine, which therefore contains a typical 'sludge'. This makes rabbits susceptible to Ca-containing uroliths.
But given the Ca content of diets of free-ranging specimens, and the limited reports of urinary sludge and Ca contents in free-ranging lagomorphs, we can suspect that rabbits are naturally adapted to high urinary Ca loads. We fed four groups of New Zealand hybrid rabbits [n = 28, age at start 5–6 weeks) pelleted diets consisting of lucerne hay only (L, Ca 2.32% dry matter (DM)], lucerne:oats 1:1 (LG, Ca 1.36%), grass hay only (G, Ca 1.04%), or grass:oats 1:1 (GG, 0.83%) for 25 weeks, with water available ad libitum. Diets were not supplemented with Ca, phosphorus, or vitamin D. Rabbits on diets LG and GG had lower food and water intakes, lower faeces and urine output, grew faster and had higher body mass at slaughter (mainly attributable to adipose tissue). Apparent Ca digestibility decreased in the order L–LG–G/GG. Rabbits on L had larger and heavier kidneys, more urinary sediment at sonography, and a higher urinary Ca content than the other groups. No animal showed signs of urolithiasis/calcinosis at X-ray, sonography, or gross pathology. Kidney/aorta histology only sporadically indicated Ca deposits, with no systematic difference between groups. Under the conditions of the experiment, dietary Ca loads in legume hay do not appear problematic for rabbits, and other factors, such as water supply and level of activity may be important contributors to urolithiasis development in veterinary patients. However, due to the lower Ca content of grass hay, the significantly lower degree of urinary sludge formation, and the significantly higher water intake related with grass hay feeding, grass hay-dominated diets are to be recommended for rabbits in which urolithiasis prevention is an issue.
Title: Influence of diet on calcium metabolism, tissue calcification and urinary sludge in rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
Authors: M. Clauss, B. Burger, A. Liesegang, F. Del Chicca, M. Kaufmann-Bart, B. Riond, M. Hässig and J.-M. Hatt
Source: Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition (2012) volume 96, issue 5