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Hundreds of rabbits are dead, tainted feed is to blame

By Bronson Teichert
Nov. 3, 2016 

Vitamin imbalances in rabbit feed have been causing Utah rabbit owners to suffer losses for the past six months. The problem was discovered on Oct. 21 in toxicology labs at Utah State University.

“These bunnies were our beloved pets and 4-H projects,” said Vicky Sleeman, an owner of a small rabbitry in Ogden, Utah.

Sleeman switched feed brands to Commercial Rabbit in May. In the past six months, her farm has experienced the death of three females, two complete litters of newborn rabbits, infertility issues and abnormal eating behaviors.

According to Sharon Christianson, a representative of Commercial Rabbit, the feed company changed to a different distributing company in May that had a 20 percent higher concentration of vitamin D.

Bracken Davis, a representative of the state’s Plant Industry Feeds Program, said multiple farmers noticed problems with their rabbits all summer and into the fall but were not able to determine the cause.

A feed sample was sent to Utah State University to be analyzed by Jeffery Hall, the head of the diagnostic toxicology department.

According to Hall, toxic levels of vitamin D led to organ failure and calcification of tissues, which caused the deaths of more than 500 rabbits.

“Commercial Rabbit feed has not had this problem before,” Davis said.

Sleeman said her rabbitry had also never experienced this type of problem before. However, she will now start taking precautions. 

“I feel that to completely prevent this situation, one would have to only use fresh, homegrown feed,” Sleeman said. “However, I realize that would be time-consuming and require space that might not be available to most people, and therefore unrealistic.”

Sleeman would like to go back to manufactured rabbit feed in the future. As for now, it isn’t an option.

“I like to be optimistic and think that the manufacturer that I trust with creating a quality feed product, would allow for regular and routine testing for harmful levels of nutrients in the future,” Sleeman said. “But for now, all I can do is eliminate pellet feed completely from my rabbits’ diet, monitor my rabbits closely and hope for the best.”