Rabbits - feeding and nutrition

Unfortunately, what we thought was a normal rabbit weight in the past has often been an overweight rabbit. Obesity is a problem with rabbits that eat a diet too high in calories and that don't get enough exercise. A healthy rabbit should be slim and sleek. The house rabbit should have a diet high in fibre and fairly low in calories (especially fats and starches). Over time pellet diets have been sold as the mainstay of a rabbit's diet, but pellets were originally formulated for non household rabbits (i.e. laboratory or farmed rabbits).

Some of the problems associated with rabbits fed unlimited pellets are:

  • Obesity
  • Dental disease
  • Soft stools (with norm stools)
  • Periodic bouts of anorexia (not eating)
  • Heart and liver disease
  • Calcification of blood vessels
  • Bladder and kidney stones

Recommended Diet for Adult Rabbits 

Fresh Hay (or grass) 

  • Should always to be available. This is the most important of a rabbit's diet.
  • Young bunnies should be exposed to hay as soon as they can eat on their own.
  • Mixed grass (timothy, meadow, oat, rye, barley or Bermuda grasses) hay is lower in calcium and calories.
  • Alfalfa (and clover, peas, beans or peanut) is not recommended.
  • Store hay in a cool, dry place in an open bag to allow circulation. Discard damp hay.
  • Prefer loose long strands of hay compared to pressed cubes or chopped hay 

Greens

Green foods are the next most important food in the rabbit's diet. Feed at least 3 types of leafy green vegetables daily in a total minimum amount (all types of greens together) of 1 heaped cup per 1.8kg body weight. This is a minimum, as the bunny adjusts to this diet more can be fed. Greens are an important addition to the diet, but should never be the total diet.

These food products contain fibre, vitamins e.g. A & C, minerals and carbohydrates as well as providing mental stimulation for your pet.

Baby greens
Bok Choy 
Borage basil
Broccoli (leaves and top) 
Brussel sprouts
Cabbage (red, green, Chinese)
Carrot/beet tops 
Celery (leaves are good)
Chickory 
Collard greens
Dandelion greens (and flower)
Dock
Endive 
Escarole
Kale
Leaf lettuce
Mustard greens
Parsley (Italian or flat leaf are best)
Radicchio
Romaine lettuce
Swiss chard (any colour)
Water cress

Fruits and other Vegetables (Treat Foods)

Since these items do not make up the majority of the diet, we recommend feeding these treats in limited quantities. Another reason for limiting the amount is because some rabbits like these foods so well that they will eat them to the exclusion of all others, thereby creating a potential for health problems. Foods from this list can be fed daily and you may even wish to use them as part of a reward or training system.

*TIP: Find at least one food in this list that your rabbit likes and feed a small amount daily to check on how good your rabbit's appetite is. If your rabbit will not eat her treat food, then there may be other problems brewing and you need to keep a close eye on your pet for health problems.

These treat foods are far healthier (and less expensive) than the commercial treat foods sold for rabbits. Commercial treat foods should generally be avoided because many are loaded with starch and fat and if fed in quantity can cause serious health problems.

Apple
Bean or alfalfa sprouts
Blackberries
Blueberries
Cactus fruit
Carrots
Cherries
Cranberries
Edible flowers from the garden (organically grown and NOT from a florist) such as roses, nasturtiums, day lilies, pansies and snap dragons.
Green or red bell peppers
Kiwi fruit
Mango
Melons
Papaya
Pea pods (flat, NO peas)
Peach

Pear
Pineapple
Raspberries
Squash 

Pellets 

  • Rabbit pellets should generally only comprise a small portion of a pet rabbit's diet (10%).
    -  18% of higher fibre
    -  2.5% or lower in fat
    - 16% or less in protein
    - 1.0% or less in calcium
    -  Do not buy pellet mixes that also contain seeds, dried fruits or nuts.
    -  Buy pellets based on grass hays (timothy, orchard grass, brome etc.) NOT alfalfa hay.
     
  • For young growing rabbits, pellets can be given free choice until 6 to 8 months of age, then decrease to the maintenance amount as above.
  • Store pellets in a closed container in a cool, dry place. Only buy enough for three months at a time.
  • Please note not all commercially available rabbit food are good for rabbits. Some are not balanced and can cause severe problems for rabbits with gut stasis. Contact us for advice on which brands of rabbit food are the best.

Food to avoid

Avoid starchy foods or high sugar content foods such as; legumes, beans, peas, corn, bananas, grapes, oats, wheat, crackers, chips, bread, nuts, pasta, potatoes, chocolate, cookies, rolled oats and breakfast cereals, beans (of any kind), breads, cereals, corn, refined sugar and seeds.

We know that bunnies love starchy foods, and these can be fed in very small amounts for adult rabbits - yet it is easy to overdo, and may result in soft stools or serious stomach upsets.
 

For Overweight Rabbits

  • Remove all pellets. Rabbits can make their own rich supply of nutrients in the caecum.
  • Do not fast rabbits for weight loss. Where rabbits are only given food for a certain amount of time each day, this leaves the bunny with nothing to do physically and mentally for long hours. Rabbits were designed to eat large amounts of food frequently and such a measure may lead to a sluggish gastrointestinal tract due to lack of stimulation.
  • If your rabbit is not used to getting fresh foods, start out gradually feeding them with the leafy green vegetables and add a new food item from the list every 3 to 5 days.

Rabbits eating paper and wood

This is seen where the bunny has stopped eating pellets, but eats all the newspaper in their enclosure or hutch. These rabbits are craving fibre, as they are not on unlimited (or usually any) hay or greens.

Supplements (enzymes and bacteria)

These products do no harm, but are usually unnecessary when the rabbit is eating a more natural diet.

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Basic health and care

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