Diet and Basic Care
A rabbit’s diet is critical to keeping him happy and healthy, living a long life. A rabbit’s diet needs to be varied and include several different types and forms of food. Read about each below, and check out the Rabbit Food Pyramid from House Rabbit Society.
Quite simply, hay is the most important aspect of a rabbit’s diet. Hay should be offered all day and in “unlimited” quantities; meaning, rabbits should have available to them as much hay as they will eat. We cannot stress this enough: hay is a crucial element of a rabbit’s diet for their entire life.
A rabbit’s digestive system is complicated, and must be understood in order to feed your rabbit properly. Even though today’s house rabbits have been domesticated for centuries, their intestinal tract is still built like those of their wild ancestors. Therefore, high-quality Timothy or Orchard Grass hay and fresh water are the basis of a rabbit’s dietary needs, and “free access” is key to keeping the intestinal tract working. Read more here:
- All about hay: http://rabbit.org/hay-in-your-bunnys-diet/
- Hay and the importance of fiber: http://rabbit.org/natural-nutrition-part-i-the-importance-of-fiber/
GREENS & VEGETABLES
A well-balanced diet includes fresh greens, herbs, and vegetables, but not all kinds are suitable for a rabbit. Some may even be poisonous. Below you will find a list of suggested vegetables and potential caveats. It is important to introduce new greens and vegetables slowly as any rapid change in diet can lead to soft poop or diarrhea. Never give moldy, limp, or cooked greens and vegetables! Some vegetables (e.g. kale and spinach) are high in oxalates and should only be fed sparingly as they may lead to a build-up of bladder sludge. Favorite greens include:
- Alfalfa, radish & clover sprouts
- Beet greens (tops)
- Bok choy
- Carrot & carrot tops
- Collard greens
- Dandelion greens and flowers (no pesticides)
- Kale (sparingly)
- Lettuce: romaine, red, or green leaf (no iceberg – the darker the leaves the better)
- Mustard greens
- Pea pods (the flat edible kind)
- Radish tops
- Spinach (sparingly)
- Wheat grass
More information on greens:
- Suggested vegetables and fruit: http://rabbit.org/suggested-vegetables-and-fruits-for-a-rabbit-diet
- Wisconsin HRS list of poisonous plants: http://wisconsinhrs.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/WHRS-Library_ToxicPlantsList.pdf
Contrary to popular belief, pellets are NOT the basis of a rabbit’s diet, and some commercial pellets may actually do more harm than good. Instead of colorful pet store mixes (containing high-sugar and hard-to-digest ingredients such as colored bread, corn, and seeds) that may lead to intestinal illness, high-quality timothy-based pellets without fillers are the best choice. A completely pellet-free diet is possible for overweight rabbits, but this involves carefully balancing your rabbit’s nutrients and should not be attempted with very young, elderly, or health-compromised rabbits. We recommend a small amount of high-quality timothy pellets be fed daily in small amounts.
- More information on hay and pellets: http://www.indianahrs.org/care-food.aspx
Fresh herbs are a welcome addition to a rabbit’s daily menu, but should also be fed sparingly. Basil, dill, dandelion, etc. can even be grown in your own garden or on your windowsill. Please DO NOT collect herbs outdoors as they may have been exposed to harmful chemicals, pesticides or animal droppings.
- A list of herbs safe for rabbits can be found at kaninhop: http://kanin.org/node/191
Since most fruit is high in sugar, it should only be offered as an occasional treat. Apples, grapes, bananas, and strawberries are very popular, but must be rationed even if bunny is begging for them. The sugar content in dried fruit is even higher than in fresh food, so the occasional dried papaya or pineapple can be given as a reward, but should not be on the daily menu. Citrus fruits are not recommended for rabbits; they can lead to severe diarrhea.
- Suggested vegetables and fruits: http://rabbit.org/suggested-vegetables-and-fruits-for-a-rabbit-diet/
Rabbits also like to chew on twigs, and if you have a resource for twigs (with leaves) that have not been sprayed with pesticides, your rabbit will welcome apple or willow twigs.
The most unpleasant of all diet elements (to use humans, that is), is cecotropes, or the small, mushy pellets that the rabbits make as part of their digestive system. Cecotropes pass through the intestines and are reingested for essential nutrients like vitamins and fatty acids. Cecotropes look like somewhat squishy poo, but they are actually not feces. Usually, you don’t even see cecotropes as most rabbits digest them as they leave their bodies.
- The “Scoop on Poop” and cecotropes: http://www.sandiegorabbits.org/health/scoop-poop