Feeding Your Pet Rabbit

What Should I Feed My Rabbit

Feeding Your Pet Rabbit
Proper nutrition is essential for your rabbit's health and longevity, it can also save you some trips to the vet!

A house rabbit's diet will normally consist of :

  • Unlimited hay* (this does not include Alfalfa hay) this accounts for the majority of their diet

  • A nice selection vegetables (ideally 3 different veggies per day)

  • A limited amount of high quality Timothy hay based pellet**

  • A small amount of fruit

  • Unlimited water

*Alfalfa hay contains more protein and calcium than most house rabbits require. Excess protein can lead to weight gain, excess calcium can cause health problems. When shopping for hay choose grass hays like Timothy, Brome, Oat or Orchard Grass.
** Feeding rabbits a pellet free diet has become quite popular and many vets highly recommend it. My personal suggestion is that if you are the kind of owner who can and will provide their rabbit a high quality diet with a good selection of vegetables and high quality hay then pellets are not necessary. I feed pellets as a treat food and not a staple.

Pellets

Age, activity and illness may require dietary adjustments or differences. Most rabbit vets will recommend very limited pellets and unlimited hay. However, rabbits who have difficulty putting on weight or maintaining it may need a different diet.
It is probably best to start with the recommended "standard" diet and adjust if necessary.

A good rule of thumb is 1oz. per pound, so a smaller 4lb. rabbit would require no more than 1/2 cup per day.

Holland Lop Baby Bunnies
Grandpa & Sibling Share A Bowl Of Pellets

TIP:  One way to avoid overfeeding pellets is to purchase very small food bowls that hold 1/2 cup or less.


There are many brands of pellets available on the market today, I personally use Oxbow as it is a timothy based pellet free from any "extras". American Pet Diner is another well known company. I can not testify to the quality differences of commercial brands of pellets but I can advise you to purchase those that contain pellets only, no "extras" that make the bag look like it's full of trail mix.
When comparing pellets, look at their fiber and protein levels. Some pellets were made for putting weight on "feed" rabbits, those bred for human consumption. That's not our goal when we're feeding a pet as it can result in an overweight rabbit.


Beware of Bunny Junk Food

It's hard to imagine why pet food manufacturer's would offer pellets that included lots of extra's like nuts and seeds that are not good for your pet rabbit but you will find them on the shelf of most pet stores.
Don't buy them!
They tend to be too high in fat and carb's. And unfortunately bunny usually loves it and will tend to eat more of what he shouldn't and less of what he should, resulting in poor nutrition and usually unwanted weight gain.

 

 

 

Pellet Free Diets

Not all rabbits will tolerate pellets, although most will absolutely love to eat them. One common side effect of overfeeding pellets is weight gain and "poopy butt", very soft stool that clings to the fur and is not hard or round. Too many carbs and proteins can really foul up a rabbits digestive track and what should be coming out as cute little marbles is now a soft mushy mess stuck to bunnies tooshie - poopy butt. Eek!

Eat More Hay

In an effort to avoid digestive issues, weight gain and simply give bunny the healthiest diet possible many vets recommend going with a pellet free diet when possible. That in itself is the source of some very heated discussions. We are basically pellet free around here (we give pellets as treats) but we offer a variety of fresh vegetables daily and unlimited timothy hay.

Vegetables

Veggies are another necessity in bunnies diet but these should be introduced slowly and not given in excess or diarrhea/poopy butt may result. Introduce new vegetables one at a time and try to give a variety of at least 3 different veggies a day.
Wash vegetables first to insure they are free from pesticides and do not give your bunny any veggie that isn't fresh.

My bunnies personal favorites are:
Cilantro
Romaine Lettuce
Parsley
Kale

My rabbits love cilantro!
Cilantro Is A Big Favorite
This picture was published in the Rabbits USA 2008 Annual Magazine, congrat's Scoobie

Here is a list of suggested vegetables from the House Rabbit Society.

Alfalfa, radish & clover sprouts
Basil
Beet greens (tops)*
Bok choy
Broccoli (mostly leaves/stems)*
Brussels sprouts
Carrot & carrot tops*
Celery
Cilantro
Clover
Collard greens*
Dandelion greens and flowers (no pesticides)*
Endive*
Escarole
Green peppers
Kale (!)*
Mint
Mustard greens*
Parsley*
Pea pods (the flat edible kind)*
Peppermint leaves
Raddichio
Radish tops
Raspberry leaves
Romaine lettuce (no iceberg or light colored leaf)*
Spinach (!)*
Watercress*
Wheat grass

(!)=Use sparingly
* At least one of these daily


Bailey prefers to "juice" his vegetables

Hay You!

Hay is essential for many reasons:

  • It keeps bunny busy

  • It helps to grind down their back teeth, which never stop growing. Btw, there's than 28 teeth in there.

  • It is absolutely essential for proper digestion, some GI issues can be the result of too little hay/fiber.

  • Rabbits are grazers and need something they can eat allot of without excess calories.

  • Bunnies do allot of grooming, hay is necessary to push ingested fur thru the digestive track as it can not be coughed up, bunnies can not vomit.


 


I was watching E-Vet one evening and there was a story about a bunny with a fur ball that would not pass. They had to perform surgery to save it and it was discovered that the owner had never given the bunny hay to eat. Wow! I thought everybody knew bunnies needed hay, apparently they don't.
If you are feeding your bunny so many vegetables and pellets that he is no longer interested in hay you may need to cut back on the other stuff to insure bunny eats his fair share of hay. Make their hay consumption a priority and add other once this is established.

Sweets For The Sweet?

Rabbits love sugar but should not be given cookies, chocolate or many of the other people treats they often are. I frequently read about owners feeding their rabbits table scraps and cringe. I make no apologies when I say that part of loving your pet is making sure they are healthy and fed properly. But it's obvious that some people are simply not aware of what is considered healthy and what is harmful. Many may not understand their rabbit's unique digestive system or the harm they could be doing by not feeding their rabbit properly.

Fruit should be seen as a treat and given in small quantities but you can use this to your advantage. One very easy way to get a new rabbit accustomed to you is to offer treats from your hand. A small piece of... banana, pear, apple, pineapple, papaya, strawberry etc. can be given as a bribe in exchange for bunnies attention. Be careful not to over do it though, excess sugar can lead to weight gain and diarrhea. Fruits are high in sugar as are carrots, which should also be seen as a treat rather than a staple.

Bailey With Carrot Lips

My bunnies personal favorites:

Bananas
Apple
Pumpkin cookies
Papaya
Strawberries
Craisins
Carrots (too high in sugar to count as a veg)

*Very young bunnies should not be given fruit or vegetables. Veggies can be introduced into their diet around 12 weeks of age and fruits usually around 6 months.

My Bunny Is Not Eating

As prey animals bunnies are believed to disguise illness well. If your bunny has not been willing to eat anything over the course of a day see the vet. Rabbits who stop eating can go downhill very quickly, don't waste any time. A rabbits digestion and need to graze mean that their guts should be continually moving. Not eating could have many causes such as G.I. stasis, tooth problems, pain, gas or other illness.

It's important to be aware of health issues as soon as possible, especially in rabbits! This is a good reason to use a proper size food bowl. Using a small bowl that holds a daily portion can help you see any dietary changes quickly. Likewise, using a litter pan can help you see a decrease in poop which could indicate trouble.

For more information on bunnies dietary needs I recommend one of these good bunny books.

 


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