Rabbits - Feeding
Rabbits are herbivores and are considered nibblers, in that they eat continuously. They have complex digestive systems and are very efficient at processing food. They also have very specific dietary needs. If you introduce new foods too quickly, or feed inappropriate food choices, the rabbit's normal digestive flora (normal bacteria) will be disturbed and may lead to a sick rabbit.
What do rabbits eat?
Rabbits should have a daily diet of hay, fresh vegetables and some pellets. Hay is the most important part of a rabbit's daily intake. Unlimited, high-quality grass hay such as Timothy, Orchard or Brome should make up the bulk of a rabbit's diet. These grass hays are high in fiber, which is so critical to maintaining a healthy digestive tract for rabbits. While adult rabbits can eat any type of grass hay, alfalfa hay is not recommended, as it is too rich in protein, too high in calcium and will lead to health problems.
"Alfalfa hay is not recommended, as it is too rich in protein, too high in calcium and will lead to health problems."
Timothy pellets can be offered at approximately 1/8 - 1/4 cup per 5 pounds (2.25 kg) of bodyweight. Over-feeding pellets to adult rabbits is a common cause of obesity and other diseases. In addition to hay, wild rabbits eat a lot of other fresh vegetation. The diet of a pet rabbit should be supplemented with a minimum of 1 cup of cleaned vegetables (consider organic as a healthy choice) per 1.8 kg (4 lbs) bodyweight. Variety is important. Introduce new vegetables slowly and in small quantities, and monitor for soft feces, diarrhea or signs of gas pain. Particularly good vegetables include the dark leafy greens like romaine lettuce, kale, bok choy, mustard greens, carrot tops, parsley, cilantro, watercress, basil, kohlrabi, beet greens, broccoli greens, cilantro, collard greens, clover, and dandelion greens. Other acceptable vegetables include carrots, broccoli, green peppers, brussel sprouts, endive, wheat grass, radicchio and squash. Iceberg or head lettuce should not be fed, as it is mainly water and contains little nutrient. Variety is important. Carrot tops, dandelion greens, kale and parsley should be fed in moderation since they are higher in calcium than other vegetables; excessive consumption of calcium may lead to bladder stones in some rabbits. A small amount of many different vegetables is much better than a large amount of one food item.
Young rabbits, under approximately 7 months old, should be fed alfalfa pellets and alfalfa hay free choice; they need the extra protein and calcium as they grow. They too can have a variety of vegetables. At approximately 7 months, they must be weaned onto an adult diet as described above.
How often should I feed my rabbit?
Rabbits should be fed daily; hay should be available at all times. As nibblers, they should have food available at all times.
Do I need to give my rabbit vitamins?
No, rabbits do not require extra vitamins.
Can I offer my rabbit treats?
Yes, but first be sure to check with your veterinarian about what treats are recommended. While obesity is not a common problem with rabbits, they certainly can become overweight if fed an abundance of high calorie treats. Cookies, nuts, seeds, grains and bread should not be fed to rabbits.
"Cookies, nuts, seeds, grains and bread should not be fed to rabbits."
Fruits can be fed in very limited quantities; feed no more than 1-2 tablespoons of high fiber fresh fruit per 5 pounds (2.25 kg) of bodyweight every 1-2 days. The high sugar content in fruits (and even carrots) will upset the digestive tract if given in excess. (Only Bugs Bunny ate carrots in bulk - this was not healthy!)
What are the water requirements of rabbits?
Fresh water should be available 24 hours a day. For most rabbits, water bowls are preferable to sipper bottles, which must be inspected daily for clogged tips. If you offer your rabbit water in a bowl, make sure the rabbit does not spill it in its cage.
Is there anything else I should know?
Rabbits need to chew to maintain the health of their teeth. Chew toys should always be available; anything suited for dogs, such as nylon chew bones or well-boiled meat bones are fine. Many owners offer their rabbits wooden sticks or blocks to chew.
Rabbits engage in coprophagy, which means they eat their own feces. This occurs at night, and these fecal pellets are different from the ones normally excreted and seen by the owners. They are called cecotropes, cecal droppings, nocturnal droppings or night droppings. They are usually small, soft or pasty, darker in color, and have a strong fermented or sweet smell. These pellets serve as a rich source of nutrients for the rabbit, specifically protein and vitamins B & K. Most owners never observe this behavior as it happens in the early hours of the morning. If you do, remember that it is normal and necessary for the health of your rabbit.