A rabbit’s diet should consist mainly of hay and be supplemented with vegetables and pellets.
Thinking of getting a fluffy rabbit companion? If you are then you are going to want to know what you’re doing when it comes to dinner time. As a general rule, the ideal adult bunny diet is broken down into three categories: hay, greens, and pellets.
85% of what rabbits eat should be hay (or grass) as hay is important for their digestive system to function properly.
A nice variety of greens and veggies should make up a further 10% of your rabbit’s diet; not only are they full of nutrition but they’re very tasty too. The final 5% of your hoppy friend’s diet should be pellets (or “nuggets”) which are readily available from any pet store. Remember, these numbers are only general guidelines and diet can vary for different size and breeds of rabbits. Consult a veterinary professional for further advice on a healthy rabbit diet.
Rabbits are herbivores
Bunnies typically graze on hay, grass, leaves, herbs, and weeds in the wild. As a pet, hay is a great way to mimic their natural diet and provides many essential nutrients.
Bunnies should eat plenty of hay and greens
Rabbits can also eat vegetables (preferably dark, leafy vegetables), but these should be in moderation in comparison to hay. And, just like humans, a wide variety should be provided to ensure that your rabbit is getting adequate nutrition.
Their diet can also be supplemented with a small portion of pellets and occasional treats (like fruits, nuts, and seeds).
Therefore, it is generally recommended to feed your rabbit as much hay as they want, a small daily salad (consisting mainly of dark, leafy vegetables), a small portion of pellets, and occasional treats).
Hay is a rabbit’s primary food
Since hay should be the primary food in your rabbit’s diet, let’s talk about it first.
Not only is it nutritious but it aids their digestive system and helps maintain their teeth. Rabbits’ teeth never stop growing and need wearing down by grazing. When it comes to types of hay, Timothy hay and mixed grass hay are the ideal choices for rabbits as they are lower in calories and calcium content than other options. On top of buying hay, rabbits will happily graze on your lawn if kept in an outdoor enclosure. Look out for any buttercups growing in your garden, however, as these are toxic to your little friend.
Hay should ideally be a dark green color (which indicates that it is higher in nutrients and more freshly cut). Try to avoid hay that is dark brown (which indicates that it is lower in nutrients and less fresh).
Also, try to avoid any hay that looks like it has a lot of dust or mildew (there are hay varieties that are marketed as being dust-free). No one wants to eat dust or mildew, not even rabbits!
A good way to tell if you have good quality hay is to smell it (yes, smell it). The hay should have a sweet smell and smell like a freshly mowed yard. If it smells stale, then it’s a no go. (Please keep in mind that you should never feed your rabbit your lawn mower clippings. This could make your rabbit ill.)
Since hay is so important to a rabbit’s diet, rabbits should have unlimited access to hay all day long.
If you are trying not to waste food, you can start by providing a bundle of hay that is the same size as your rabbit (once it has been fluffed up and taken out of the bag). Then you can add more as needed.
If you notice that your rabbit is not eating a lot of hay, this could be because you are overfeeding other foods. If your rabbit loves sweets (especially sweeter vegetables or fruits), then hay is not going to seem as appetizing.
Think about if you munched on potato chips all day, then you probably wouldn’t have much room for dinner (and healthy food would seem less appealing). While this would be delicious, it is an unhealthy way of eating.
Try reducing other foods, or even hiding the hay. Rabbits are exceptionally inquisitive and love to forage for food (this is what they would do naturally in the wild). This may spark their interest in the hay.
Not only is hay very nutritious and helpful for rabbits’ digestion, but it helps to keep them occupied (a bored rabbit is one that chews on everything) and helps to wear down their teeth (we mentioned the dangers of long teeth earlier).
A general recommendation is that at least 80% of your rabbit’s diet should be hay.
Types of hay a bunny can eat
Here are some common types of hay for rabbits:
- Bermuda Grass (also called Brome Hay)
- Meadow Hay
- Oat Hay
- Orchard Grass
- Timothy Hay
*Try to avoid Alfalfa Hay which is too high in protein for adult rabbits*
Hay helps with digestion
Unlike humans, rabbits do not have constant stomach movement (called peristalsis) to help move their stomach contents through their digestive tract. This means they are very susceptible to GI stasis (which is where the digestive tract either slows down or stops completely).
Not only does this cause gas, bloating, and pain, but it can lead to stomach blockage (which is often deadly for rabbits). It is one of the more common problems with pet rabbits (due to humans incorrectly feeding them).
To digest their food properly (and to prevent blockage), rabbits need to consume a lot of fibrous plant material (such as hay and grass). This helps keep their stomach moving properly.
What vegetables to feed Rabbits
Vegetables also play an important part in a rabbit’s diet. Just like hay, most vegetables contain high amounts of fiber which is beneficial for their stomach movement.
Rabbits should be fed a small portion of vegetables daily.
Think of it as a daily salad.
However, most of the vegetables that a rabbit should be eating should be dark, leafy vegetables (like kale), and there should be less starchy vegetables (like peas).
Another important part of feeding your rabbit vegetables is variety. In the wild, rabbits would have a huge variety of vegetables throughout the year, and this must be mimicked as closely as possible.
Give your rabbit at least five different vegetables daily
You should also try to rotate those five vegetables daily (so do not give the same five vegetables every day if possible). More variety equals more nutrients for your rabbit.
Also, in the wild, rabbits do not typically eat root vegetables (like carrots or beets), so these should be given less often than dark, leafy vegetables. Root vegetables also have a lot more sugar than leafy vegetables and can result in tooth decay (so they should be treated more like treats).
Did you know that according to the RSPCA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) 11% of all pet rabbits have tooth decay resulting from eating too many carrots?
Also, it is important to wash any vegetables that you feed your rabbit. Any residual pesticides or chemical fertilizers left on them may make your rabbit ill. Keep in mind that you would want your food to be thoroughly cleaned before you ate it.
A general recommendation is that your rabbit’s daily salad should be about half the size of your rabbit (or less).
Here are some vegetables that can be fed to rabbits on a daily basis:
|Bell peppers||Bok choy||Cucumber||Endive||Basil||Watercress|
|Sprouts||Carrot tops||Escarole||Fennel||Radish tops||Aubergine|
|Romaine Lettuce||Parsley||Green leaf lettuce||Mint||Coriander||Oregano|
Are Pellets Good for Bunnies?
When your pet isn’t munching on grass or hay they’re going to want something else to spice up their mealtimes. Feeding your rabbits, a variety of greens and veggies is key to keeping them happy and healthy. Herbs such as basil and coriander are also great for bunnies. Approximately 2 cups of vegetables per 6lbs of body weight is the minimum your rabbit should be fed a day. When it comes to pellets make sure that you’re following the instructions on the packaging as overfeeding pellets to rabbits can lead to them eating less hay and greens.
Pellets are highly concentrated food sources for rabbits
Think of pellets like protein shakes for bunnies.
Most consist of compressed grasses that are mixed with various chemicals. They can be very beneficial because they help to ensure that your rabbit is meeting all their nutritional needs (especially if they are underweight or very young).
Do not overfeed your rabbit pellets
This is a common problem with new rabbit owners, who think that more is better. This can lead to digestive issues as well as obesity, and while fluffy rabbits are adorable, they shouldn’t be too fluffy if you get my drift (this can lead to obesity-related diseases).
Do not ONLY feed your bunny pellets
Another common misconception is that rabbits only need pellets to live. This is not true!
Pellets were invented to fatten rabbits up and help them grow quickly back when rabbits were commonly grown for their fur (and for food). Therefore, their main benefits are weight gain, providing nutrients, and being a convenient food source.
They do not provide everything your rabbit could ever need (they are not a magic pill). Also, many pellets are extremely high in protein (more than is necessary) and may contain grains which can cause severe bloating.
Therefore, pellets should not be the main portion of your rabbits’ diet.
Instead, they should help supplement their diet (in small portions). Try to think of pellets as the tv dinner of the rabbit world: they are quick, easy, and filling, but you shouldn’t eat only them.
A good way to tell if pellets are not agreeing with your rabbit (or if you are feeding them too many) is to smell your rabbit’s urine (yes, seriously). If your rabbit’s urine smells like ammonia (think of the smell of a cat’s litter box), then something is probably not right. Always consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns.
A general recommendation is to feed your rabbit no more than one egg cup (yes, really) of pellets for every 1 kg (2.20 lbs.) of your rabbit’s body weight (an egg cup is 25 grams).
Other treats to feed your rabbit
This category is primarily for fruits, seeds, nuts, and commercially sold rabbit treats (all of which should be given in moderation).
Also, starchy vegetables like celery stalks should really be considered treats as well (due to their high sugar content).
All of these “treats” typically are either too high in sugar (like fruits and starchy vegetables) or too high in protein and fat (like nuts and seeds) for rabbits to eat all the time. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t ever give your rabbit any of these foods.
Treats are an excellent way of training your rabbit (yes, they can do tricks) or even just a nice surprise now and then. It’s just important that you don’t overindulge your rabbit because that can lead to diseases (like tooth decay and diabetes).
How much water should a rabbit drink?
Another key part of your rabbit’s diet is water. Before we start thinking about what to feed your rabbits, we have to make sure they are hydrated.
Rabbits need access to clean, fresh water 24/7.
There are two options when it comes to providing water for your rabbit: drip feeders and bowls.
Drip feeders (which look like large hamster water bottles) often hold more water and do not tip over easily like bowls do. However, some rabbits do not like them (because this is not the natural way that they would drink in the wild).
Bowls tend to hold less water and can easily tip over. However, many rabbits tend to like them (due to how they mimic a rabbit’s natural way of drinking). Make sure to get sturdy bowls (like ceramic) that your rabbit cannot chew through or tip over as easily (like plastic bowls).
Whichever one you choose (it comes down to personal preference really) is up to you. You can even use both if you prefer!
A general recommendation is to change your rabbit’s water at least twice a day.
Food That Is BAD for Rabbits
There are a few foods to avoid when feeding rabbits, or even to try and avoid them feeding themselves if they are roaming around your house and garden. If you want to keep your rabbit safe make sure they are only eating hay, grass, vegetables, and store-bought rabbit food. Any plants fall outside of these categories (flowers, leaves, weeds, and trees) should be avoided. One of the most common issues is house plants, the best way to think about it is to assume all house plants are going to harm your bunny. A lot of houseplants are exotic and have not been a part of an average rabbit’s diet. Similarly, garden plants such as daffodils, tulips, and ivy are poisonous to rabbits.
Another thing to look out for is herbicides and pesticides on the vegetables that you are feeding your bunny friend. Make sure that all food is washed thoroughly before being given to your rabbit.
Here is a list of some foods that you should never feed your rabbit:
- Cereal Grains (like rice, corn, and oats)
- House Plants
- Iceberg Lettuce
- Peanut Butter
- Tulip Bulbs
Feeding Baby Rabbits
Rabbits (estranged from their mother) up to four weeks in age will require milk replacement formula, this is readily available at any vet or pet store. This can be fed to baby rabbits using a syringe or dropper. From 10 days old, small nibbles of solid food can be fed to rabbits alongside the formula (hay and pellets only). Your average rabbit can be weaned off of milk between four to seven weeks, introduce them to more solid foods (still only hay and pellets) but keep milk available. Once your rabbit reaches 12 weeks of age it should no longer be receiving milk and vegetables can be introduced into the diet. From this point, feed vegetables to rabbits one at a time in ½ oz portions. Once rabbits are seven months old then can begin the ideal adult diet.
Feeding Elderly Rabbits
When your fluffy friends get old you may want to consider changes to their diet. However, this isn’t always the case; if a rabbit is maintaining the same weight in its later years you can stick to the ideal adult rabbit diet. If you do notice your rabbits not aging so well, perhaps becoming frail and losing weight, you should increase the amount of pellets you are feeding your bunny so they keep their weight and energy. Pellets are manufactured in a way that knowing how much to give your bunny is as simple as reading the label, elderly rabbit-specific pellets are also available. Make sure you adhere to these instructions, and always check for differences if changing brands as not all rabbit pellets are alike.
Regular trips to the vet to monitor calcium levels and receive blood workups are recommended for older rabbits.
Should you feed wild rabbits?
Have you got some wild rabbits poking around your garden and fancy giving them a snack? Or have you perhaps rescued a wild rabbit and are looking after the little guy until PETA, or the RSPCA come to help? Well, feeding wild rabbits is quite similar to feeding domestic bunnies but there are some key differences to look out for. Wild rabbits are foragers, they munch on any plant matter they come across. Obviously, pellets cannot be found in the wild (unless the rabbits are pulling off an audacious heist on a feed store) so avoid feeding these to wild rabbits. Hay, grass, and vegetables are your go-to for wild rabbits but lower the quantity as bunnies in the wild aren’t as spoiled as pets. Wild rabbits should be fed around two-thirds of what a domestic rabbit would receive. If it has been particularly dry out, make sure that wild rabbits are given access to plenty of water as it may have been a while since their last drink and dehydration is very dangerous for bunnies.
Best Friends. “Rabbit Diet: What to Feed a Bunny.” Best Friends Animal Society, 2018, resources.bestfriends.org/article/rabbit-diet-what-feed-bunny.
Harrimen, Marinell. “Food & Diet.” House Rabbit Society, 3 Aug. 2022, rabbit.org/care/food-diet/. Accessed 24 Nov. 2022.
Orchard Vets. “Common Poisons That Can Affect Rabbits.” Orchard Vets, www.ovg.co.uk/advice-and-resources/rabbits/common-poisons-that-can-affect-rabbits/#:~:text=Likewise%20buttercups%2C%20foxgloves%2C%20primrose%2C. Accessed 24 Nov. 2022.
Pratt, Amy. “Feeding Wild Rabbits, the Do’s and Don’ts.” The Bunny Lady, 27 Nov. 2020, bunnylady.com/feeding-wild-rabbits/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2022.
Rabbit Welfare Association. “Diet.” Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF), 4 May 2013, rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-care-advice/rabbit-diet/.
RSPCA. “Rabbit Diet – Rabbit Welfare – Tips, Advice, Health.” Rspca.org.uk, 2017, www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/rabbits/diet.
Vets 4 Pets. “Feeding Rabbits.” Vets4Pets, www.vets4pets.com/pet-health-advice/rabbit-advice/feeding-your-rabbit/#:~:text=Feeding%20takes%20place%20mainly%20in. Accessed 27 Nov. 2022.
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