Rabbits - feeding and nutrition
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:
- 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 hay is better than alfalfa as it is lower in calcium and calories
- Store hay in a cool, dry place in an open bag to allow circulation. Discard damp hay.
- Rabbits on 100% alfalfa hay should not get any pellets
- Prefer loose long strands of hay compared to pressed cubes or chopped hay
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.
(These food products contain fibre, vitamins e.g. A & C, minerals and carbohydrates)
Carrots and carrot tops
Outer cabbage leaves
- Maximum of 1/8 of a cup per 1.8kg of body weight of a high fibre pellet per day. (18% or higher fibre, protein content at 13-14% and fat content no higher than 3%)
- 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.
- Do not use pellet mixes that contain grains and seeds along with pellets, as the rabbit will select its favourite items and leave the rest, meaning it will not be getting a balanced diet.
- 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.
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.
There is research suggesting high starch and low fibre diets may contribute to fatal endotoxaemia.
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.