The right diet is important for any animal, but for rabbits it is vital that they are fed the correct foods and in appropriate quantities. Feeding a rabbit a poor diet can quickly lead to serious health issues. This handy guide will explain the right diet for your rabbit and what to avoid!
Food and Feeding Advice
Unlike human teeth which stop growing in childhood, rabbit teeth are constantly growing. To keep your rabbit’s teeth in tip-top condition, they must have access to foods to gnaw on. This is the same as cats using a scratching post to file their claws.
The bulk of a rabbit’s diet should be a bundle of high-quality hay and grass. This bundle should be roughly the same size as your bunny – that is approximately 85% of their daily diet!
In addition, rabbits should be given a handful of fresh greens twice per day, which equates to 10% of their daily food intake. The final 5% should come in the form of rabbit pellets fed twice daily.
As with any pet, it is essential that your rabbit has 24/7 access to clean drinking water. Water is vital for a healthy digestive tract and since rabbits are highly susceptible to dietary problems, water must be always easily accessible. Water also helps to remove excess calcium from the body, as a build-up of calcium can cause urinary tract problems.
Importance of Varied Diet/s
When it comes to hay and grass, there is no such thing as too much. Wild rabbits will spend most of the day grazing on vegetation, so we want to mimic this as best we can for our pets. As a minimum, the hay bundle you provide should be the size of your rabbit’s body.
Do not confuse bedding hay and feed hay. They may both be formed from dried grass, but they are nutritionally different. Rabbits will not eat bedding hay as it provides no nutritional benefit. Feed hay smells and looks fresher and retains all the nutritional goodness that rabbits need to stay fit and healthy. Feed hay is a great source of fibre and protein, which help to maintain an active digestive tract.
Alongside feed hay, you should also mix in a small amount of natural meadow grass. This helps to encourage natural foraging behaviour and balances healthy gut bacteria to promote healthy digestion. If you have a chemical-free lawn, you can also give your rabbits time outdoors to graze on fresh grass.
Not only does this provide a great enrichment opportunity, but fresh grass is perfect for bunnies to naturally wear down their ever-growing teeth, while also getting a nutritional boost.
When it comes to herbs and veggies, there is a whole host of goodies you can include for your rabbits.
Cauliflower (leaves and stalk)
Courgette (not the leaves)
Spinach (small amounts)
Fresh vegetables and herbs provide an additional source of vitamins and minerals. For the best balance, you should aim to feed 5 or 6 different types of fresh produce every day.
If your rabbit has not had fresh veggies before, start small to prevent any tummy upset and gradually increase their portions.
Nuggets or pellets are a small but important part of your rabbit’s diet. They should have 1 tablespoon per day or 2 if they weight more than 3.5kg. Rabbit pellets are a concentrated form of food which is why they should not be given in large quantities. Too many pellets can cause gut stasis as they will eat less hay. This can also cause overgrown teeth and oral infections.
They are a great way for your rabbit to wear their teeth down, while also providing variety in their diet. Some rabbits can be picky eaters, but most are eager to get their daily pellet portion!
Rabbits are foragers by nature, so it is important to replicate this as closely as possible to keep your beautiful bunny happy and healthy.
Forage not only provides natural enrichment for your bunny, but it also has great health benefits. Forage flowers provide nutrients that may not be found in hay and grass. Other forage types such as roots help to maintain good dental health. Pea flakes are a rabbit favourite and they provide plenty of protein to support tissue growth and repair.
Nettles are perfect for bunnies as they help to reduce blood sugar. They also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Strawberry leaves also have antioxidant properties, as well as providing a good source of iron and vitamin C.
The best way to provide forage is to scatter it for your rabbit to find. Ideally, you should do this outdoors in a secure garden or rabbit run. Foraging helps to prevent frustration and destructive behaviours. If you have multiple rabbits, allowing them to forage together can help them to bond and provides the perfect socialisation, as rabbits in the wild rarely forage alone.
Your rabbit should eat just as well as you, if not better! Hay is a staple for your rabbit and the more you can give the happier they will be. Don’t forget to add a handful of fresh grass to your rabbit’s hay to give those extra health benefits.
Foraging is important for your rabbit’s digestive health and for their mental health and socialisation. Be sure to check that the forage foods you provide are free of pesticides.
Remember to always provide access to fresh, clean drinking water, either in a hutch/cage bottle or in a ceramic dish that cannot be easily tipped over.
- Hannah Elizabeth
Animal Health and Behaviour Blogger