The term forage means “to search for food or provisions”. Humans forage by going to the supermarket and looking for their favourite foods and snacks. Some animals, like rabbits, spend a large portion of their day foraging for food such as grasses, leaves, flowers, and tree bark.
Unfortunately, pet rabbits do not always have the opportunity to act on this natural urge, but as rabbit owners, we can easily provide lots of ways for them to forage within the safety of our gardens.
For rabbits, simple sitting and eating pellets from a bowl is neither natural nor enriching. By giving them different types of forage and the chance to search for it themselves, we are allowing them to behave naturally and challenging them to work for their food.
Forage is a great way to prevent boredom and all the negative behaviours that are triggered by boredom and frustration. This means less hyperactive behaviours, less chance of biting and a calmer, more relaxed rabbit.
Health Benefits of Forage
There are lots of health benefits of feeding forage for your rabbit. They have evolved to spend considerable time searching and grazing on food. This means slower eating and smaller portions throughout the day. These eating habits help to prevent weight gain as well as keeping your rabbit happy and healthy.
Forage provides lots of nutritional variety that rabbits cannot get from pellets or nuggets and there are plenty of forage types to choose from.
If you have more than one rabbit, they will benefit as a group by foraging together and developing a stronger bond. In the wild, several rabbits would forage and graze together, while other members of the group watch for danger.
Rabbits have teeth that are constantly growing. Feeding hay, bark and other rough foods will help to keep your rabbit’s teeth in condition and prevent overgrowth.
Certain types of forage, such as hay fibre, help to prevent intestinal blockages, which can be fatal if not treated quickly. Fibre is a vital part of any rabbit’s diet as it helps to support a healthy digestive tract.
Other types of forage such as flowers and roots provide additional vitamins and minerals that rabbit pellets and nuggets do not contain.
Giving your rabbits different options is also great for their emotional and mental health. If you ate the same meal every day, wouldn’t you get bored? Just like we have favourite foods, so too do rabbits. They will often root through a pile of grass or hay to find specific pieces that they prefer.
Different Types of Forage
Most people may naturally think of hay when talking about rabbit food and it is a great forage for them, but there are lots of other forage types that can provide lots of beneficial nutrients for your rabbit.
Dandelion roots are perfect for maintaining good dental health. They also aid digestion and promote a healthy immune system thanks to all those wonderful antioxidants. Dandelion roots are also a good source of vitamins A, B, C and D.
Who doesn’t love peas? They are full of protein, which is vital for tissue growth and repair. Pea flakes are great as a snack or as part of your rabbit’s normal diet. If you have an underweight rabbit, pea flakes are perfect for helping them gain weight.
Flower petals and leaves including Rose, linden and Hibiscus are healthy and fragrant. The aroma of the petals will naturally get your bunny excited for their food. Flower mix is great for maintaining a healthy digestive tract and the ingredients also have anti-inflammatory properties. Flower mix prepared for rabbits should be chemical and pesticide free to prevent accidental poisoning.
Apple twigs are natural twigs trimmed from apple trees. Apple twigs are ideal for gnawing, which keeps your rabbit’s teeth short and in good condition. The twigs are also a good source of fibre, which promotes a healthy gut.
We are taught to avoid these stinging plants, but rabbits go crazy for nettles. They have a sharp, enticing aroma for bunnies and help to reduce blood sugar levels. They provide added vitamins that cannot be found in rabbit pellets or nuggets and nettles also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
This forage is perfect for young rabbits or pregnant females as the grass has a high feed value. It also has a high fibre content, which will ensure your rabbit has a healthy digestive system. Readigrass is often recommended for fussy rabbits and is perfect for prevent tooth overgrowth.Readigrass can be added in small amounts with hay.
Those sweet, juicy fruits also have tasty leaves! Rabbits absolutely love strawberry leaves, and they have plenty of health benefits. Strawberry leaves are a great source of vitamin C and iron, as well as antioxidants to promote a strong immune system.
Remember, water should be always provided, and forage should be fed in small amounts with hay. If your rabbits should have any digestive changes with a particular type of forage, stop feeding it and try another option. Forage should be stored in a cool dry place.
To keep your rabbit engaged and interested, try swapping the forage types you provide, so they do not learn to anticipate what they will be getting.
- Hannah Elizabeth
Animal Health and Behaviour Blogger