Feeding Your Rabbit
Pet rabbits require fresh hay and a limited amount of pellets, vegetables and fruit to maintain good nutrition.
Rabbits can be cute, cuddly and affectionate pets if well cared for by their owners. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there are more than 6.1 million pet rabbits in the U.S. Pet rabbits require just a few basic needs, including safe indoor housing, a litter box, enrichment, the occasional grooming, and of course proper nutrition.
Rabbits are herbivores which means they get their energy from eating plants. Their strict dietary needs ensure that their complex digestive systems continue working efficiently to process foods. Feeding your pet rabbit the wrong type of food can result in an overproduction of toxin-producing bacteria that can make your rabbit very sick.
What to Include in a Rabbit Diet
Hay is a staple for rabbits, making up about 80 to 90 percent of their diet. Rabbits should be provided with an unlimited supply of fresh, dry hay daily. Most types of hay are high in fiber and low in protein which is important to keep a rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract running smoothly.
The type of hay provided will depend on the age of the rabbit. Baby rabbits should be fed alfalfa, while adult rabbits should be fed grass hay, timothy hay, or oat hay. Lawnmower clippings and similar plant matter should never act as a substitute for quality hay as these could make your rabbit ill.
Rabbit feed also includes commercial rabbit mix or pellets. However, only give your rabbit a small amount, about 1 tablespoon per day. Ideally, you want to choose quality pellets that contain a minimum crude fiber of 18 percent. Although pellets can be a suitable addition to a rabbit’s diet, they are not necessarily needed as long as the rabbit has access to fresh hay and green vegetables.
When purchasing pellets for your rabbit, look for rabbit food that is high in fiber. You should avoid rabbit pellets that contain dried corn, seeds, and nuts as these add-ins can be potentially harmful to rabbits.
Along with hay, a large majority of a rabbit’s diet comes from vegetables and herbs. Adult rabbits should be given a maximum of two cups of fresh vegetables per day. Rabbits under five pounds and dwarf rabbits should have just one cup per day. Try to provide your pet rabbit with a variety of different vegetables but add one new vegetable at a time and check for signs of diarrhea before offering a new veggie.
Some types of vegetables can be fed to rabbits daily, such as brussels sprouts, watercress, fennel, bell peppers, radish tops, endive, zucchini, okra leaves, wheatgrass, cucumber, and carrot tops. However, other types should be given sparingly, such as collard greens, chard, spinach, kale, dandelion greens, and clover. These should only be fed to a rabbit a maximum of one or two times per week.
Rabbits can also enjoy fresh fruit one or two times a week. Offer one to two tablespoons of fruit per five pounds of body weight. Like with vegetables, fruit should be offered one type at a time to see if there are any adverse reactions. Some of the best fruit to offer your rabbit include orange, pear, melon, berries, pineapple, watermelon, nectarine, cherries (no seeds), plum, papaya, grapes, banana, and apple (no seeds).
Be sure that your pet rabbit has constant access to fresh, clean water. Water should be served in a heavy ceramic bowl to avoid tipping. In some cases, water can be fed from a drip-feed bottle but rabbits often prefer water bowls. In the summer, water bowls in rabbit cages can begin to grow algae if left too long. Be sure to clean the bowl daily and refill with fresh water. Also make sure that the water does not freeze in the winter.
What Not to Feed a Pet Rabbit
A rabbit’s delicate gastrointestinal system can be easily disrupted by excess sugars, starches, and fats that cause bloating, loose stools, and harmful bacterial growth. If you are unsure of whether or not a food is dangerous for rabbits, err on the side of caution and stick with options that you know are healthy.
Some foods that you should never feed your pet rabbit include:
- Grains (pasta, bread, crackers, etc.)
- Yogurt drops
- Iceberg lettuce
- Hamster food
- Peanut butter
Note that this is not an inclusive list of things not to feed your rabbit. Always do your research before feeding your rabbit any new foods or ask your veterinarian about safe food options for your pet.
Adjusting Your Rabbit’s Diet
New pet owners may not know what to feed a rabbit at first. If your rabbit’s diet differs significantly from the suggestions above, consider making some essential adjustments. However, you want to avoid changing your pet’s diet suddenly as this can cause digestive upset. Instead, adjust your rabbit’s diet slowly over the course of two to four weeks.
Each day, feed your rabbit a small amount of the new food mixed into their normal food. You can then gradually increase the amount of new food while reducing the amount of old food until your rabbit has adjusted to the new diet. It may take time for your rabbit to get used to new food but continue offering healthy options every day.
Diet and Your Rabbit’s Health
With proper nutrition, a pet rabbit can live between eight and 14 years on average. If you are worried about your rabbit’s health or diet, speak with your veterinarian about your concerns.