What to feed your rabbits
Rabbits are herbivores, which means that they need a plant-based, high-fibre diet. Hay and grass should form the basis (85%) of your rabbits’ diet. The remainder of your rabbits’ diet should be fresh vegetables (10%) and a small amount of pellets specifically designed for rabbits (around 5%).
The benefits of good quality hay
Good quality hay is the most important part of your rabbits’ diet. Providing your rabbit with high-quality hay is enriching due to longer feeding times, reduces wounding of cage mates, excessive grooming, and fur-chewing, and reduces chewing on other objects such as bedding. Providing your rabbit hay is important for their health as it ensures good gut health, reduces the risk of obesity, and promotes urinary tract health through association with increased water intake. Hay is also very important in helping keep your rabbit’s teeth properly worn down and avoiding dental health problems.
- Provide your rabbit a continuous supply of good quality, fresh hay every day.
- Purchase fresh hay from feed stores or some pet shops.
- Make sure that they hay is not damp, dusty or mouldy as this can cause respiratory illness and other health problems.
Grass and garden greens
- Rabbits love grass, dandelion leaves, thistle/puha and plantain leaves.
- Ensure that any leaves or plants given to or accessible to the rabbits have not been sprayed with poison or pesticides, herbicides, or sprouting agents.
- Rabbits love fresh herbs which provide health benefits. Check that the herbs you have are suitable for rabbits before giving them.
- Avoid giving your rabbits grass from outdoors if wild rabbits are in your area. This will help reduce the chances of your rabbit contracting RHDV, which is a highly contagious and often lethal virus that can be spread from wild to companion rabbits.
- Feeding a variety of fresh vegetables provides essential nutrients. Click here for rabbit-safe vegetables.
While good quality, balanced commercial rabbit food can be purchased, this must be supplemental to a diet of high-quality hay or grass and fresh leafy greens.
- Pellets that contain dried fruits, nuts, grains, and coloured pieces made from fat, sugar, and salt should be avoided (these are sometimes called ‘muesli mix’).
- Choose pellets with a high fibre content (18-25%) and less than 16% protein.
- SPCA or your veterinarian can recommend a good pellet food for rabbits.
- Refer to the feeding instructions on the bag.
- Overfeeding of pellets is a common cause of obesity in rabbits.
Treats and fruit
Many vegetables and fruits commonly fed to rabbits are detrimental to gut health and contribute to obesity.
- Carrots and fruit should only be provided in small amounts as treats, as rabbits do not naturally eat root vegetables or fruit in the wild.
- Special rabbit treats are high in fat, sugar, or salt should be avoided as they can contribute to intestinal blockages.
Foods to avoid
While many fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruit are suitable for your rabbit, there are some foods that should be fed in only very small amounts and some that must be avoided altogether. These include the following:
- Use kale, spinach and silver beet sparingly.
- Some fruit tree branches and leaves are suitable for rabbits to eat, but not all. Stick to apple, ash-tree, birch, hawthorn, hazel, hazelnut, juniper, maple, pear, pine, poplar, rose, spruce and willow branches.
- Give carrots only as treats because these are high in starch.
- Celery must be cut into 1cm pieces before being given because larger pieces can get caught in rabbits’ intestines.
- Never feed your rabbit processed foods intended for humans, such as: chocolate, cookies, crackers, cereal, yoghurt, milk, pasta, or bread.
Water and bowls
- Fresh water must always be available and be replaced daily.
- Use heavy containers for food and water to avoid spillage, alternatively use a pet sipper bottle, or containers that clip to the cage.
Maintaining your rabbit’s gut health requires your to be careful with changing their diet.
- Introduce a new food or a change to your rabbits’ diet gradually to avoid digestive problems.
- When introducing any new food, always do so slowly over a few weeks to avoid digestive upsets. If the new food causes diarrhoea, stop feeding the item immediately.
- Rabbits under 12 weeks old have particularly sensitive stomachs, so new foods should not be introduced before this age. This also prevents diarrhoea which can be fatal at a young age.
Monitoring your rabbit’s health
It is important your rabbit have routine visits to a veterinarian. As a rabbit owner, there are two important ways to monitor your rabbit’s health at home.
- Check your rabbit’s caecotrophs each day to ensure they are round, fibrous ‘pills’ and appear in ‘grape-like’ bunches. Your rabbit should consume these caecotrophs to maintain their gut flora. If caecotrophs are not consumed or soft, then this can be linked to their diet. Failure to consume caecotrophs can also indicate pain with ingestion, physical inability to reach their back end to groom their bottoms, stress, or change in routine. Sometimes a rabbit’s coat type can interfere with this process.
- Ensure your rabbit is in good body condition, one where they are not too thin or overweight. This requires a hands on check of their ribs, backbone, pelvis, and abdomen. You should be able to feel their ribs and muscles and a light fat coating. They should not have protruding spine or pelvic bones. Rabbit obesity is a serious health problem and can lead to gut stasis, kidney, heart, and dental disease, liver disorders, overheating, urine scalding, bladder problems, fly strike, and pododermatitis (a serious skin issue on their paws).
If you have any concerns about your rabbit’s diet, their caecotrophs, or their body condition, then contact your veterinarian for more information.