Providing the right diet for your rabbits is critical in ensuring their optimum health, longevity as well as happiness. The diet should contain all the required nutrients, i.e., meet rabbit nutritional requirements, keep your rabbit’s digestive system healthy and help wear down overgrown teeth.
As rabbit.org notes, “rabbits are designed to eat large amounts of high fibrous food. A proper diet consists of 80% grass hay, 10% veggies, 5% healthy pellets, and 0 to 5% healthy treats.” Kindly note that the diet requirements for baby, teenage, adult and old bunnies might slightly vary.
We are going to focus on food required by mature adult bunnies often aged between 1 to 5 years. We will cover foods for old, baby and teenage rabbits in different posts.
Unlimited clean water supply
Rabbits need water that is about 10% of their body weight to keep its physiological body functions working normally.
Check at least twice a day to ensure the water supply is okay, the water has not frozen especially in cold weathers or during winter, and it is accessible. Heated rabbit water bottles, systems or bowls will help resolve the freezing issue.
Fresh hay and grasses – 80%
It makes the bulk and most essential part of your furry friend’s diet. It should account for at least 80% of your bunny’s diet. Some sources recommend that the hay be 80 to 90 percent. Therefore, provide an unlimited supply of fresh dusty free, sweet-smelling hay that has long strands.
Hay often comes as cubes, cookies or kiln dried grass. Always go for the long strands instead of chopped or pressed hay cubes.
Grass hay is rich in vitamin A, D, calcium, proteins, minerals, among other vital nutrients that your furry critters require.
Hay will help keep a balanced cecal flora (a healthy gut), wear out teeth, provide critical nutritional needs, prevent fur blockages, satisfy bunny’s natural chewing and snacking urges as well as encourage foraging and grazing natural behaviors while reducing boredom.
Some good sources of hay include the orchard and timothy grass, bluegrass, brome, marsh, fescue, ryegrass, oats, meadow, alfalfa, bermudagrass among many others.
It is recommended to keep varying the hay you provide as the changes in smell and texture will make your rabbits excellent and consistent eaters.
Adults rabbits should eat more of the grass hay since it contains more fiber and less calcium as opposed to legume hays such as alfalfa which has higher amounts of proteins and calcium. RSPCA warns that “long-term feeding could cause urinary/kidney problems.”
For pregnant, nursing, or young bunnies, legume hay is often recommended. Legume hay includes alfalfa, beans, peanuts, and clovers.
Finally, ensure your hay is stored in a dry place, discard any that becomes damp.
Limited amounts of pellets – 5%
Pellets should make a small part of your bunny’s diet since they have higher calories and have less fiber. Rabbits are naturally not cereal, seed or fruit eaters that some of the pellets contain.
Always go for high fiber pellets as opposed to low fiber and avoid those that have been mixed with treats such as dried corn.
On amounts to give them, myburnny.org notes that “adult rabbits should get 1/4 cup of low protein (10% or lower), high fiber pellets PER DAY, per five pounds of the body weight,” i.e., the body weight they should weigh. Nursing, underweight, or pregnant rabbits may need higher amounts of pellets.
However, if your bunnies are aged below one year, you can give them unlimited amounts plain, fresh, high fiber pellets with at least 18-20% fiber content, and medium amounts of proteins (14 -16%).
Since they must be fresh, do not buy any pellets that will last for longer than six weeks. Remember that young bunnies should be fed on alfalfa pellets and as they grow, you should switch to timothy pellets.
Providing unlimited amounts of pellets may cause several diseases which according to Vetwest.com.au include:
- Periodic bouts of anorexia – bunnies refusing to eat.
- Dental diseases
- Soft stool
- Blood vessel calcification
- Kindly and bladder stones
- Liver and heart diseases
Fresh foods: 10-15%
Fresh foods include fruits, vegetables, and other greens. They should make about 10 -15% of your rabbit’s dietary requirements.
Fresh foods should be introduced after your bunny has been eating hay for at least two weeks and introduce a new one after three days. Always, check their stool and discontinue any type that causes GI upsets, a loose stool or diarrhea.
Foods rich in starch and sugars are known to cause gastrointestinal (GI) gas since they will change cecum pH. Grains and legume including beans, peas, and so on are often associated with GI.
Finally, ensure they are pest-free and thoroughly wash them before giving them to your rabbits
Rabbit-safe greens – leafy greens and vegetables
They form a vital part of your bunny’s diet, and their various textures can be very enriching as well as provide moisture that will enhance a proper functioning of the kidneys. Most of the leafy greens that are safe for horses and human beings can also be eaten with rabbits.
Rabbit org advises you to ensure that “the bulk of fresh foods should be made up of leafy greens (about 75% of the fresh part of the diet.” Regarding amounts, give your rabbits about one cup of greens for every two pounds of their weight once or twice a day.
Note that plants have alkaloids which are mild toxins naturally occurring in them as a means of protecting them from wild animals. In rabbits, there is more emphasis in oxalic acid which is harmless to animals and humans if taken in low amounts.
Most rabbit safe greens have zero oxalic acids while a few such as parsley, spinach, and mustard green having slightly higher amounts but still safe for rabbits. Oxalic toxicity can damage kidneys and cause tingling of mouth and skin.
While listing safe greens for rabbits, we are going to group them to those with high oxalic acid and those with low. Pick only one from the first groups below in a day, keep changing the type.
Finally, feed your bunnies with at least three types of greens daily. Rotating greens will help improve nutrition, varying textures, and tastes.
Group 1 -Leafy greens with high oxalic acid
They have high oxalic acid levels. Choose only one from this variety in a day and keep varying the choice and use small amounts.
- Mustard greens
- Swiss chard
- Beet greens
- Radish tops
Note that sprouts will have high levels of alkaloids within the first six days after sprouting.
Leafy Greens with low in oxalic acid
This group has lower amounts of oxalic acids. Still, keep varying them as opposed to using the same every day.
- Basil (any kind)
- Bok Choy
- Borage leaves
- Carrot tops
- Cucumber leaves
- Dandelion greens
- Dill leaves
- Fennel (base and leafy top)
- Frisee Lettuce
- Kale (all kinds)
- Mint (any type)
- Raspberry leaves
- Red or green lettuce
- Romaine lettuce
- Spring greens
- Turnip greens
- Yu Choy
Non-leafy vegetables (including flowers and roots)
These include cauliflower and broccoli. They have higher amounts of sugars or starches and should be fed in smaller quantities when compared to leafy greens. Go for one tablespoon per 2 pounds of rabbit weight per day. You can split it into one, two or more meals. They should not be more than 15% of the fresh diet.
Some of the safe non-leafy vegetables include the following:
- Any cabbage type
- Bell peppers
- Broccoli stem and leaves
- Brussel sprouts
- Celery leaves and stalk
- Chinese pea pods without large peas
- Edible flowers such as roses, pansies, nasturtiums, or hibiscus
- Summer squash
- Zucchini squash
What fruits can rabbits eat
Often used as treats and since they have high calories, fruits can cause obesity and GI upsets if your bunnies eat them excessively. A teaspoon of fruits per 2 pounds of bunny weight is enough each day. You can choose to give them fruits a few days a week and not daily.
Ensure you vary the fruits you give them, and they should be not more than 10% of the fresh foods. Also, fruits should be washed well and any unsafe part such as seeds or skin removed. Some of the safe fruits include:
- Apple – remove stem and seeds
- Peeled banana – stick to about two inches per 5 pounds of bunny weight.
- All types of uncooked berries (blueberries, blackberries)
- Cherries with pits removed
- Melons including seeds and the peel
- Pineapple with the skin removed
- Plum with pits removed
- Star Fruit
- Watermelon including leaves and rind.
Besides the fresh and dry grasses, leafy plants, fruits, and vegetables, it is possible for bunnies to eat twigs, seeds, tree barks, and sprouts in small amounts.
Foods not to give rabbits
The list of foods not to give your furry friends is endless. Most of these foods might be harmful or have little nutritive value. Common foods not to feed your bunnies include:
- Leeks, chives, garlic, onions and any of the allium family of vegetables since they cause blood disorders. All plants that grow from bulbs.
- Yogurt drops – encourages the growth of harmful intestinal bacteria
- High cab treats such as bread, rice, cookies, pasta, and crackers – could cause enterotoxaemia
- Cereals such as muesli
- Iceberg lettuce – has lactucarium which is harmful to rabbits if ingested
- Silverbeet – can potentially cause bloating and colic
- Hamster food – unsuited for bunnies and will not provide needed nutrients
- Chocolate and candy
- Peanut butter
- Macadamia nuts
- Tomato plant
As already hinted, the list of harmful or poisonous bunny foods is endless. We have only listed a few common ones you might think are safe.