If you are a first-time rabbit owner, it can be confusing to know what they eat. Unlike the cartoons would have you think, it isn’t just carrots all day.
Some parts of a house rabbit’s diet are available to buy in shops, online or in supermarkets but there are other parts which you will have to source yourself, so some preparation and knowledge are essential to arm your rabbit with the best diet.
A rabbit’s diet should be made up of:
- 85% hay or grass
- 10% leafy green vegetables
- 5% pellets or nuggets (or slightly more if they are large in size)
If you do feed them more nuggets, you may have to cut down on their hay or vegetable consumption slightly to make up for this. It is also worth bearing in mind that particular breeds or diets may require slight adjustments which should always be discussed with a rabbit-friendly vet.
As with all animals, a rabbit needs access to fresh clean water 24/7. This can be given to them in a drip-feed bottle attached to their cage/hutch, or in a bowl, but they do tend to prefer the latter. It is more natural.
Ensure it is heavy, such as ceramic, so they can’t tip it over. Also check for any algae, ice, dead insects and that it is accessible at all times (drip-feed bottles can become clogged). Change the water daily.
Rabbits which eat more hay can need more water than those which eat a good portion of greens as well. Always monitor your rabbit’s water consumption to ensure there is nothing wrong, as they need fluids to ensure dry food can move through the gut, and so they can get rid of excess calcium.
Did you know that a rabbit needs to eat one bundle of good quality hay per day? Did you also know that this bundle needs to be as big as them?!
This will be the main bulk of their food. It can’t be what they use for their toilet, so needs to be dust-free/sweet smelling/slightly green with long strands.
Grass hay such as Timothy or meadow is good for adults, and younger/pregnant/nursing rabbits can be fed on this as well as a bit of legume hay (like alfalfa or clover). These are higher in calcium for that extra bit of bone growth they need but long-term feeding causes kidney issues.
Ideally, they should also have access to fresh growing grass. Never feed them freshly cut grass, as this is already breaking down once it is cut which could make your bunny ill.
A handful of washed, fresh vegetables, weeds and herbs every day is also good for them. You should give them a wide variety, perhaps a mix of about six different types with every handful.
Good choices include cabbage, kale, broccoli, parsley and mint. If you want to try them on something new, introduce this slowly and gradually so they don’t get an upset stomach.
Have a look at some other rabbit-friendly greens, many of which can be bought in the supermarket or grown in your garden.
In the wild, their food can be limited, but if it is green and unless it tastes really bad to them, they will probably still eat it. This is why it is imperative to stick to the foods on this list. You can read more at the end of the article about what rabbits need to avoid.
Around 25g of pellets or nuggets per kilogram of your rabbit’s weight should be enough every day. The average medium rabbit is about 2kg, so this will mean 50g in total.
You should always be aware of your rabbit’s weight, so you can keep an eye on any issues and be sure not to over or under feed them.
All pets deserve a bit of love in the form of a treat every so often. Whether they have just been to the toilet in the correct place or they are showing affection, a rabbit is no different.
This is where the carrots can come in, as well as apple, but this must be given in small portions. Do not give them any other treats, such as bits of biscuit, other fruit and vegetables or human foods, as this could really harm them.
Blueberries, papaya, strawberries, pears, peaches, plums or melon are also fine, but sugary items such as banana, grapes and raisins should be limited and completely avoided if you don’t know how much is enough.
Rabbit Feeding Tips
Making Meal Time Interesting
Try stuffing their hay into toilet roll tubes or boxes with their pellets, so they have to forage slightly to get to what they want. They can also be scattered throughout their bedding hay. This provides them with a bit of mental stimulation.
Young, Pregnant and Nursing Rabbits
These will require slightly different foods, such as more protein content. You may need to introduce formulas, and boost their portion sizes without going overboard.
These changes may be particular to breed, the size of your rabbit and your rabbit’s current diet and health status, so you should ask your vet if you are unsure.
Rabbits and Calcium
Why is it so vital to stick to portion sizes and food types? Not only will it prevent weight issues and toxic consumption, but it will also limit their calcium intake.
Calcium is vital for bone and teeth growth and strength, but too much can be very bad news. A medium rabbit needs around 510 milligrams per day, but their daily hay, pellet or vegetable intake can take them over this.
Their bodies absorb every but of calcium, unlike humans. What they don’t need will pass out in their urine, but if they are given too much they could have difficulty removing this which can cause kidney issues or bladder sludge. This links back to why water is so important for them, as it keeps everything moving.
What Rabbits Should NOT Eat
As mentioned above, stick to leafy greens and a little bit of carrot or apple every day.
Some of the most common foods and greens which could be toxic to your rabbit include iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, peas, onions and seeds/grains. These should be kept on human plates only, and composted or thrown away if they will be wasted as opposed to being fed to the rabbits.
Any plants which grow from a bulb, buttercups, poppy, ivy and privet, are all common in gardens but very dangerous. If you give your rabbit time in the garden, never allow them to access these.
House plants are also toxic, so while you may not set out for them to eat those leaves, always keep them out of reach.
If you go out foraging for your rabbit’s food, beware of wild garlic, cowslip, nightshade, hemlock and wood sorrel which could easily be picked up along with safe foods and mixed in together. This is why it is best to perhaps buy greens if you don’t know what to look out for.