The Basic Rabbit Diet
Pellets and Hay: For rabbits under one year old free feed (as much as they want) a fresh, plain, high fiber (18-20%), mid-range protein (14% – 16%) pellet. Adult rabbits should get 1/4 cup of low protein (10% or lower), high fiber pellets PER DAY, per five (5) pounds of optimum* body weight. If you have a rabbit that is difficult to keep weight on or off, consult your veterinarian. Do not feed your rabbit any of the many commercial pellet mixes that contain seeds, dried fruit or colored cereals. These commercial treat foods are geared to look pleasing to us humans, but they are definitely not in the best health interests of your pet rabbit. Rabbits are not seed, fruit or cereal eaters by nature and these types of junk foods are high in sugars and carbohydrates, which as we talked about earlier can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
Hay is the most important factor in your rabbit’s diet: It is his prime source of fiber, which is instrumental in keeping the gut in good working order. Hay has the added benefits of being good entertainment for your bunny, they love to rearrange it, dig it up and place it “just so,” as well as a great source of chewing material which is necessary to keeping the teeth healthy. A rabbit’s teeth grow continuously throughout his life and it is essential that we provide them with safe chewing materials such as hay. A rabbit with tooth problems is a rabbit on his way to having GI problems as well. Fresh timothy, oat and other grass hays should be available to all bunnies all the time. Alfalfa hay is a member of the legume family and very different from grass hay, it is higher in calories as well as calcium (which can cause kidney or bladder problems(sludge) in rabbits) so should be avoided. On the other hand, some bunnies are picky eaters and refuse anything but alfalfa, which is better than no hay at all; and some rabbits have higher protein needs and may also need the alfalfa hay. Again, consult your veterinarian with all special dietary questions. A mixed grass hay has a variety of tastes which encourages the bunnies to eat more hay, and the variety of nutrients is also beneficial.
It is best to avoid purchasing pellets and hays from grocery stores and pet store chains, as the feed can sit on the shelves or in storage for months, which makes it stale and lacking in proper nutrient values. Where ever you purchase your bunnies food check on how fresh the product is.
Vegetables and Fruit: It is important to feed your rabbit a daily variety of fresh vegetables to help balance out the nutritional needs in his diet. Feed two to four cups of fresh vegetables for each five pounds of optimum body weight. All vegetables should be fresh, washed and organic whenever possible. (Note: Carrot tops & radish tops should be organic. Humans do not generally consume the tops of these vegetables, so little consideration is given to what pesticides are sprayed on them and they could be very dangerous or fatal to your rabbit.) To make sure your rabbit gets the necessary nutrients offer him at least three different vegetables daily (from the list of vegetables and fruits at the end of this article) and make sure one or more contain Vitamin A (noted with *).
While you may occasionally feed your rabbit a bit of fruit, it is extremely important that you limit their intake to no more than one or two tablespoons of high fiber fruits (pears, apples, tomatoes…) per five pounds of optimum body weight, one or two times a week . Never give fruit to dieting bunnies. Too much sugar can make your bunny fat, because excess energy (a by-product of sugar consumption) is converted to—fat!
Feeding your rabbit a limited amount of high fiber pellets, abundant fresh grass hays and a daily assortment of fresh vegetables is a key factor in keeping your rabbit healthy. Keep in mind that time balance, in addition to nutrient balance, is important to your rabbit’s diet. It is important to divide the pellets and vegetables between the morning and evening meals, while having hay and fresh water available at all times. And remember, exercise is just as important as diet in keeping the rabbit [gut] functioning and healthy. Every rabbit should get a minimum of 3 – 5 hours out of cage exercise every day. Take all dietary changes slowly. Quick changes to the diet can cause abnormal stool or an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut. Also keep in mind that different rabbits have different dietary needs. Younger rabbits, elderly rabbits, smaller breeds such as the Netherlands Dwarf, large breeds like the Flemish Giant and long haired rabbits all have different needs and you should consult your veterinarian for more specific information.
*Optimum body weight is how much your rabbit should weigh, not always how much she does weigh.
Acceptable Fruits and Vegetables
If your rabbit develops soft, poorly formed stool, stop all fruit and vegetables and begin again – gradually – when loose stool has ceased. If abnormal stool production continues for more than 24 hours(4 hours for baby rabbits under 6 months old), or if it is mucousy or profuse, take bunny to your vet immediately. Bunnies that have stopped producing stool are considered a medical emergency and must be seen by a veterinarian.
A key to the symbols next to some of the choices is included at the bottom of this page.
VEGETABLES (At least three different vegetables a day) Note: any combination of lettuces counts as ONE veggie for that day.
- radish and clover sprouts
- beets and beet greens*
- bok choy
- brussel sprouts
- carrots and tops* (organic tops only)
- collard greens+
- dandelion greens (pesticide free!)
- green kale**+
- mustard greens+
- pea pods (a.k.a. Chinese pea pods)*
- peppermint leaves
- radish tops (organic only)
- raspberry leaves
- squash: zucchini, yellow, butternut, pumpkin
- tomato (which is actually a fruit, but may be fed with/as a vegetable)
- turnip greens+
- various lettuces – (avoid very light hearts) romaine, butter, green leaf, boston, bibb, arugula… no iceberg!
- wheat grass
FRUIT (NO seeds or pits)
- apple (no seeds)
- pineapple (beneficial enzymes)
- papaya (beneficial enzymes)
Sugary fruits, such as bananas and grapes should be fed only as occasional treats. Remember sugar=fat! NO GRAINS, LEGUMES OR NUTS! Very high in carbohydrate, dangerous to gut function.
Key to Symbols
* Good source of vitamin A, feed at least one daily
** High in either oxalates or goitrogens, use sparingly , once or twice a week
+These veggies are higher in calcium, use sparingly, once or twice a week. For older buns, or those with bladder or kidney problems, avoid, unless otherwise directed by your rabbit vet.
++ These vegetables can cause some bunnies to be a bit gassy. Make sure no gas cramps or loose stool occur.