Rabbit Nutrition and Feeding

Rabbits are becoming increasingly popular pets for adults and children alike, they provide companionship and can be very rewarding to keep. Diet is vitally important for these herbivores as feeding the wrong diet can cause a lot of problems, some of which can even be fatal. Unfortunately there is a lot of outdated information regarding the feeding of rabbits but this article aims to give you all the information you need to feed your bunny a healthy balanced diet.

As a rough guide rabbits should eat daily:

  • A bundle of good quality hay the size of their body
  • A handful of fresh greens the size of their head
  • A spoonful of pellets HALF the size of their hind foot – (Up to 20g/kg)

Hay and grass

Grass makes up the vast majority of a wild rabbit’s diet and in an ideal world pet rabbits would be able to graze a variety of fresh grasses throughout the day. However, as this isn’t an option for most bunnies, it is vital that good quality hay makes up the biggest percentage of their diet- at least 70%! We recommend that you allow your bunny to have free access to hay – meadow, timothy, fescue, ryegrass and cocksfoot hay are all good choices. Alfalfa hay may also be fed but only in small quantities as large amounts can cause urinary problems. Hay should be offered away from bedding to prevent soiling- hay racks, boxes, paper bags and toilet rolls are all good ways to keep hay clean and dry. If your rabbit is reluctant to eat hay make sure the hay is dry and sweet smelling and consider trying different varieties or mixing treats, pellets or dried herbs into the hay to make it more exciting.  NEVER feed rabbits fresh grass cuttings as they can cause serious, potentially deadly, digestive problems.

Fresh greens

Fresh greens should only make up 20-28% of a rabbit’s diet. They contain valuable vitamins and minerals but are low in fibre so should not be fed in bulk. Try and give your rabbit a selection of at least three safe fresh foods a day, see the end of this article for a list of plants to feed regularly, in moderation and to avoid.

Treats

Treats should be either high fibre treats from the pet shop or foods on the ‘occasional’ section of the list in the link above. These include carrots, strawberries, dried herbs and apples. Human food is bad for rabbits and should be avoided.

Concentrates/ pellets

This should make up only 2% of a rabbits daily diet. Bunnies should not be fed muesli style diets as they will only eat the bits they like which can lead to an unbalanced diet. The best concentrates are high fibre pellets such as Burgess or Supreme which contain fibre as well as valuable vitamins and minerals. As a maximum rabbits can be fed 25g of pellets (about an egg cup) per kg per day. Only give more pellets once the last meal has been eaten, providing the food is still clean and dry.

Water

Fresh water should be provided at all times and should be changed daily. This can be from either a bottle or bowl although most rabbits prefer to drink from a bowl. Don’t add vitamin supplements to the water as this may discourage your rabbit from drinking and with a balanced diet shouldn’t be needed.

Changing your rabbit’s diet

Any diet changes should be made very gradually over 2 to 3 weeks. For example when switching from a predominantly concentrate based diet to more hay expect to gradually reduce the concentrates over several weeks.  When introducing new greens make sure there is a gradual introduction to prevent stomach upsets.

If you have any further questions on how to feed your bunny, why not call the practice and make an appointment for a free bunny clinic with one of our nurses.

What fresh foods can I feed my rabbit?

Safebroccoli

Commercially available

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery leaves
  • Courgette
  • Cucumber
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Salad peppers
  • Radish tops
  • Rocket
  • Romaine lettuce (avoid iceberg lettuce)
  • Swede
  • Turnip
  • Basil
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Rocket
  • Chard
  • Chicory

Wild plants

  • Dandelion – in moderation can make them pass excessive faeces
  • Blackberry leaves
  • Chamomile
  • Chickweed
  • Clover
  • Comfrey
  • Goose grass
  • Lavender
  • Nettle
  • Dock
  • Yarrow

The following plants may also be fed but in moderation to prevent urinary issues:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Watercress
  • Spring greens

Occasional treat (as high in sugar)

  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Strawberry’s and leaves
  • Carrots including tops

Unsafe (toxic)

  • Grass clippings
  • Clematis
  • Foxgloves
  • Ivy
  • Lilies
  • Lily of the valley
  • Laburnum
  • Poppies
  • Privet
  • Ragwort
  • Rhododendron
  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Bindweed
  • Bracken
  • Most ever greens
  • Oak leaves
  • Yew