What do rabbits eat – Everything you need to know
Remember Bugs Bunny? This cartoon character just loved carrots and it’s a classic image of what to feed rabbits! In reality, getting the diet right is intrinsic to rabbit health. So what do rabbits eat ? Check out this article to find out what’s on the menu for happy bunnies.
The wild rabbit diet is similar to its domesticated cousin. Rabbits are herbivores – they only eat a plant-based diet based on their anatomical design.
Both wild or domestic Rabbits need to graze for long periods rather than ingest foodstuffs once or twice per day, if you notice your rabbit has not eaten for 24hrs, then you should consult a vet immediately as this is not normal behavior!
They are mono-gastric, which means they have one stomach, just like you or me. The size of a rabbit’s stomach is the largest in relation to its body weight compared to other animals.
Rabbit diets are more complex than chowing down on a carrot. Let’s take a look at rabbit digestive and dental anatomy to learn why some foods are 100% essential for rabbit health.
Rabbits are hindgut digesters. This means that most of the digestive processes occur in the large intestine and caecum. The caecum [hindgut] is relatively large and its job is to separate fibrous and digestible waste materials. Fibrous waste is produced as those recognizable rabbit droppings. The digestible waste is softer and encased in a mucous lining – they’re known as cecotropes which are eaten by rabbits for the essential nutrients they contain. They’ll do this via grooming around their bottom, so Elizabethan collars aren’t recommended with rabbits. That all might sound icky but it’s an important aspect of a rabbit’s dietary health and digestive structure.
Rabbit teeth are made for grinding rather than tearing and chewing. The grinding action breaks down the fibrous foodstuffs rabbits eat. A rabbit’s jaw can move 120+ times each minute as it grinds its food, so that’s a lot of wear and tear. This is why rabbits’ teeth have open roots – it allows the teeth to continuously grow. However, if their diet isn’t sufficiently high in fiber, the teeth won’t wear down but continue to grow. This can result in something known as malocclusion – where the teeth don’t meet correctly. It can impact on a rabbit’s ability to grind its food, causing abscesses and dental spurs. Other complications include facial abscesses and hyper-salivation.
Rabbits can have varied appetites. Wild rabbits will often graze at dawn and dusk to avoid predators. They make the most of feeding time, often eating a lot in a short time span and ensuring they grind their teeth adequately. Domesticated rabbits can also follow these patterns but they don’t have to worry about finding food or being predated. So a pet rabbit might be seen happily nibbling through the day, although some can prefer privacy. If there’s a sudden change in eating habits, it could be caused by dental disease or gut disturbance – always consult a vet for advice.
Comparative to a rabbit’s size, it needs to drink twice the amount of water a human consumes daily. The average-sized rabbit can drink anywhere between 50 to 150 ml per 1 kg body weight, so provide plenty of water! On warm days, pop an ice cube in the water bowl to help your rabbit stay cool.
Food Types – What food is best for your Rabbit ?
A rabbit’s diet comprises 80-90% hay. The remainder is grass, nutritious pellets, fruit and vegetables. A way to find out if your rabbit’s diet is agreeing with it is to check faecal pellets. These should be dark, rounded, reasonably soft and uniform in size. Anything watery can be a sign of tummy upsets or blockages.
The Best Hay for your Pet Rabbit
It’s the bulk of a domestic rabbit’s diet. Hay helps rabbits grind their teeth to maintain dental health, and its high fibre content is absolutely essential for digestion and gut health. Hay also contains Vitamins A and D, plus protein and can be broken down into 2 sub-groups:
- Grass Hay: Timothy, Wheat, Oat, Ryegrass.
- Legume Hay: Alfalfa, Clover, Lucerne.
Grass hay has a higher fiber count than legume hay and is a healthier option. Legume hay should only be offered to kits under 3 months and pregnant does because it’s calcium/protein-rich and aids growth. Legume hay can also cause renal problems when used longer-term and is high in sugar. Always select high-quality hay, avoiding damp hay – this can contain harmful mold spores. Your rabbit should have access to unlimited quantities of hay daily. Choose quality suppliers like Oxbow rabbit food to meet your needs.
Feeding your Rabbit Grass
Fresh grass always. Some rabbits love nibbling on grass so if you have an outdoor rabbit, it might enjoy grazing on your nice fresh lawn. If your rabbit lives indoors, pull out some from the root and bring it in. It’s best to avoid feeding your rabbit grass cuttings as the heat generated from a lawnmower makes the cuttings ferment quicker, and can cause an upset tummy.
Don’t worry if your pet rabbit isn’t that impressed by grass – for some rabbits, it can be an acquired taste, if at all.
Rabbits nibble on these rather than grind, but pellets offer a valuable nutritional addition to a rabbit’s diet. Choose the best quality – they should provide at least 20% fiber content but less than 16% protein. Uniform pellets are preferable to mixes as rabbits will select tastier morsels and leave the rest. Feed only a small handful daily.
What vegetables can a rabbit eat ?
Select fresh, chemical-free, leafy vegetables. Introduce anything new gradually and in smaller amounts to check tolerance. There are lots of different vegetables your rabbit might like and here are several suggestions.
- Celery – Including the leaves.
- Carrot tops – Carrots are calcium rich so carrot tops are best.
- Dark leaf lettuce.
- Bok choy.
- Broccoli – Include leaves.
- Dark cabbage.
- Peas – In pods.
- Spinach and kale.
- Herbs – Basil, parsley and dill are tasty.
- Zucchini [courgettes].
- Bell peppers.
What fruit can my rabbit eat? Fruits are rich in natural sugars so portions should be given sparingly to avoid a tubby rabbit! A teaspoon a day is perfect.
- Tomatoes – Small amounts, no seeds.
- Watermelon – No seeds.
- Peeled bananas.
- Berries – Including blue, black and raspberries.
- Peeled pineapple.
- Cantaloupe melon.
Rabbits enjoy foraging so buy small bags of dried leaves and twigs from your pet store to mix with their hay. This gives them extra enrichment with different odors and textures. You can also hide smaller foodstuffs in toilet roll tubes.
What food to avoid
Some foodstuffs can be harmful to rabbits. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s a good start for your research.
- Seeds and pips – These can contain toxins.
- Iceberg lettuce – Causes tummy upsets.
- Processed sugar.
- Breads, cake and biscuits.
- Sweets [candy].
citrus fruits and corn on the cob due to their acidic/sugar content – they can
cause chelitis, or sore, cracked lips.
If you have any concerns about your rabbit’s diet and health, always consult a vet. Enjoy feeding your rabbit a healthy diet to ensure wellbeing and longevity for your precious pet.