When taking care of rabbits, a healthy rabbit is more on the slim side. You want to be able to feel the ribs right beneath the skin. Excess fat or a thick layer on a rabbit could be a sign of obesity. If a rabbit is at a proper weight, there shouldn’t be any skin folds covering or obstructing the digestive tract or urinary openings. The dewlap (skin flap that hangs beneath the jaw or neck) on a female should not intervene with eating, hygiene or grooming. If you are concerned about your rabbit’s health and weight schedule an appointment today.
It is important to make any diet changes very gradually over about 2 weeks – by introducing new items in small amounts, to begin with, then slowly increasing them & likewise, gradually phasing out less healthy foods that your rabbit may be currently receiving.
Before we get started, it’s important for you to know that rabbits produce a unique type of dropping called cecotropes. A cecotrope is a dropping produced and eaten by rabbits as a way to get the most nutrients out of their food. Cecotropes have a strong odor with greenish-color, are long shaped and covered in mucus. The cecotrope has rich organisms, a variety of vitamins, amino acids, and fatty acids. Rabbits will eat the cecotrope directly from the anus and you probably won’t see many of these lying around your rabbit’s cage.
Rabbits can sometimes have a diet that is too rich in nutrients (for example if it’s mostly commercial pellets). If this happens, you might see cecotropes lying around on the cage floor. If there are any medical problems that the rabbit has, you might see these lying around on the cage floor. Please contact Northwood Animal Hospital if you notice an excessive amount of cecotropes in the cage. It’s possible your rabbit has a health condition or might be missing important nutrition.
Types of Rabbit Foods to Feed Your Rabbit
Because your rabbit is an herbivore, their body must be effective at utilizing the nutrients from different plant sources. Thankfully, the gastrointestinal tract of a rabbit is effective at handling large quantities of grasses, leaves, flowers, and fruits. The ideal diet for your rabbit should include all the hay he/she desires. Alfalfa hay is generally not recommended except in very specific short-term circumstances or in a young, growing rabbit. Timothy hay, other grass hays, or a mixture of several are fine. Many individuals will have marked preferences, so experiment to find which type(s) your bunny does best on.
Fresh “dark green leafy” vegetables are very important for most rabbits. Much more nutritious than the “lettuce” family of greens, these provide moisture, vitamins/minerals, fiber and energy for your rabbit’s health. Preferably a variety of at least 4 different types of greens should be fed daily, in a loose pile totaling about ½ your rabbit’s body size. Good choices include “Spring mix,” “Herb mix,” parsley, cilantro, tops of carrots or beets, mustard or dandelion greens. Items that should be fed in careful moderation include spinach, chard, the entire cabbage family (including kale, bok choy, broccoli, and cauliflower). Corn, potato, and yams are very high in carbohydrate causing fermentation and gas, so should never be fed to rabbits.
Non-leafy vegetables and fruits are also very important. A thumb-sized piece of non-leafy fresh veggie/fruit should be fed daily. Try to rotate among at least 4 different types. Good veggie choices include carrot, squash and green beans. Good fruit choices include apple, peach/nectarine, papaya, pineapple, strawberry and other berries. Grapes and bananas are very high in natural sugar, causing fermentation and gas so should only be fed in small amounts as treats.
Pellets are not necessary but can be a convenient and healthy way to provide some of your rabbit’s nutrition. To find out how many tablespoons of pellets per day, schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians. Avoid alfalfa-based pellets or those with dried fruits, veggies, nuts/seeds or colored pellets mixed in with green pellets. These are much less healthy and can cause serious health problems. In our opinion, Oxbow’s Bunny Basic-T is the best formula for adult rabbits.
Legume/Alfalfa Hay and Grass Hay
There should be a supply of hay in the cage all the time. Starting at weaning, no matter what age your rabbit is, hay will provide significant benefits to your’ rabbit’s health. These include:
- Healthy chewing and teeth wear (rabbit teeth grow throughout its entire life) that decreases chewing of inappropriate objects like furniture
- Hay makes the rabbit feel full in the stomach, which is satisfying and prevents undesirable chewing
- Indigestible fiber that helps move the contents of the intestinal tract
- Nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and proteins
- Hay also feeds the cecotropes
Grass Hay is an essential part of your pet’s diet in most cases and is made from barley, rye, meadow, oat, timothy or Bermuda grasses. Grass hay works well to provide a lower energy diet – great for house rabbits. We recommend sun-dried hay which retains more nutrients than commercially dried hay. Do not feed straw. While not harmful in small amounts, because of its lack of nutrients, it will lead to nutritional deficiencies if it’s the primary staple in your rabbit’s diet.
Legume Hay comes from beans, peanuts, peas, alfalfa, or clover. There are tons of nutrients in these hays, but the high amounts of calcium, protein, and calories can lead to GI disorders and obesity. If you mix legume and grass hays, your rabbit might pick out the nutrient dense legume hay, leading to health complications. If you don’t have access to grass hay, legume hay is better than no hay at all, but you may want to limit the amount of hay to avoid GI problems or obesity.
- You can find hay at rabbit clubs, feed stores, horse barns, and veterinary clinics
- Purchase hay that smells fresh (do not ever buy old or damp hay)
- Choose a hay supplier that replenishes often and who has a good reputation
- When purchasing from a feed store or horse barn, avoid contamination of animal or bird droppings by choosing hay that is underneath the top of the pile
Providing your rabbit with green foods in its diet is equally essential as feeding your rabbit a sufficient amount of hay. Green foods provide more water-dense nutrition and a wider variety of micronutrients. Even with water in its cage, rabbits do not always drink a sufficient amount of water. The more green foods your pet eats, the less water it may need to drink, ultimately promoting better GI function. When a pet owner is introducing greens newly to a rabbit’s diet and the pet hasn’t eaten greens before, it’s advised to start on hay first, so the rabbit’s GI tract can adjust. Remember that greens are advisable for any age of rabbit. Below are some guidelines for green foods:
- Fresh and organically bought or grown greens whenever possible
- Variety is important (we recommend a minimum variety of 3 different greens each serving) to provide a range of micronutrients and mental stimulation
- Leafy greens should comprise 75% of the fresh portion of your rabbit’s diet each day
- A minimum of 1 packed cup of green foods per 2 pounds of body weight each day, at least. If your rabbit is eating hay as well, and seems like it needs more, feed liberally. (Remember, your rabbit has to work and expend energy and chew to get the nutrients from green foods. With proper exercise, as long as your rabbit’s diet isn’t full of carbs or sugars, the rabbit can eat as much as it wants if it’s maintaining its weight and quality diet.)
“What Green Foods Can I Feed My Rabbit?”
- High Oxalic Acid Foods (One out of three varieties of greens from this list)
- Mustard Greens
- Beet Greens
- Parsley (Italian or flat-leaf advised)
- Swiss Chard
- Radish Tops
- Sprouts (1 to 6 days after sprouting, there are a higher level of alkaloids in sprouts)
- Low Oxalic Acid Foods (One out of three varieties of greens from this list)
- Mint (any variety)
- Basil (any variety)
- Red or green lettuce
- Turnip greens
- Spring greens
- Yu Choy
- Raspberry leaves
- Bok Choy
- Borage leaves
- Carrot tops
- Dill leaves
- Cucumber leaves
- Frisee Lettuce
- Kale (all types)
- Romaine lettuce
- Dandelion greens
- Fennel (the leafy tops as well as the base)
- Non-Leafy Vegetables (No more than 15% of the diet – Approximately 1 tablespoon per 2 pounds of body weight per day)
- Cabbage (any type)
- Chinese pea pods (the flat kind without large peas)
- Zucchini squash
- Brussel sprouts
- Bell peppers (any color)
- Broccoli (leaves and stems)
- Edible flowers (roses, nasturtiums, pansies, hibiscus)
- Summer squash
“What Fruits Can I Feed My Rabbit?”
(No more than 10% of the diet – Approximately 1 teaspoon per 2 pounds of body weight per day. We recommend leaving the nutritious skin on the fruit (especially organic fruits), simply wash thoroughly. If there are any doubts about the source of the fruit or chemicals on the skin, remove it)
- Star Fruit
- Plum (no pits)
- Melons (any variety, peel and seeds can be included)
- Apple (all kinds, no seeds or stems)
- Berries (all types and uncooked)
- Pineapple (remove the skin)
- Cherries (any variety, without the pits)
- Banana (no peel and no more than about 2 1/8 inch slices a day for a 5 lb rabbit)
"What Foods Should I NOT Feed My Rabbit?”
Yogurt drops and other treats are the equivalents of candy, so should be fed in very small amounts, or ideally not at all. Never feed grain, cereal, bread or nuts to your rabbits as they can cause very severe health problems. Below Are some other foods you should not feed your rabbit.
- Refined Sugar
- Any Other Grains
Please give us a call if you have any questions regarding your rabbit’s nutrition and health. We are here to help!