Just like us, rabbits need a healthy balanced diet. 80% of a rabbit’s diet should be grass or hay, 15% greens and 5% pellets 28.
Rabbits have evolved in the dry landscape of Southern Spain, a hot place with little rainfall, causing their food source to be a low quality, high fibre vegetation. This is what their teeth and digestive system are designed to cope with, so a diet that mimics a natural diet is 37. In the wild, rabbits will spend most of their day (70%) above ground grazing on grass and plants, therefore their diet should be mostly made up of grass or good quality hay, which they have continual access to 8. As a general guideline, they need to eat a pile of their own body size every day 9. Try out different makes of hay to see which one your rabbit prefers. There are two main types of hay, grass hay (Timothy) and legume hay (eg. Alfalfa, Clover). Adult rabbits need mainly grass hay, which is higher in fibre and contains less Calcium, whereas young, pregnant or nursing rabbits need more legume hay, which is higher in Calcium and Protein 10. As well as its nutritional value, hay has other benefits, such as constant chewing strengthening teeth and jaws, fibre maintaining the gut, and constant nibbling reducing boredom. Rabbits also need constant access to hay or grass to maintain their teeth. Rabbits will slice with their sharp front teeth and grind food down with their back teeth 37. Their teeth never stop growing, with front teeth growing at a rate of 3mm a week 2, so continual chewing on grass/hay helps to grind the teeth down and keep them at the correct length. Never feed your rabbit grass cuttings as they ferment very quickly and can be harmful. Rabbits have an unusual digestive system. Not all nutrients are absorbed as food passes through their gut, so special soft droppings, called caecotrophs, are produced with the partially digested food. Rabbits eat these caecotrophs, allowing the food to be re-ingested 2. Take a look at Ways to get Your Rabbit to Eat More Hay.
Rabbits should also be given plenty of fresh leafy greens and vegetables (about an adult sized handful 9, and only small amounts of rabbit feed and treats. You should aim to feed your rabbit about 5-6 different greens/vegetables each day (eg. carrot tops, kale, parsley). A small amount of rabbit feed, in pellet form, is beneficial, as it ensures the rabbit receives all key nutrients that they may not otherwise be able to get from just eating grass, hay or vegetation 29. According to the RSPCA, you should feed your rabbit 25g (an egg cup full) of pellets per kg of your rabbit’s body weight 9. Avoid too much fruit, as it is high in sugar and can make your rabbit overweight, and excessive amounts of sugar or starchy treats can upset the stomach. Shop bought treats can be very high in sugar and bad for your rabbits. Natural sweet treats are best, such as a chunk of carrot, broccoli, or bite of banana 30.
GREENFOOD IDEAS: WHAT’S GOOD TO FEED 11
● Artichoke leaves ● Asparagus ● Baby Sweetcorn (but not full size ones) ● Beetroot (care with leafy tops as high levels of oxalic acid) ● Broccoli (and its leaves, including purple sprouting varieties) ● Brussel Sprouts (leaves and sprouts) ● Cabbage (can sometimes cause digestive upsets) ● Carrots and carrot tops – (limited amounts of carrot should be offered due to the high sugar content and carrot tops are high in calcium so should be given occasionally) ● Cauliflower (and the leaves) ● Celeriac ● Celery (and its leaves) ● Chicory ● Courgette (and flowers) ● Cucumber ● Curly Kale (only occasionally due to the high calcium content) ● Fennel ● Green beans ● Kohl rabi ● Parsnip ● Peas (including the leaves and pods) ● Peppers (red, green, orange and yellow) ● Pumpkin ● Radish Tops ● Rocket ● Romaine lettuce (not Iceberg or light coloured leaf) ● Spinach (only occasionally due to the high calcium content) ● Spring Greens ● Squash (e.g. Butternut) ● Swede ● Turnip (only occasionally) ● Watercress (only occasionally due to the high calcium content)
Herbs (often powerful tastes so may take some getting used to):
● Basil ● Coriander ● Dill ● Mint (peppermint) ● Parsley (curled or flat) ● Oregano ● Rosemary ● Sage ● Thyme
Fruits (should be fed in moderation, due to their sugar content. It is not advised that fruits are fed every day and should be limited to a couple of times a week in small quantities):
● Apple ● Apricot ● Banana (high in potassium) ● Blackberries (and leaves – excellent astringent properties) ● Blueberries ● Cherries ● Grapes ● Kiwi Fruit ● Mango ● Melon ● Nectarines ● Oranges (not the peel) ● Papaya ● Peaches ● Pears ● Pineapple ● Plums ● Raspberries (and leaves – excellent astringent properties) ● Strawberries (and leaves) ● Tomatoes (not the leaves)
Wild Garden Herbs/Weeds/Flowers:
● Borage ● Calendula ● Camomile ● Chickweed (astringent) ● Clover (leaves and flowers) ● Dandelion (diuretic properties) ● Goosegrass (cleavers) but may stick to coat! ● Lavender ● Mallow ● Nettle ● Nasturtium (leaves and flowers) ● Shepherd’s purse ● Sow Thistle ● Plantain ● Yarrow
Be careful if picking plants in the wild, make sure you can identify what they are and whether or not they will be poisonous to your bunny.
POISONOUS PLANTS 11
All Plants That Grow From Bulbs: Amaryllis ● Arum Lily (Cuckoo Point) ● Bindweed ● Bracken ● Bryony ● Buttercup (Small Quantities Dried Within Hay Is Ok) ● Convolvulus (Bindweed) ● Deadly Nightshade (Belladonna) ● Delphinium (Larkspur) ● Elder ● Fools Parsley ● Foxglove ● Hellebores (Christmas Rose) ● Hemlock ● Henbane ● Lily Of The Valley ● Lupin ● Laburnum ● Most Evergreens ● Oak Leaves ● Poppies ● Potato Tops ● Privet ● Ragwort ● Rhubarb Leaves ● Scarlet Runner ● Toadflax ● Woody Nightshade ● Yew
You should avoid predominantly feeding your pet a rabbit mix or muesli-style dried food, as it could lead to health issues. Your rabbit will likely pick out its favourite pieces and leave the rest, resulting in an unbalanced diet. This type of feed is also too easy to eat compared to grass and hay 32.
The amount of food you should give to your rabbit will depend on age, size, and general lifestyle and health. Maintaining the correct weight for your bunny may be tricky, but obesity can be a serious health issue. See Is My Rabbit Overweight?
It goes without saying that your rabbit needs a constant supply of fresh water. The RSPCA recommends that you check their water supply twice daily 27, and make sure it is algae free, doesn’t freeze or have blockages and leaks.
Never make sudden changes to a rabbit’s diet, as it can cause fatal stomach upsets. Make any dietary changes gradual to allow their bodies to get used to it. Introduce new foods slowly, and one at a time, giving a small amount to see if they can tolerate it 31.
If you notice changes in your rabbit’s eating preferences and behaviour, or they stop eating altogether, consult a vet, as it may be due to a health issue.