Diet

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Related FAQ: Diet FAQ


The rabbit food pyramid

A proper diet is extremely important to the health of a rabbit. Approximately 80% of a rabbit's diet should consist of hay or grass, then vegetables, pellets, and then rarely treats. While pellets can provide a complete source of nutrition when rationed, under no circumstances should you feed only vegetables and/or fruit to your rabbit as a diet. A hay-only diet is not appropriate either as rabbits receive very little nutrition because it passes so rapidly through the gut.[1]

Minimal Metabolic Requirements for Rabbits to Maintain Optimum Body Weight [2]
Body wt lbs 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Calories 89 120 149 170 202 227 251 274 296


Please note that all of these numbers to feed your rabbit are only guidelines. Every rabbit is different and may thrive on different diets. Factors that will play a role in the diet include activity level, size, age, and environment conditions. Play around with the ratios of pellets, vegetables, and treats to figure out what will keep your rabbits in the best of shape and health. Consult an animal nutritionist if you would like more expert advice. However, do remember that regardless of the ratio, your rabbit should always have unlimited access hay that it can eat regularly to keep its digestive system motile and ever-growing teeth worn down.

Age

The dietary needs of rabbits change as they age.

The following guidelines have been obtained from the House Rabbit Society.[3] Please note that you can feed even less pellets, vegetables, or treats/fruits than recommended for a healthy rabbit. The proper balance of hay, vegetables, pellets, and fruit may be different for each rabbit in your home and may change for an individual rabbit as he grows older or as his health changes.

Birth to 3 weeks

  • mother's milk
  • Please refer to Baby Domestic Rabbits for more information on how to feed orphaned babies.

3 to 4 weeks

4 to 7 weeks

  • mother's milk, access to alfalfa and pellets
  • Please refer to Baby Domestic Rabbits for more information on how to feed orphaned babies.

7 weeks to 7 months

  • unlimited pellets, unlimited alfalfa hay
  • at 12 weeks, introduce vegetables (one at a time, quantities under 1/2 oz.)

7 months to 1 year

  • introduce timothy hay, grass hay, and oat hays, decrease alfalfa
  • decrease pellets to 1/2 cup per 6 lbs. body weight
  • increase daily vegetables gradually
  • fruit daily ration no more than 1 oz. to 2 oz. per 6 lbs. body weight (because of calories)
Two pairs of rabbits each eating a heaping pile of daily vegeatables.

1 to 5 years

  • unlimited timothy, grass hay, oat hay. See Hay for more acceptable hay types.
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup pellets per 6 lbs. body weight (depending on metabolism and/or proportionate to veggies)
  • minimum 2 cups chopped vegetables per 6 lbs. body weight
  • fruit daily ration no more than 2 oz. (2 TBL) per 6 lbs. body weight.

Over 6 years

  • If sufficient weight is maintained, continue adult diet.
  • Frail, older rabbits may need unrestricted pellets to keep weight up. Alfalfa can be given to underweight rabbits, only if calcium levels are normal. Annual blood workups are highly recommended for geriatric rabbits.
  • See Elderly Rabbits for more information on senior rabbit care.

Hay

Main article: Hay
Rabbits enjoying a new small bale of hay.

Hay is the most important part of a rabbit's diet. It is the prime source of fiber to keep his GI tract working properly and also helps grind down their teeth to prevent overgrowth. Hay can also serve as entertainment, as it takes a while to chew. Some bunnies like digging and rearranging their hay.

Timothy hay is the most commonly recommended type of hay due to high fiber and low calories, but any grass hay is acceptable. Some other common grass hay types available are Bermuda, Orchard Grass, and Oat. Adult rabbits should not be fed alfalfa hay except under special circumstances. Alfalfa hay is much higher in calcium, protein, and calories than most rabbits need and will lead to weight problems.

Grass

Main article: Grass

If your rabbit turns his nose up at all sorts of hay or you would like to save some money on hay, you may also use your lawn as a source of food and fiber for your rabbit if it has not been treated with any chemicals. Remember that you should introduce all new foods gradually, and slowly increase your rabbit's fresh grass intake over a period of time.

Do not use lawn mower clippings to feed your rabbit. The heat and crushing action encourages fermentation of the grass which will lead to an upset stomach if your rabbit eats it. Only use hand-pulled or hand-cut grass to feed your rabbit, or let your rabbit graze on the lawn directly. Be sure that the grass has not been treated with any pesticides or chemicals.

Water

Rabbit drinking from a water bottle.

Water is vital to a rabbit's survival. Typical water intake is about 10% of a rabbit's body weight or 50–100 mL/kg (22-46 mL/lb) daily.[4][5] If a bunny does not drink sufficient water, the contents in its GI tract will dry up and cause anorexia. Fresh cold water should be provided at least twice a day in a bowl, crock, or water bottle.

Generally, a bunny will drink more from a crock or bowl than a sipper bottle, so using a water dish is usually the better choice. However, drinking bottles avoid wetting dewlaps, which can lead to moist dermatitis, and are usually easier to keep clean as the rabbit cannot step in or kick in food and feces. Ideally, offer both a water dish and bottle so the rabbit may choose, but if circumstances such as a messy rabbit warrant using only a bottle, it is a perfectly valid choice as long as you get one large enough.

Another popular choice for dispensing water are gravity water stations.

Rabbits will not drink warm or hot water. The water container should be washed often with hot water and detergent to prevent bacterial buildup.

Below are some links with more information about water.

Pellets

Main article: Pellets

Pellets provide rabbits a convenient package of the necessary minerals and nutrients that are generally not available without a enormously varied diet. However, there are some rabbit owners who feed their rabbits a pellet-free diet due to teeth problems, chronic GI issues, and obesity. We recommend that you feed at most 1/8-1/4 cup of pellets per 5 lbs of rabbit per day. Too many pellets can lead to obesity and a lack of adequate hay consumption. See our Pellets article for more information on the type of pellets to choose.

Vegetables

Rabbits sharing a head of lettuce.
Main article: Vegetables

Vegetables constitute an important part of your rabbit's diet and usually should be fed daily. Fresh vegetables should make up approximately 10% of your adult rabbit's diet. Vegetables provide additional nutrients and different textures and tastes, an enriching experience for your rabbit. Wet veggies are also a good source of water if your bunny does not drink very much from his water bowl or bottle. Read more at our Vegetables article.

Treats

Main article: Treats

While there are a variety of foods that you may feed your pet rabbit without severe digestion issues, we recommend using their regular pellets or fresh herbs and vegetables as treats. These foods will at least provide some nutrition to your rabbit, and typically rabbits will go crazy over anything that is not hay. Commercial brands with yogurt drops and other ingredients, while not necessarily immediately deadly to your bun, are not nutritious at all and may cause long term health problems if fed too often because of wrong flora developing in their gut. Fresh fruit and carrots are a better alternative if you really want to let your rabbit have a "piece of candy" and are also lighter on your wallet. Read more at our Treats article.

Special Needs

Main article: Special Needs Rabbits

Like humans, all rabbits are different, and some may not thrive on the standard rabbit diet recommended above. Some may not be able to tolerate greens while others may not be able to tolerate pellets. As their caretaker, you are the best judge of what is best for your rabbit and should adjust each portion of a bun's diet as needed. See Special Needs Rabbits for more information about their care.

Here are links with some more information about feeding a special needs rabbit.

Further Reading

See Also

References

  1. Lucille Moore, Rabbit Nutrition and Nutritional Healing, 1e, 2011, p. 87.
  2. Marinell Harriman, House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit, 4th edition, p. 58.
  3. House Rabbit Society, FAQ: Diet
  4. Anna Meredith & Sharon Redrobe, BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets, 4e, 2001.
  5. Frances Harcourt-Brown, Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, 1e, 2006.