Pellets provide rabbits with an easy source of essential nutrients. Some rabbit owners choose to feed their rabbits a pellet-free diet due to teeth problems, chronic GI issues, and obesity. However, a pellet-free diet requires much more effort and care as a rabbit can easily suffer from malnutrition without the provision of proper vitamins and minerals.
For an adult rabbit, we recommend that you feed at most 1/8 cup to 1/4 cup of pellets per rabbit per day for every 5 lbs of rabbit. Too many pellets may lead to obesity, a lack of teeth wear, cecal overproduction, poopy butt, and behavioral disorders. However, baby rabbits can be fed unlimited pellets, as their bones and muscles need plenty of protein and calcium for proper growth.
Type and Nutrition
The type of pellet (alfalfa or timothy) fed usually depends on the age of your rabbit. Generally, alfalfa-based pellets should be fed to rabbits under 7 months old and timothy-based pellets to rabbits over 7 months old. However, it ultimately depends on the nutrition values listed on the back of the bag. Both types of pellets can meet nutritional requirements for rabbits. Typically, commercial alfalfa-based brand pellets will have more calories, protein, and fat, and less fiber than a timothy-based brand. See Rabbit Pellets Comparison Chart for more information about some acceptable brands for both adult and young rabbits.
Dana Krempels, Ph.D., recommends that a good pellet should have the following qualities:
- at least 22% crude fiber
- no more than approximately 14% protein
- about 1% fat
- about 1.0% calcium.
The Textbook of Rabbit Medicine recommends the following food analysis:
- Crude Fiber: > 18%
- Indigestible fibre: > 12.5%
- Crude protein: 12–16%
- Fat: 1–4%
- Calcium: 0.6–1.0%
- Phosphorus: 0.4–0.8%
- Vitamin A: 10 000–18 000 IU/kg
- Vitamin D: 800–1200 IU/kg
- Vitamin E: 40–70 mg/kg
- Trace elements: Magnesium 0.3%, Zinc 0.5%, Potassium 0.6–0.7%
Suzanne Trayhan recommends the following:
- at most around 14% protein for normal rabbits, 16% protein for long-haired breeds such as angoras, jersey wooleys, etc.
- at least 20% fiber
- 1-1.5% fat
- below 1% calcium
Both alfalfa and timothy-based pellet brands can come close to these recommendations. In general, the lower the protein level and the higher the fiber, the better. Rabbits should have very little fat in their diets - 5% in some pellets is way too high for a house rabbit. You will want a low number for calcium, especially in rabbits with bladder, sludge, or kidney problems.As Trayhan further says,
It can be difficult to find a pellet that matches all of the requirements. In that case, try to choose one that is as close as possible. Focus on the factors that are most important to your needs. If you have a rabbit with kidney/sludge problems, then get a low calcium number. If your rabbit is obese, concentrate on low fat and high fiber. For rabbits with gut problems, I would want high fiber.Good pellets do not include whole dried fruit, seeds, nuts, or other colored crunchy things. There should be only pellets and maybe hay and herbs and nothing else. As Krempel states,
The complex flora of the cecum can quickly become dangerously imbalanced if too much simple, digestible carbohydrate is consumed--especially if the diet is generally low in fiber. The result is often "poopy butt syndrome," in which mushy fecal matter cakes onto the rabbit's behind. This a sign of cecal dysbiosis, which can foment much more serious health problems.Also,
The problem with these foods is that each type of seed or ingredient has different nutritional content, and pets develop preferences for certain seeds or pieces. They can easily develop a deficiency when they become “picky eaters” and only eat certain parts of their food.
Some of these muesli mixes may contain foods such as corn and beans which are not recommended for rabbits to eat to begin with. These foods have the possibility of causing GI obstructions.
Rabbit pellets should be stored in a cool (15°C/59°F) dry vermin-proof place and be fed within 90 days of milling date. Buying rabbit food in bulk is discouraged for owners with a small number of rabbits as food older than 6 months has a compromised nutritional quality due to degradation of vitamin content, especially over hot summer months.
The following articles include more information about the ingredients of pellets.
- Laurie Stroupe, What Makes a Nutritious Commercial Rabbit Pellet?
- Sherwood Forest Natural Rabbit Food, Rabbit Food Ingredients
- Provet healthcare information, Feeding Rabbits
- Petco, Dangerous Foods and Plants: Additives and Preservatives
Below are discussions about pellet ingredients.
- Reddit.com, Pellet Ingredients
- The Rabbit House, Dry Food (Concentrates)
- Susan Smith, Ph.D, Alfalfa- and Timothy-Based Pellets: What’s the “Skinny?”, San Diego Rabbit News, Spring 2004
- House Rabbit Society, Natural Nutrition Part II: Pellets and Veggies
- House Rabbit Society, Pellets' Place in the Mature Rabbit's Diet
- Ontario Rabbit Education Organization, Pellets
- Rabbit Rehome, Choosing the Right Rabbit Food for Your Bunny
- Kathy Smith, Commercial Pellets
- San Diego House Rabbit Society, Rabbit Pellets
- Bucky's Bunny Barn, Rabbit Diet Information
- The Nature Trail, Laurie Stroupe, Nutritious Rabbit Pellets: How to Choose a High-Quality Feed
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Emma Keeble, Anna Meredith, et al., Rabbit Medicine & Surgery, 2006.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 Dana Krempels, Ph.D., What Should I Feed my Bunny?
- ↑ Frances Harcourt-Brown, Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, 2002.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 House Rabbit Network, Suzanne Trayhan, How to Choose a Good Pellet
- ↑ Susan Smith, Ph.D, Alfalfa- and Timothy-Based Pellets: What’s the “Skinny?”, San Diego Rabbit News, Spring 2004
- ↑ Town & Country Veterinary Hospital, Charlene Arendas, DVM, Quick Tips for Rabbits and Guinea Pigs