Feeding Your Rabbit
Caring for Rabbits
Rabbits make wonderful pets and can live a long, healthy life. Taking care of their nutritional requirements keeps them healthy, longer. This guide contains information on how much food to give your rabbit as well as information on hay and fresh foods for your pet rabbit.
Rabbit PelletsA good quality rabbit pellet may be offered daily but in limited quantities. The uncontrolled feeding of a pelleted diet can lead to obesity due to excess protein and calories. It can also lead to diarrhea due to lack of fiber, and bladder stones due to excess calcium. Buy small quantities of pellets and keep them cool and dry so they don't become stale or spoiled. If you buy in larger quantities (more than a 2 month supply) the extra pellets can be frozen. The following chart provides some guidelines for feeding pellets. Don’t be tempted to refill the bowl, even if the pellets are all eaten before the next day. Rabbits up to 8 months of age can have access to pellets free choice because they are growing rapidly. However, after 8 months of age, they should receive as a maintenance diet:
|Body Weight||Daily Pellet Food Requirement|
|Less than 5 lbs||1/8 Cup Daily|
|5-7 lbs||1/4 Cup Daily|
|8-10 lbs||1/2 Cup Daily|
|11-15 lbs||3/4 Cup Daily|
These food amounts are for non-breeding, mature pet rabbits. If you intend to breed your female rabbit, increase the daily pellet amounts by ¼ cup during the breeding season. For does that are nursing babies, the pellets should be increased over a 4- 5 day period to free choice until the babies are weaned. After the breeding season is over, decrease pellets to normal maintenance levels of feeding.
In some situations, pellets may be removed entirely from the diet. Your bunny will still receive all the nutrients necessary from the hay and fresh foods that you provide. This is commonly the treatment suggested for very overweight bunnies who need to lose weight safely, and for bunnies suffering from chronic stool problems or calcium bladder stones.
Timothy or other grass hay should be offered daily in unlimited amounts. It is important that grass hay be available at all times for your pet. Rabbits tend to eat small amounts frequently throughout the day, and withholding hay can cause intestinal upset.
Long, loose strands of hay are preferable to pressed cubes or chopped hay. The fiber in the hay is what promotes normal digestion and prevents hairballs, and keeps teeth wearing normally. It also provides protein and nutrients. Avoid alfalfa hay, because it is high in calcium and doesn’t contain sufficient fiber (like the pellets, which are usually made of alfalfa).
The best hay is usually found at feed stores or horse barns, where you may be able to purchase a “flake” of hay from a bale at a nominal cost. Store hay in a cool dry place, and discard any hay that is damp or does not smell fresh. Hay can be offered in a hay rack on the outside of the cage; bunnies will pull hay out of the rack through the bars of the cage as they need it. This keeps the hay clean and eliminates waste.
At certain times of year and in certain locations it is harder to obtain fresh hay. When this happens it is OK to use chopped, bagged hay. The important thing is to always have hay available.
Some fresh foods should be given daily. Rabbits in the wild eat primarily tough fibrous grass and other leaves and bark. Their digestive tract works best when it has lots of work to do breaking down cellulose. If your bunny is not used to fresh foods, start out slowly with the green leafy veggies and add in a new food item from the list every 5-7 days. If the addition of any item leads to diarrhea or loose stools, then remove it from the diet.
Young bunnies should be introduced to new foods gradually, but once your pet is eating these foods, try to give at least 3 types daily. Feeding one type of fresh food only can lead to nutrient imbalances. Along with the grass hay, these fresh fibrous foods will help prevent hairballs and other digestive upsets (plus, your bunny will love it!).
The following are all foods you can try with your bunny; the total amount of fresh food (once your pet is used to it) should be 1 heaping cup per 5 lbs. of body weight, given once or twice daily:
Carrot tops, beet tops, dandelion greens and flowers (no pesticides if they come from your lawn!), kale, collard greens, escarole, romaine lettuce, parsley, snow peas, clover, cabbage, broccoli with leaves, carrot roots, green peppers, raspberry leaves, radicchio, bok choy, spinach.
In a small amount, give one treat food daily. Give about one level tablespoon per 5 pounds of body weight: Strawberries, papaya, pineapple, pear, melon, raspberries, peach, banana, dried fruit, or dried whole grain bread. NOT RECOMMENDED: salty or sugary snacks, nuts, chocolate, breakfast cereals, oatmeal, or corn. (These can all cause intestinal upset or obesity.)
Always available, and changed daily. Keep the container clean because dirty water containers breed bacteria and cause your bunny to drink less water.
Vitamins are not usually necessary if bunny is receiving a good diet (as previously described).
Salt or Mineral Blocks for Your Rabbit
Salt or mineral blocks are not necessary for your rabbit.
It may seem strange to list this as part of the diet, but these special droppings are an essential part of your rabbit’s nutrition. During certain times of day (usually in the evenings), you may observe your pet licking the anal area and actually eating some of his or her own droppings.
These cecal pellets, as they are called, are softer, greener and have a stronger odor than the normal hard dry round droppings. Your bunny knows when these are being produced, and will take care of eating them. These special droppings come from the cecum, which is part of the large intestine where fermentation takes place. They are rich in B-vitamins and nutrients which are needed by your pet to maintain good health. This habit may seem distasteful to us, but is normal and important for your rabbit.
Occasionally a rabbit will drop these cecal pellets along with the normal hard droppings. They are soft, brighter green, come in clumps and are misshapen, but formed and have a stronger odor. This is not considered diarrhea, and if it only occurs once in a while is not a problem.
A big problem for pet rabbits on poor diets, but if your pet gets enough fiber you can prevent this. Fresh papaya and pineapple contain the enzymes bromelain and papain, and these help also. Plenty of fresh water also helps prevent hairballs.