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Feeding your Bunny
Rabbits need a balanced diet to be healthy. They are herbivores, so they only eat plants and must eat constantly to keep up their metabolism. Proper diet impacts their health in a number of ways--it can help provide them with a healthy coat, balanced personality, strong immune system and a long life. A good rabbit diet should consist mainly of hay, greens and pellets. Treats should be a limited part of a rabbit's diet. Continue reading to learn more about the specifics of a rabbit's dietary needs. Remember: Rabbits need 85% Hay, 10% greens, 5% or less of pellets and treats are to be used sparingly.
A bunny food pyramid. Mostly hay and greens, a small amount of pellets and a berry treat.
About 85% of what they eat should be hay. Fiber is necessary for a rabbit's digestion. Lack of this essential fiber can lead to dental disease and long term GI issues. Rabbits should be eating their size in hay daily, not their weight, but a pile of hay roughly the size of their body.
Timothy hay is typically the best hay for a rabbit's diet. Bunnies seem to prefer 2nd or 3rd cut hay. These hays are softer and contain less seed heads than 1st cutting hay. At our shelter store(open only to members), we sell 5, 10 and 25 pound boxes of Timothy Hay from American Pet Diner, Small Pet Select and Rabbit Hole. Try one and see which your rabbit prefers.
Even 3 week old babies eat timothy hay.
"Oat hay is an excellent source of fiber for bunnies; it's great as a treat or during heavy sheds to aid their digestion."
However, if you find that you are allergic to timothy hay, there are some alternatives. Orchard Grass, Meadow Grass, Brome and Mountain Grass are potential substitute hays. For a treat, try Farmer Dave's Clover Hay(not for everyday use). Some rabbits also enjoy oat hay, which can be purchased occasionally at our shelter store or from Sierra Valley Hay. Oat hay is full of delicious oat groats and very high in fiber, it's great for shedding season to help aid digestion.
Legumes like alfalfa and treats like clover should not be used as daily hay for rabbits. They are too high in fat and protein.
Greens are also important to rabbit health. They provide them with essential vitamins and minerals and are a part of their natural diet. Many times you will hear that a rabbit needs vegetables, really they need greens. Starches and sugars in other veggies are not needed in their diet and can do more harm than good. The water in greens is also essential to keep them hydrated. Some rabbits are not big water drinkers, offering lettuce can help.
There is some disagreement as to whether high calcium greens can lead to bladder stone formation in rabbits. No scientific proof has been found to support this claim. However, many rabbit owners prefer not to take chances, especially with bunnies prone to sludge and stones.
Some rabbits actually show signs of stomach upset with greens that are very high in calcium. Regardless of whether you feed them these greens, always make sure to introduce them slowly. Any new food can cause digestive upset. Never give your rabbit iceberg lettuce, it contains no real nutritional value and the excess water can make them very sick.
If you want to find out the nutritional value of your bunnies' greens, try looking here. The higher calcium foods are marked with an *. Here is a list of greens to try out:
Green Leaf lettuce
Red Leaf lettuce
Red Romaine Lettuce
Parsley--Flat or curly*
When it comes to greens in the cabbage family (cruciferous vegetables), be aware that like humans, rabbits can get gas from these foods: Broccoli, cabbage, bok choy and collard greens.
Rabbits should get about one cup chopped greens per 2 lbs body weight. Remember to start slowly. If they haven't eaten their greens in less than 10 minutes, they're probably getting too much(or they're new to greens and unsure).
Rabbits should never have beans, legumes, onions, garlic, dairy, bread, seeds or corn.
Carrots are NOT on this list because they are considered a treat. So is all fruit.
Pellets used to be considered a major part of a rabbit's diet. Since knowledge in rabbit health and digestion has grown, so have their nutritional requirements. Pellets are now considered a supplement more than a meal. Rabbits who are underweight and nursing mothers are the only exception to this rule. Pellets were introduced as a way of increasing fat and growth in meat rabbits. There was no interest in keeping these rabbits healthy for a lifetime and we now know that rabbits can live 8-12+ years.
So, if hay should make up 80-85% of a rabbit's diet and greens at 10%, then pellets should be no more than 5% of a rabbit's diet. A good rule of thumb for the maximum amount they should be getting per day is 1/4 cup per 6 pounds of bunny. Most rabbits do not need anywhere near that amount of pelleted food. Some rabbits are put on a zero pellet diet by veterinarians due to health issues like obesity and excess cecotrope(soft, nutrient dense feces reabsorbed by rabbits) production (https://rabbit.org/intermittent-soft-cecotropes-in-rabbits/). If a rabbit is overweight, pellets and treats should be the only things restricted in their diet. A zero pellet diet may be tried, consult your veterinarian first. You will need to increase their greens and give them at least 4 different types of greens per day. Pellets do contain a good amount of necessary vitamins and minerals.
What pellets should you feed your rabbit? Simply put, nothing fancy. You do not want to see pretty colors, seeds, nuts, dehydrated fruits and vegetables in your pellets. You want only 12-14% protein, too much protein is not good for a rabbit's kidneys. Only 1-2% max. fat should also be on your list. Rabbits are prone to obesity and coronary artery disease, just like humans. You do want 20-30% fiber. They are constantly eating and need fiber in their diet to aid digestion. A timothy hay based pellet is preferred, but alfalfa based pellets are OK for juveniles and nursing mothers.
Our rescue sells the following pellets at it's on-site member store. You must be a member to buy at the shelter due to our occupancy permits.
We sell these products at a lower price than many local stores, so buying your rabbit supplies from us benefits everyone.
Everyone who owns a rabbit knows that they love their food. They are excellent at guilting their owners into giving them more of it. They may toss their bowls when empty and turn over their hayracks to let you know they are low on food. However, you do not need to give them junk food to appease them. Here are some options for feeding your never full bunnies.
Fruit is a good treat, but they do not need it everyday. Sugars are difficult for a rabbit to digest and may lead to excessive bacteria growing in the cecum. Sugar is turned into fat and that can cause a whole list of other problems for rabbits. A one inch square piece of fruit is all they should have in one day--but they do not need it and obese rabbits or rabbits with any digestive issues shouldn't get fruit at all. Here is a list of fruits to use sparingly.
Blueberries(squash them first so they don't swallow them whole.)
Bananas are often given by bunny owners--this fruit is very high in sugar and should be given in even smaller quantities than the others.
Oats make a good treat for rabbits. Like everything else, they should be given in moderation. One teaspoon a day is plenty unless you have an underweight rabbit. Oats are low is sugar but higher in fat. They do, however, have a good amount of fiber in them. Buy thick rolled oats, not instant. Try Bob's Red Mill. If your rabbit is overweight or has cecotrope issues, do not feed them treats daily, including oats.
Another great treat? Greens. Yes, they should be getting them daily, but try giving them a couple of leaves of fresh basil or mint. They'll love it almost as much as banana and they're much healthier. Dried willow leaves are loved by most rabbits.
Try some Bunny Biscotti from our store, your bunnies will love it! We also have some homemade cookies at our shelter. APD and Oxbow both make variations on bunny cookies that can be bought online as well as at our store.
Rabbits should not be given any types of seeds as treats. Anything containing dairy, like yogurt drops, is also very bad for their health. No human cereals or crackers. Remember, it's what's best for the rabbit that counts.