Not feeding rabbits as nature intended is one of the most common causes of premature death in pet rabbits. But they will eat almost anything we provide for them!
So what can rabbits eat daily? If you do not know the answer to that question, you need to read on.
I want my rabbits, Babe and Bob, to live a long and happy life. After all, Why do you have a pet rabbit if you do not want the same?
So What do Wild Rabbits Eat?
We all know, or at least we should, that a wild rabbit’s staple diet is grass, grass and more grass. With the odd wild herb and other tasty foliage thrown in.
So, a wild rabbit’s daily diet is boringly uncomplicated but precisely what it needs for a healthy life.
Give wild rabbits access to annual vaccinations plus general veterinary care and remove all their predators. And they could live for around ten years on that essential diet.
So, we give the wild European rabbits just what they need to have a long healthy life. Add some selective breeding to alter its appearance, and we have your pet rabbit.
But all that has changed is its outward appearance. Your pet’s needs and instincts are precisely the same as its wild ancestors! So why do we then complicate a simple thing like feeding and shorten their lives again?
Feeding Rabbits as nature intended
Now, grass, both on the root and dried, is high in the long fibre, on which a rabbit’s digestive system depends. So, to keep your rabbit’s gut healthy, its diet needs a minimum of 85% grass and or hay.
Hay is an essential part of feeding rabbits, so it should be of good quality. And you do not need a science degree; using just your eyes and nose will sort good from poor quality.
Timothy is the hay recommended for rabbits and is comparatively slower to mature than other varieties. So, as Timothy develops late in the haymaking season, it is likely to be of good quality.
Feeding hay should
- Be dust and mould free. Although these are separate issues, they can appear to be the same thing, dust. A musty smell will tell you it is mould, but they are both unsuitable for feeding rabbits or bedding. Exposing your rabbit to dusty and or mouldy hay will cause respiratory problems.
- Be weed-free. Toxins are not limited to garden plants; weeds have them too! It is their defence against animals eating them, and on the root, they do not smell or taste good. So, animals do not readily eat them but cut and dry; they lose the smell and taste, but not all plants lose their toxicity. So, feeding rabbits dried weeds could prove fatal.
- Be good quality, leafy green in colour and smells sweet; poor quality hay is brown, has lost its sweet smell and possibly smells musty.
Add a constant source of fresh drinking water in a bowl. A small supply of minerals in the form of nuggets/pellets. And your pet bunny will have all it needs.
Feeding rabbits nuggets will provide them with a balanced source of minerals. In comparison, muesli will provide the minerals, but not with the consistency your rabbit needs.
But changing your rabbit’s diet must be a gradual process. Sudden changes or feeding rabbits large portions of something new will give them serious problems.
Rabbits do not require large amounts of minerals. Nature has given them the ability to re-ingest them in caecotrophs. That looks like a tiny bunch of grapes directly from their anus.
The amount of nuggets/pellets you feed is a judgment call on your part. Start small; it is better to give too little than too much and not all at once.
Feeding rabbits is a balancing act based on their droppings. Their poo should be large, round, firm and never soft fibrous light brown balls, but darker if eating grass.
Small poo indicates too little hay/grass, i.e. too much junk food. Finding uneaten caecotrophs shows you are feeding too many nuggets; provide less.
For example, my Dutch rabbit Babe weighs around 2Kg (2.2Lb) and requires a total daily intake of 100g (3.52oz). She has daily:-
5g (0.1.8 oz) of nuggets
85g (2.85oz) of hay/grass
Leaving only 10g (0.35oz) for treats.
Except for the assumed required 100g (3.5oz), it is probably more. The figures in the above example are from Babe’s actual diet.
I do not know her exact requirement, and she eats less than 10g (0.35oz) of treats. But her poo and lively nature tell me her diet is good.
Humans like to treat themselves and their pets, but treating your rabbit is where the problems can and do start. The answer to your question is yes; I give Babe and Bob treats. After all, I am human despite the rumours.
But joking aside, they are only little treats.
Unfortunately, rabbits have a sweet tooth; they love anything sweet; carrots, soft fruit and my homemade fruit cake! No, I am not joking; I caught Babe pinching my fruit cake and liquorice allsorts. Here is the photographic proof!
For example, carrots are high in sugar; too much will cause problems with digestion, so keep these treats very small. Likewise, carbohydrates can also cause severe problems.
And may stop the caecotrophs from forming, Leaving a dirty or sticky bottom and increasing the risk of flystrike.
It is not only feeding rabbits high sugar and carbohydrate treats that can cause problems. Parsley, mint, coriander or broccoli, for example, make a tasty, safe alternative in small amounts.
Why do I keep stressing small? Because your rabbit will always take a treat, give it 20g (0.75oz) daily, and your rabbit will eat less hay.
So, instead of the 85% it needs, it is now consuming 75%, which will cause a problem in the long term.
Remember Babe’s diet? She has room for 10g (0.35oz) of treats. She gets:-
Four manufactured pet treats, 1g per treat
one sprig of parsley 0.5g
one sprig of mint 0.5g
or a small broccoli floret
A total of 5g (0.18oz) with little to no sugar or Carbohydrates, is she underfed? No! hay and water are available 24/7, as they should be, and she can eat as much as she needs!
And easily make up any shortfall. Remember, 85% is the minimum; your rabbit should eat as much as it wants.
Treats are luxury/junk food. Rabbits do not need them to survive, and feeding rabbits too many will kill them prematurely.
But, there is no need to weigh your pet rabbits’ food out every day! I have only quoted Babe’s daily diet by weight for clarity.
For example, if I told you, she has thirty-two nuggets/pellets daily, and yours are the size of a dog biscuit. I would be responsible for killing your rabbit!
The Rabbit Feeding Myths
The most common feeding myth is that rabbits eat carrots, wild rabbits do not eat them, and carrots are full of natural sugar. So why do we think they do?
The media, books, cartoons, TV and, more recently, the web. Tell enough people something false repeatedly, and it ends up as true!
This one starts as a child, Peter Rabbit raiding the vegetable patch and Bugs Bunny munching nothing but carrots.
Carrots are root vegetables, and what vegetables can rabbits eat daily? Answer root vegies None! And only small amounts of greens.
This one myth is so deeply inherent in our widespread belief that it is now impossible to dispel.
However, I will not produce a long list of what not to feed rabbits. It is unnecessary. I have advised you of what rabbits can and should eat daily.
And I do not tell you when to start feeding rabbits vegetables, do I? But a small snack of broccoli will give your bunny a tasty daily treat.
However, remember the wild rabbit’s diet, which is boringly uncomplicated! Well, the same should apply to your bunny. Because sudden changes in diet will cause your rabbit problems.
So, hopefully, you are feeding your rabbit to give it a long and happy life, but you could still have problems!
Your bunny is highly long-sighted for life in the wild, and its near sight is just a blur. Things near it will check out using its other senses, smell, touch and taste.
Add that rabbits need to investigate their surroundings in detail, and your pet, in the house or garden is in danger. So, keeping household/garden chemicals, human medicines, and plants away from your bunny is essential.
Eating your plants will not just upset a rabbit’s diet. Their toxins are often not immediately apparent. But accumulate in the vital organs over time, causing organ failure and death.
If your rabbit stops eating, do not waste time attempting to treat it yourself; take it to a vet experienced in treating rabbits without delay!
You only have twenty-four hours to get it eating before you run the risk of the digestive system shutting down. And that would be fatal.
There are three reasons a rabbit will stop eating: –
The most obvious is that it has eaten something it should not have. As rabbits cannot vomit, whatever it eats has to pass through, which will need a vet’s assistance.
Pain. Rabbits can hide their pain, and not eating may be the only sign you see.
Stress: Large infestations of fleas, lice, mites and other common parasites, including intestinal worms, will stress your rabbit. Preventing these is simple and far better than a cure.
Food for Thought
For the first year after Bob arrived, I had problems with his diet because he would not eat enough hay. I tried the different varieties available, but no, not good enough for master Bob.
He would eat grass when the weather permitted, not often during his first winter. The well-drained front garden was not fenced, and the back garden looked like a swimming pool.
Spring and summer, he had the grass, and although not perfect, things improved. But in the autumn, Bob stopped eating altogether and showed signs of discomfort.
As a result, bob had to see the vet! An hour after having a pain-killing injection and another to get his digestive system going. He was eating hay!
I still do not know what was wrong with him and why hay was the only thing he did not like to eat.
But since that visit to the vet, he has been a different rabbit. I would have had an easier winter if I had taken Bob to the vet when the problem appeared.
But more importantly, Bob must have been suffering in silence the whole time. The lesson learnt, do not wait; get help!
Feeding rabbits the diet that nature designed their digestive system to process is not rocket science. It is as fundamental as your rabbit’s needs!
Still not convinced, then perhaps this question will drive it home! Why don’t you put Diesel in a Petrol driven Car? Because common sense tells us it is the wrong fuel and will break down!
So why do we keep feeding rabbits the wrong fuel and expect them to keep going? If you have an answer to that one, I would like to hear it!