Rabbit Diet 101: What To Feed Your Rabbit

Think you know what to feed your rabbit? There's more to proper rabbit nutrition than just carrots and lettuce! Get ready to dive deep into Rabbit Diet 101. This crash course covers everything from unlimited timothy hay to vital supplements. You'll learn key differences between adult, baby, and senior rabbit dietary needs. Find out how to help an obese rabbit return to healthy weight. Discover which fresh veggies provide the best nutritional bang for your bunny. Want to treat your rabbit but aren't sure what's safe? We've got you covered. Plus answers to common questions, like what wild rabbits munch on. Whether you're a new bunny owner or a longtime rabbit lover, this guide is stacked with essential info to keep your long-eared friend healthy and happy!

Part 1: Unlimited Grass Hay

Fiber is essential in a rabbit's diet. Rabbits have digestive systems that require plenty of fiber in order to function properly. Grass hay provides the fiber that rabbits need, and should make up the bulk of a rabbit's diet. Unlimited access to grass hay is essential.

Grass hay such as timothy, orchard grass, or oat hay is ideal for rabbits. It contains the proper balance of protein, fiber, and minerals that rabbits need to stay healthy. The fiber in grass hay promotes healthy digestion and helps wear down teeth. The action of chewing hay also prevents overgrown teeth.

Adult rabbits should be fed unlimited grass hay. Their diet should be composed of around 75% grass hay. Young rabbits under 7 months old should also have unlimited access to grass hay, though their diet will contain a higher percentage of pellets. Hay should always be available and replenished often so that the rabbit always has some when they want it.

Healthy rabbit teeth depend heavily on the rabbit chewing on hay. The grinding action wears down the constantly growing teeth and helps prevent dental issues. Hay also provides nutrients for enamel development on growing rabbit teeth. Rabbits with misaligned teeth or dental disease will often go off their hay because chewing is painful. It's essential to identify dental issues early and get veterinary treatment.

What about alfalfa hay? Alfalfa is higher in protein, calories, and minerals like calcium than grass hays. It is suitable for young, growing rabbits under 7 months old. But the higher protein and calcium content make it inappropriate as the staple hay for adult rabbits. Too much can cause obesity and bladder stones in adult rabbits. Alfalfa hay is fed to baby rabbits in conjunction with grass hay, and timothy or orchard grass is slowly introduced until the adult diet of 75% grass hay is reached.

Part 2: Fresh Leafy Greens

In addition to unlimited grass hay, rabbits also enjoy and benefit from the addition of fresh leafy green vegetables. Introducing a variety of leafy greens provides extra nutrition as well as environmental enrichment. Rabbits have continually growing teeth, so providing substrates for chewing helps avoid overgrown teeth.

Leafy greens should make up about 20% of a rabbit's diet. About 1 packed cup of greens per 2 lbs of body weight per day is an appropriate amount. Good options include kale, parsley, cilantro, carrot tops, dandelion greens, spinach, lettuces, swiss chard, arugula, dill, watercress, and basil. Make sure greens are washed thoroughly to remove any pesticide residue. Introduce new greens slowly to watch for any digestive upset.

Leafy greens are a great way to provide rabbits with nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin K, calcium, and antioxidants. Variety is key, feed from a rotating list of greens rather than just one or two types. You can offer greens in a bowl or hand feed for bonding. Avoid iceberg lettuce which is low in nutrition. Also avoid greens high in oxalates like spinach on a daily basis.

Part 3: Pellets

Commercially produced rabbit pellets provide a consistent source of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. While hay should make up the bulk of a rabbit’s diet, pellets help ensure they receive proper daily nutrition. When choosing pellets, look for a high fiber Timothy or grass based pellet.

How to know what pellets to purchase:

  • Select a pellet made from timothy, grass, or hay. Avoid alfalfa based pellets.
  • Check that protein is between 14-18% and fiber is minimum 18%.
  • Choose a pellet with omega fatty acids added for skin and coat health.
  • Avoid pellets with seeds, nuts, or colored pieces which are just empty calories.
  • Pick a complete pellet over one that still requires vitamin supplements.
  • Choose pellets without artificial colors or flavors.
  • Select pellets from an established rabbit feed company like Oxbow or Small Pet Select.
  • Avoid any pellets with treats baked into the recipe.

The amount of pellets varies based on the rabbit’s age:

  • Up to 7 months old: Unlimited pellets
  • 7 months to 1 year: Slowly reduce pellets starting at 1/4 cup per pound body weight daily.
  • 1 year and older: 1/8 cup per pound of body weight per day.

Overfeeding pellets is one of the most common diet issues. Be sure to feed the proper pellet portion based on weight, not age alone. Overweight rabbits do well on a restricted pellet diet along with hay and greens.

Part 4: Water

Fresh clean water is essential for rabbits. Water helps digest food, absorb nutrients, regulate body temperature, and carry nutrients and oxygen throughout the body.

Rabbits should always have unlimited access to water. Like hay, check water at least twice daily to ensure it is full and clean. Water should be changed daily to prevent contamination. Use ceramic, glass or stainless steel bowls that are easy to clean and sanitize. Self-dispensing water bottles/bowls are also an option, but may need to be manually cleaned daily too.

Some key points on providing water:

  • Give your rabbit unlimited clean, fresh water daily.

  • Monitor the water level and refresh it often.

  • Wash water bowls thoroughly every day.

  • Avoid using plastic bowls, which can harbor bacteria.

  • Ensure water bottles don't become clogged.

  • Change water if it looks dirty.

  • Provide extra water in hot weather to prevent dehydration.

Water is one of the most important parts of a rabbit's diet. Providing unlimited fresh water supports hydration and healthy digestion. Monitor your rabbit's water intake daily.

Part 5: Treats

Treats are a fun way to bond with your rabbit and encourage good behavior during training. However, rabbits have sensitive digestive systems, so treats should be given in moderation. Use healthy treats made for rabbits to avoid digestive upset.

Some tips for choosing rabbit treats:

  • Select treats specifically made for rabbits, not other pets.
  • Look for all natural, high fiber options with ingredients like oats, hay and herbs.
  • Avoid treats with added sugars, salts, oils or processed ingredients.
  • Check that fresh treats like veggies are rabbit-safe.
  • Look for treats without artificial additives.
  • Limit high carb fruits like bananas or dried fruit as daily treats.
  • Choose treats in a variety of shapes and textures to engage rabbits.
  • Pick measured treat packs or size single treats for easy portioning.

Treats should make up no more than 5% of a rabbit's daily diet. To avoid overfeeding:

  • Follow package instructions for portion sizes.
  • Count out daily treats and store the rest to avoid overfeeding.
  • Use treats only for training, not free feeding.
  • Substitute part of the daily pellet ration when more treats are fed.
  • Avoid giving treats if your rabbit is overweight.

Check ingredients and feed treats in moderation along with a healthy base diet for a happy, healthy rabbit.

Part 6: How to introduce new foods to your rabbit's diet

Rabbits have sensitive digestive systems, so dietary changes should be made slowly. When introducing new foods, go slow over 2-3 weeks to allow the digestive system to adjust without complication. Some tips:

Switching to a new type of hay or pellets:

  • Mix a small amount of the new food in with the current food.
  • Gradually increase the amount of new food over 2-3 weeks.
  • If stool changes occur, slow the transition and increase more gradually.
  • Remove any uneaten portion of the new food after a few hours.

Introducing new vegetables:

  • Try new leafy greens one at a time.
  • Give about a teaspoon size portion the first day.
  • If no issues, increase slowly to 1/2 cup per 2 lbs body weight daily.
  • Wait a few days before introducing another new veggie.

Introducing new fresh herbs and vegetables:

  • Start with just a small piece the first day no bigger than a dime.
  • Wait 24 hours to check for soft stool before increasing amount.
  • Increase amount gradually over days/weeks.
  • Interrupt introduction if stool changes or rabbit refuses food.

New treats:

  • Break treat into small piece and give just 1-2 pieces first day.
  • Gradually offer 1 more piece every few days.
  • If any symptoms occur, stop and try again more slowly.

Patience is key when transitioning your rabbit's diet. Going slowly allows the gut microbiome time to adjust. If stool becomes loose or rabbit refuses food, go back to the previous amount until symptoms resolve. Check with a rabbit vet if concerns arise during transition. Monitor your rabbit's health and stool closely when making dietary changes.

Part 7: Monitoring your rabbit's health

Diet is directly connected to your rabbit's health. Pay close attention to the following to spot any issues:

Stool: Monitor the size, texture, color, and odor of your rabbit's stool. Irregular feces can indicate gastrointestinal issues. Healthy rabbit poop should be round and uniform in size/texture.

Urine: Keep litter boxes clean to easily notice urine changes. Normal rabbit urine ranges from yellow to orange. Red or black urine indicates blood and requires prompt vet attention. Struvite crystals in urine may signal urinary tract issues.

Water intake: Increased or decreased drinking can mean an underlying problem. Make sure fresh water is always available. Watch that your rabbit is drinking normally each day.

Tooth grinding: Listen for teeth grinding or excess chewing motions, which can signal dental issues and mouth pain. Head shaking or tilting can also indicate tooth problems.

Appetite: Note any decrease in hay, greens, pellets, or treats. Loss of appetite in rabbits needs quick medical attention.

Weight: Weigh your rabbit weekly. Weight loss requires a vet visit to check for underlying illness. Weight gain can indicate diet needs adjustment.

Behavior: Lethargy, lack of grooming, hiding, aggression, or other behavior changes often accompany health issues in rabbits. Rabbits are experts at hiding illness until it becomes severe.

Closely monitoring these aspects of your rabbit's health allows early illness detection. Seek prompt veterinary advice for any concerning changes. Familiarize yourself with your rabbit's normal behavior and bodily functions for quick action if subtle changes arise. A proper diet supports good health, but vigilance is key to prevent health crises in rabbits.

Part 8: House plants, garden plants, and flowers

Rabbits love to nibble and chew, but many common house and garden plants can be toxic. Make sure you rabbit-proof any house or outdoor plants. Some tips:

  • Research plants for toxicity before allowing access. Many popular houseplants are hazardous.

  • Remove any houseplants or yard plants that could be harmful if chewed or ingested.

  • Block access to houseplants using a barrier or placing them out of reach.

  • Opt for bunny-safe greens from the produce aisle instead of your garden. Don't allow access.

  • Ensure lawns or gardens have not been treated with herbicides or pesticides if allowing grazing.

  • Do not give treats made from plant materials without first verifying rabbit safety.

  • Lilies are extremely toxic to rabbits, keep all forms strictly away from rabbits.

  • Provide safe chew toys instead of household plants to satisfy the urge to chew.

While rabbits may naturally want to nibble on greens and plants, caution is required to avoid accidental poisoning. Do your research before allowing access. Remove or securely block any potential toxins in your rabbit's environment. Provide alternative edible chews like hay and safe wood instead.

Adjustments to diet for young rabbits

Dietary needs change as rabbits grow and mature. Adjustments should be made to support proper development. Here are some key differences in feeding young rabbits:

  • Baby rabbits nurse from mom for the first few weeks, then slowly transition to solid foods. By 12 weeks old they should be fully weaned.

  • Young rabbits need alfalfa hay and alfalfa-based pellets for the higher protein and calcium content.

  • Feed unlimited pellets until 7 months old to ensure proper nutrients for growth.

  • Slowly introduce fresh greens from 12 weeks onwards in addition to hay and pellets.

  • Limit high sugar fruits to occasional small portions.

  • Provide constant access to fresh, clean water in a sipper bottle.

  • Do not give adult rabbit foods like timothy hay too early, as protein and calcium needs differ.

  • Monitor baby bunny weight and increase food as needed for growth.

  • Transition pellets and hay to adult varieties between 6-7 months old.

Consult your vet on proper portions to feed growing rabbits. Their diet will gradually come to resemble an adult rabbit’s diet around age 7-12 months as growth rate slows. Feed a balanced diet and monitor development.

Adjustments to diet for elderly rabbits

Senior rabbits over age 5-6 may require diet adjustments to account for changes that come with aging:

  • Switch to recovery or senior formula rabbit pellets with boosted nutrition.

  • Soak pellets in warm water to make eating easier if rabbit has dental issues.

  • Increase fresh greens and herbs for more moisture and higher nutrient content.

  • Choose leafy greens that are high in Vitamin A for aging eyes.

  • Introduce new foods slowly if GI tract becomes more sensitive.

  • Provide grass hay on the ground or in an easy to reach hay rack.

  • Monitor weight more frequently and adjust portions if needed.

  • Avoid obesity, but feed calorie-dense hay if underweight.

  • Limit sugar by reducing fruits and starchy vegetables.

  • Ensure unlimited access to clean water close to resting areas.

  • Offer fresh herbs like parsley to stimulate appetite if decreased.

Watch for signs of aging like weight changes, sore teeth, GI upset, arthritis, bladder issues, or vision loss. Adjust the diet to support the aging process and consult a rabbit-savvy vet when concerns arise.

Helping obese rabbits return to a healthy weight

Obesity is unfortunately very common in pet rabbits. Here are some tips for helping an overweight rabbit slim down:

  • Gradually reduce pellet portions – try 1/4 cup per 5 lbs body weight.

  • Eliminate unnecessary treats and sugary fruits.

  • Increase grass hay, the rabbit’s main food. Provide it free choice.

  • Add more greens for moisture and fiber like romaine, cilantro, arugula

  • Use a slow-feeder hay ball to increase hay intake.

  • Fill the diet with lower calorie items to satisfy hunger.

  • Increase exercise opportunities like free run time.

  • Vet check to rule out any medical issues.

  • Monitor weekly weight loss, aim for 1-2% of body weight per week.

  • Adjust portions if weight loss is too rapid or nonexistent.

  • Once ideal weight is reached, slowly increase pellets to maintain.

  • Limit pellets to 1/8 cup per pound body weight for life.

With a plan from your vet and increased exercise, obese rabbits can safely return to healthy body condition over time. The diet should focus on grass hay as the main component. Persistence and patience are needed, but worth it for your rabbit's long term health.

Related questions

What types of wood are safe for rabbits to chew on?

Rabbits love to chew, so providing safe wood chews can prevent damage to household items. Some rabbit-safe woods include:

  • Apple tree branches
  • Willow branches
  • Untreated pine lumber
  • Aspen lumber
  • Kiln dried maple
  • Birch logs or twigs

Avoid wood from cherry, peach, apricot, or plum trees, which contain cyanide. Also avoid cedar and pine shavings, which contain oils that are hazardous to rabbits.

Select untreated, pesticide-free, non-toxic woods harvested specifically for rabbit chewing. Check with your vet if unsure about a certain wood type. Look for rabbit-safe woods sold at pet supply stores to prevent accidental poisoning from chews.

What do wild rabbits eat?

Wild rabbits have a varied diet centered around:

  • Grasses and grass hays – makes up majority of diet

  • Leafy weeds like dandelions, clover, plantain

  • Vegetation including buds, twigs, bark, young shoots

  • Roots during winter when plant growth is limited

  • Garden vegetables if rabbits encroach on backyards

  • Occasionally fruit or nuts as available

Wild rabbits consume a diverse mix of plant materials based on the season. They gravitate towards more tender green growth when available in spring and summer. Their diet consists of around 80% grasses and hays along with vegetables, weeds, buds, and twigs.

This natural diet of wild rabbits is mimicked in pet rabbit nutrition. A grass hay based diet supplemented with leafy greens provides the fiber and nutrients both domestic and wild rabbits need to thrive. Monitoring quantities is important to prevent obesity in pet rabbits with unlimited food access. With proper portions, the domestic rabbit diet closely mirrors the diverse diet of wild rabbits.

Leave a Comment