Over two-thirds of U.S. households count at least one pet as part of their family. While dogs are the overwhelming favorite, rabbits also make up a sizeable portion of the pet population. The American Pet Products Association estimates the number to be 3–7 million pet bunnies, which doesn’t count ones used for food.
This is worth mentioning because the diet for a food rabbit and one kept as a pet will differ. This guide will deal exclusively with the latter.
What Do Rabbits Eat?
The biology and physiology of a rabbit, regardless of the species, equip them to digest grass and hay. It provides an ideal nutrient base, along with the necessary fiber to keep their GI tract healthy. Rabbits require up to 20% fiber and 45% carbs in their daily diet. These foodstuffs do an excellent job of satisfying those needs.
Rabbits can also eat other greens, albeit in limited quantities. These animals have sensitive digestive systems and can react adversely to sudden changes in their diet. You should keep your pet on hay until they’re mature at about 6 months. Then, you can introduce other foods to provide additional nutrition. We suggest small amounts and only one at a time to determine if it agrees with your bunny.
Foods you can try include:
You can also offer your rabbit what we’d consider treat foods (because of their higher amounts of sugar), but only occasionally. Items to consider include:
Again, close monitoring of its reaction to new foods is imperative. The reason is that GI distress can cause dehydration, which is potentially life-threatening.
What Not to Feed Your Pet Rabbit
Even though humans and rabbits share a common ancestor, that doesn’t mean they can eat the same things that we do. The reality is that many foods that we enjoy are toxic to bunnies. Some, such as chocolate, are obvious because other animals like dogs and cats cannot tolerate them either. Others may surprise you!
Things that you shouldn’t give your rabbit include:
You should not give any pet seeds or pits from cherries, peaches, or apricots. They contain the precursor chemicals that the animal body—including yours—could convert to cyanide.
Rabbit Feeding Chart
Weight of Rabbit
Total Amount of Leafy Greens per Day
Serving of Pellets per Day
1 tbsp + ¼ cup
2 tbsp + ¼ cup
3 tbsp + ¼ cup
1 tbsp + ½ cup
2 tbsp + ½ cup
How Often to Feed Your Rabbit
Since your pet is a herbivore, your rabbit can digest leafy foods relatively quickly. You can give them an unlimited amount of hay. However, you should limit commercial rabbit food diets to small amounts each day. Although these are nutritionally rich, they can lead to weight gain because they are also calorie-dense. Obesity is an issue with animals kept in confined quarters with limited exercise.
While rabbits aren’t rodents, their teeth, i.e., incisors, continue to grow their entire lives. A diet of grass and hay helps keep them in check better than pellets. The other concern is with fluid intake. Fresh foods contain a great deal of water, and pellets do not. They have nutritional value as long as they are supplements to a hay-based diet.
Are Vitamins Recommended for Rabbits?
As with people, a healthy diet will supply everything that your pet rabbit needs without needing to supplement it with additional nutrients. You might want to consider growing fresh produce for your rabbit. It can save you money on supplies, given that food alone makes up to one-third of the annual expenses of owning a bunny. You’ll know exactly how it was grown, so you can rest assured that you’re feeding your pet something safe for them to eat.
Why Is Water Essential to a Rabbit’s Diet?
While fresh hay contains a large amount of water, dried foodstuffs do not. That makes it imperative to have plenty of fresh water available for your rabbit. It’s especially vital given the amount of fiber that your pet is consuming. Ample water will ensure that their digestive system functions properly and reduces the risks of constipation or blockages.
Best Healthy Treats for Rabbits
Fruits and other foods are the best healthy treats for your rabbit. They will provide additional nutrients to ensure that they’re getting the full slate of vitamins and minerals that they need.
You can offer your bunny commercial treats that are nutrient-dense to increase their value in your pet’s diet. However, you should limit these to no more than 10% of your rabbit’s total daily caloric intake.
What to Do If Your Rabbit Isn’t Eating
Giving your pet occasional treats is an excellent way to gauge their appetite. If your pet is acting lethargic, you can try offering them one of their favorites. One of the most common causes of food disinterest is overgrown teeth, hence the need for a hay-based diet. If your rabbit isn’t feeling well because of something else, they might not want to eat.
A more serious cause is gastrointestinal (GI) stasis. It occurs from an unbalanced diet with too little hay and too many carbs. Digestive grinds to a halt as so-called bad bacteria builds up in the GI system. It is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires veterinary care. The typical course of treatment includes fluids to rehydrate the animal and supplemental feeding.
Your vet may also prescribe medications to make your rabbit more comfortable and take care of any underlying conditions. Feeding your pet the recommended diet will go a long way toward preventing a recurrence.
Rabbits are delightful pets that can bring joy to any home. They’re social creatures that readily bond with their owners. However, they come with the responsibility of providing a healthy diet and comfortable living quarters. What you feed your bunny is critical. A hay-based diet is the best way to ensure that your rabbit gets what they need for their overall good health. May you have many happy years with your pet!
- Related read: Do Wild Rabbits Really Eat Carrots? Is It Good For Them?
Featured Image by: artemisphoto, Shutterstock