Feeding Your Rabbit – Everything You Need to Know

So, what should you feed your rabbit? Any old commercial food stuff aimed at rabbits should be fine, right? WRONG. I do not know how companies are allowed to do it but no, not all foods and treats aimed at rabbits is good for them. Some are even so bad they are doing harm to your bunny. I will try to explain what is good for your bunny, why it is so important to get your bunnies diet right and how to get the balance right.

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The perfect combination of food stuff for your bunny rabbit.

 

Why Make So Much Fuss About Your Bunnies Diet?

Bunnies have complicated diestive systems that are totally different to our own. They need the majority of their diet to be high in fibre, low in protein and low in carbohydrates (sugars). A diet which is too high in carbohydrates can be the cause of serious life threatenin illness in your bunnies. Feeding your bunnies the right foods is critical for;

  • A rabbits overall health – a rabbit eating a healthy diet is less likely to be ill and will have lovely soft fur and clear eyes. They will seem happy in themselves with no behavioural problems due to boredom. They will produce nice hard round pellet type poos with only the occasional caecal (soft squishy shiny poos clumped together) here and there.
  • Keeping teeth ground down (Rabbit teeth continously grow, like our hair and nails). Having a healthy diet which is high in fibre will ensure rabbits teeth are kept nice and short (including the back teeth).
  • Preventing common digestive illnesses which can be fatal (e.g. GI Stasis, diarrhoea)
  • Preventing Flystrike – excessive soft poos (caecals) which are not eaten by the rabbit can stick to rabbits bums, often caused by a diet which is too rich (too many pellets for example), which can lead to flies laying eggs in the poo stuck to the rabbit. When the larvae hatch they will literally eat the rabbit alive, burrowing into the rabbit (ugh). This is a very painful illness and is potentially fatal.
  • Behavioural Problems/Issues – A rabbit should spend 8 hours a day eating! (My idea of heaven haha). If a rabbit doesnt have the right diet, combine this with being kept in a hutch for the majority of its life you are guaranteed a rabbit with behavioural problems (aggressive, grumpy, frustrated etc)
  • Preventing bunnies from becoming overweight – If you are feeding a poor and inappropriate rabbit pellet (and too much of them) then the chances are you are going to have an over weight bunny as the fat contents are much much jigher than they should be. Being overweight can seriously affect a bunnies quality of life as well as obvious health concerns. A bunny wont be able to clean themselves properly and could even end up with flystrike as a result of being dirty in their bottom area. You could even have a bunny with behaviour issues too as they are feeling uncomfortable and maybe in pain.
  • Bonding – If all you do is chuck in a bowl of food once a day for your bunny then you are missing a golden oppurtunity to bond with your rabbit by provding them with yummy natural foods fed by yourself. Your rabbit will get sooooo excited just by the sound of you coming to their living area, as they will know you are bringing something great. This is an easy way to begin to bond with your rabbit and associating yourself with food is not a bad foundation for the bond with your rabbit at all! A rabbit who is well bonded to its owner is much less likely to be rehomed at a later period.
  • You can introduce some great toys for your bunny that they will love simply be adding some healthy treats to the items. They can transform items into the best toys ever with a little encouragement (in the shape of Kale or banana haha!).

Rabbits are like children, if they have the choice of eating high sugary treats instead of their natural food stuffs like grass, weeds and leafy greens, then they will always chose the sugary treats. You will also find that this is a habbit that is hard to break!  Very hard. A bunny wont eat enough fresh hay if they are being offered a lot of carrots for instance. This is very unhealthy for your bun and is a recipe for a poorly bun later on. So, feeding a young rabbit the right healthy foods early on will prevent selective feeding later on in your buns life. Giving a bunny human treats like cake, chocolate, biscuits etc is a huge no no. You are not treating your bunny by giving them this food but hurting them.

Pellets…

Which Brand?

No one can say which commercial brand of food you should definitely chose. It will depend on where you live, what is available to you and yours and your rabbits personal preference. However, you will need to pick a food which is good enough for your rabbit. It doesn’t need to cost a fortune. Here’s what you are looking for;

  • At LEAST 18% fibre and between 12-14% Protein generally and low in fat
  • The majority of the ingredients should be hay (meadow, timothy, alfalfa etc). You will know which is the majority ingredient by which ingredient comes first on the packets list.

Shop shelves are FULL of rabbit foods which are no where near good enough for your rabbit. Some stores even make their own brand bunny food which is completely unsuitable for bunnies. If you have more than one rabbit in a living space, you should without doubt completely avoid musili type foods and opt for pellet foods. Musili foods should really be completely avoided for all bunnies. I have never found one that comes any where near close to meeting the basic rabbit needs, even at the lowest level (often they contain just 13% fibre and the majority of the ingrediants are pulses (peas) which are detrimental to a rabbits feed). This is because the rabbits will eat their favourite bits first and they wont be benefiting from all the ingredients and their health could suffer (one rabbit will be dominant and will therefore be getting all their favourite bits while the other rabbit gets all the healthy bits haha and neither rabbit will have a balanced healthy diet). If the musili food is pretty and colourful AVOID it, these colours are not natural.

  • Grass/Hay should make up the majority of the Pellet and not cereals (wheat etc) or pulses (beans, peas etc)

Ingredients are listed in order of the highest content first, so you are looking for Grass and Hay to be first on the ingredients list.

  • No commercially bought food is ever “complete”.

Your rabbit more than just pellets, it isnt fair to just feed them pellets and nothing else. Think of the rabbit and their life, eating is one of their greatest pleasures, so try to give them more variety than just pellets and hay.

  • Read Labels – Do not be fooled by Rabbit Food Manufacturer’s Marketing Techniques

Please be aware that the manufacturer can (and will!)  use meaningless and often misleading ‘buzz words’ on packaging to sell more of their product. Reading the ingredients label is the only way we can see how good it is for our rabbits. Just because they state it is premium food or complete food does not mean it is! Check the label, food needs to be at least 18% Fibre and 12-14% protein at the most. Here is a website which gives an excellent guide and comparison for rabbit food brands in the UK click HERE. This is a very details article and it gives you a list on the main commercial feeds and how they fare compared to a rabbits minimum dietary requirements.

How Many Pellets?

Giving your rabbits too many pellets can have serious health risks, such as;

Obesity – Rabbits love pellets and they will eat them all up!

Producing too Many Ceacals – The diet is too rich and this can make a mess of the rabbit and their living area. There is a thought that the rabbit will not be absorbing their nutrients well enough (as they are not re-eating these poos). It also makes a mess of the rabbit and their living area. They wont be eating fresh hay either.

Not eating enough hay – Rabbits will eat pellets all day long… if they are allowed to do this then they will not eat hay, which has a serious affect on their health, over grown teeth and will not be eating enough fibre. This can be fatal for your rabbit – please see Rabbit illnesses. Eating pellets also doesnt take up much of their time and we really want our bunnies’ time to be taken up by eating and foraging similar to a wild rabbit. This ensures your bunny is mentally stimulated and not bored.

egg cup fulls of rabbit foodThe recommended amount is one egg cupfull (25g) per kg of rabbit. Personally I think this can be too much and a bit misleading. Did you know a baby rabbit pretty much eats as much as an adult rabbit? So, your average mini lop (2kg) should be given 2 egg cup fulls. Some other people believe even this is too much. Some people dodge pellets completely and just feed hay and fresh greens, weeds and grass.

I feed my rabbits on Supreme Science Selective Rabbit Food. I feed my boy rabbit Flash 25g of pellets per day. Flash is a very small bunny are doesn’t eat much at all compared to the girls. I feed the girls 45g of pellets a day if they are pregnant or feeding young. Female bunnies eat more than males, if they are with child in any form they eat tripple the amount of food. Easily. If a female isnt pregnant or with child then I would feed them around 37g of food per day. A basically give them a full handfull of pellets. pregnant buns will have a top up. I judge the amount I am feeding my buns, not on numbers or fiures but by watching their poops (nice!). If I start to notice caecals around their living quarters then I know I am feeding them too many pellets. Similarly, if they aren’t eating enough hay then I know I am feeding too many pellets.

It will be a trial and error with your bunny. As you wont be breeding them then it will be the same everyday for you once you and your bun get used to each other.

Hay and Grass

Rabbits love hay and it is perfect to provide them with a high fibre food to constantly munch on and should always be available to them (fresh hay that is, in addition to hay in their bedding etc). Hay should be fed in somekind of hay manger so they have somewhere to eat hay which they dont stand all over and poop on! Rabbits should spend 8 hours per day muching… Hay helps provide them with this opportunity. It also provides their little digestive system with the vital fibre they need too.

There are different types of hay and the quality of it varies quite a lot. Hay should smell sweet (not musty but yummy) and be a nice dried greeny colour (basically, it shouldnt be brown/yellow!). You should only really feed alfalfa hay to young rabbits, but, I personally wouldnt because you want them to be eating what they will eat as adults so they dont become fussy and precious and reject normal hay! Alfalfa hay will make an adult rabbit fat, and a fat rabbit will be an unhealthy one, with lots of health problems. Also, you will probably find that alfalfa is already in their pellet foods too.

I have a few types of hay myself… A large hay bale I keep for their bedding, I get a big hay bale for £5 from our local farm. This is used for their litters trays and bedding areas and nest boxes. It is lovely yummy smelling hay. I use different brands and types of meadow hay, timothy hay for their hay racks and toys!Recently, I have started to give my bunnies camomile hay from petsathome (£4 a bit pricey but worth it). They are guaranteed to eat this so its good to mix with other hay, like timothy, to encourage more hay eating.

Now and again I also cut grass and dry it out to make a readigrass type of hay. The bunnies go mad for this! I make this by collecting grass on a dry day, laying it out in my little green house, turning it regularly, when it is dried out it is all ready to eat or store (it will make a tinkle type noise when its dry enough)! Make sure it is dry enough as it will go mouldy when you store it (use hessian or an old pillow case), do not feed hay to your buns if it is mouldy or smells damp). Here is my Flash enjoying the grass I dried out 🙂

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You know your owned by bunnies when you smell hay and think mmmm yummy!

It is also worth noting in case you did not know… hay is just as good for rabbits as hay. If you have a fussy bunny who wont touch hay then grass may be your saviour!

Which Fresh Foods for Your Bunny?

Wild rabbits and pet rabbits love foraging! So feeding leafy greens, plants and weeds and ‘natural foods’ is a very healthyaddition to your bunnies diet. You dont have to spend a fortune! Forage locally for safe weeds and grass. Use up left over safe veggies from your home. Grow your own suitable rabbit produce. There are lots of ways to include everything your rabbit needs at a reasonable price or for free. Having a healthy a varied diet will keep your rabbits occupied and ensure their physical and mental wellbeing.

There are lots and lots of lists out there for what rabbits can eat. I have found with these lists that just because a food item is safe for a bun, it doesnt mean they like to eat it. Often, I found that my buns likes to eat the parts of plants and tree’s that us humans don’t like to eat. So, I thought it would be more useful to write a list of my bunnies all time favourite Fresh Foods!

Bunnies All Time Favourite Fresh Foods!

Here is a list I have compliled based on my own experience of my own rabbits through the years (I currently have 11 rabbits omg lol)…

Curly Kale – Bunnies go absolutely mad for this. All bunnies everywhere lol. It is extremely healthy for your bun too and this is why it appears as number one fave.

Grass – yep, this simple green that you can find for free is the bunnies fave food too and it is high in fibre too.

Sow Thistle – MY bunnies go crazy for this stuff. I find it here and there around our village and I always pick it no matter where I am or what I am doing as the bunnies love it so much. IT’s always gone in a flash.

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Sow Thistle

Dandelions leaves and flowers – another big hit with the bunnies. They will scoff the lot down every time. I pick this every day as it is rare to get hold of in the winter months. Near us there is some growing that always gets cut back now and then just to keep the place looking tidy so I pick this area like made and the buns love it.

Brambles/Blackberry leaves – bunnies love this too. I will pick big branches of it and peg it up onto the bunnies runs. They love reachng up for it and it is a lot like foraging for them too. I have even planted this in our garden as the children love the blackberries and the rabbits love the leaves.

Fruit Tree twigs – the leaves will be eaten by the buns and the bark will be completely stripped off the branch. You can often find these branches below fruit trees in a park or yours or your neighbours’ gardens. An excellent boredom buster and alternative to expensive chew toys.

Herbs and Lavendar – bunnies love all the woody type herbs and will devour all that you give to them. My bunnies faves are parsely, mint, lavendar, thyme, rosemary, corriander.

Spring greens – this s a leafy vegetable that is normally near the cabbage in supermarkets. My rabbits seem to love this and it is extremely cheap at about 67p for 3 bunches.

Dock leaves and Plantain – bunnies will eat these leaves happily. The only thing I find with doc leaves is they wilt very quickly after picking them. So, by the time you get to the buns they are limp but they are still eaten lol.

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Plantain

Sticky Weed – bunnies love this and gobble it all up. It’s that weed that tries to stick itself to you.

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Brocoli/cauliflower – leaves and stems. Bunnies love this. They tend to leave behind the flower parts of the brocoli that we like to eat. Which is handy because you can trim off the leaves and stems and give them to your bun yay.

Rocket – the type you put on your sandwhich as part of a salad. Bunnies love this! Never feed iceburg lettuce to your rabbit though it will go straight through them. All greens should be a deep green for your rabbit, rather than the paler green of iceburg lettuce.

Celery – all parts of it but the fave parts are the leafy parts. You can also regrow this if you stick the base into a pot of water and leave it there. I have done this and it does work!

Carrot tops – rather than feeding your bunny the carrots themselves feed them the greenery on the top. The only place I have been able to get hold of these is when we grow them and at Lidl. They are more expensive but they must be so fresh!

Carrot Tops - Tiggy Winkles - Perfect Rabbit Snacks

Any dark green cabbage (not the white, they just wont like it so much) that you come accross in the shops.

Spinach – bunnies love this! As an occasional change this is perfect.

Strawberry plants – All bunnies love the strawberry leaves but not all bunnies are crazy about the fruit. I have only ever had one bunny who would go mad for strawberries hehe.

Things I am yet to try…

Sunflowers and the seeds – This is said to be a firm favourite of bunnies but as yet our sunflower growing effort has gone terribly wrong. If it isnt the children snapping the stems it is the dog! hehe. If you try this please let me know how it goes. Do not over feed sunflower seeds tho as they are high in oil and fat of course. Black sunflower seeds are meant to be best if you can find them.

raspberry leaves – I do not have any local so I am yet to try this (my raspberry growing venture was a total fail).

Coltsfoot – This is safe for bunnies but I am yet to find some near me! I do not think I am recognising it.

Roses – bunnies like to eat roses (of course they do!) so beware if you have any treasures bushes in your garden! I do not so my bunnies have been unable to munch on any yet.

Mallow LEaves – have not found any yet

Shepherds purse – havent found any

Poisonous Plants

In my experience with bunnies, it is very rare that a rabbit will eat something that is toxic.  Due to my inexperience with flowers/gardening, I have put things which are toxic in the bunnies living area before and they have not eaten any of it. Saying that, it is still important to be aware of what is toxic so I have put a short list here. It is not including everything (that would be impossible) but the most toxicand ready available. All bunnies are different and some may happily eat toxic items. It is best to stick to what you absolutely know is safe, and dont introduce anything new unless you know it is safe….

Ivy

Clematis (mine hasnt grown yet and isnt flowering enough to photograph)!

Ragwort – Widely known to cause liver damage in horses! Remove it from your garden, including its roots etc.

Apple seed

Daffodils – Toxic to Rabbits

Onions

Foxglove

Primrose

onions

anything that grows from a bulb

ragwort

These things are all in my garden. It is surprising how much a rabbit wont eat in your garden because it isnt safe. There are more things but the rabbits dont eat them, so I havent put them.

You need to be aware of what may be toxic to rabbits, especially what is toxic in your own garden and area. I made this list just from what I found locally and I was shocked by how much was toxic just in my garden alone. I have tested this too (by accident of course!), rabbits who are confined, will eat things that are toxic, not all toxic things, but definitely some. Its better to be safe though and not let me near toxic things (e.g. Ragwort, if you have this you want it well out of your garden!).

As a general rule, most veg we eat a rabbit can eat but remember rabbits digestive systems do not cope well with high carbs. Think of how the vegetable your thinking of giving to your rabbit grows… is it naturally available to rabbits, if so what part would they eat, i.e. which is above ground? I always think that things which grow on the top are generally fine and things which grow on the bottom should be avoided or limited, bulbous or onion-y types should be avoided (think of what horses can and cant eat, this can be a great help, i know for a fact onions are known to kill horses).

 

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My Rabbits LOVE carrot tops and they eat them within seconds, poof, gone! hehe. Definitely their favourite treats!

Treats

Be Treat Wise – A rabbit’s digestive system is totally different to our own. They have to eat mainly fibre. In the wild they mainly eat grass, weeds/flowers, leaves, roots, they eat bark too. Bear this in mind when giving them their vegetables. If a vegetable is higher in carbs/sugar then give much less of it, if at all (e.g. carrots are higher in carbs and you shouldnt give lots and lots of them). If I give my rabbits carrots, I will usually just give them the top of the carrot that I cut off when preparing them for tea, a couple of these tops each. Its nice to give them the greenery on the tops too if you happen to get your carrots from a market or posh grocery store (i just got my carrots with tops from Lidl for 99p woo hoo, happy buns!)! If not, grow your own, excellent to do with your children!

Carrot Tops - Tiggy Winkles - Perfect Rabbit Snacks
Yummy Scrummy Carrots with their tops on – got them today for 99p – The Rabbits Favourite Food!

Only feed natural treats – 100% natural is the best way to go.

Commercial Rabbit Treats – Avoid anything in a packet which has an unnaturally bright colour.

Do not ever feed a rabbit human food, their little digestive systems can not handle it. NEVER feed chocolate, cake, crackers, cereal, pasta, bread, rice, etc… just stick to rabbits food.

If you buy commercial treats, read the ingredients list and be aware of things that shouldnt really be given to bunnies (like honey, wheat, peas, beans, glucose, lots of carrots, etc). You will find that a lot of ‘treats’ aimed at rabbits are not actually suitable for rabbits at all, never mind as a treat.

Fruits

Because of the high sugar/carb content of fruits I would consider fruits to be a treat and a tiny amount of them should be fed to your rabbits, if at all. I always think, what would a rabbit naturally be able to forage in this country? So, I stick to the following to be fed as very occasional ‘treats’;

apples – one slice (an eigth) no seeds

pear – one slice

strawberry – one

blackberry – three

raspberry – three

tomatoes – one cherry tomato (no leaves)

I only feed fruit if there is a bit left over from the kids wasting them lol. Even then, its still not fed on a daily basis because it does worry me. I would never feed a young rabbit fruit. When your baby rabbit is older, say 4 months, introduce tiny bits of dried fruit, then very slowly move to fresh and never ever give large amounts to your rabbits.

Bunnies LOVE banana, like really go mad for it, but I havent put it at the top of my fave list because of the high amount of sugar and I dont think a banana is a natural food for a wild rabbits (its very exotic for europe!).

What Do I Feed My Rabbits?

Per typical day, I feed my bunnies, per rabbit (based on a rabbit who isn’t raising a litter);

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  • one handfull of pellets in the morning (roughly 25-30g);
  • hay (unlimited handfuls in a hay rack, at least one pile as big as an adult rabbit), some more in a toy which I would consider luxury hay lol;
  • grass to graze (either when they are in their run or from margerine spread tubs of grass we have grown for them, or hand picked and put into a food ball pics below);
  • variety of fresh veggies, palm sized amount (which ever I have in and which ever need using up, seasonal is best due to the price) e.g. a stick of celery and a handful of kale;
  • there are always a selection of twigs available for the rabbits to strip (fruit tree twigs are an absolute favouriteasare the cherry blossom tree twigs too and always get stripped down to the wood during the night);
  • a handfull of a selection of forage we have collected walking the dog that day (normally nettles, dandelion leaves, doc leaves, blackberry leaves, if it is winter then I have them dried ready. If you cant forage for these or dry them out yourself, you can buy them if it is within your budget). I am always careful not to over pick an area and leave plenty for the local wildlife. We always walk different areas. (I am currently in the process of attempting to grow our own weeds). Foraging for weeds gets a bit more tricky in winter.
  • Always fresh water available, changed everyday, supplied in a water bottle and a sturdy dog bowl of water (I wouldnt do this in a hutch, there isnt enough room). I use both because the water is too irresistable to not jump into for the rabbits!
  • very occasional bits of fruit (apple slices, banana, pear,damson form the tree’s in garden)

 

Rabbit Food Pyramid – For a Mini Lop Rabbit

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For more on feeding from an excellent website, please click here The Rabbit House

Thank you for reading, if you have any questions or suggestions please email me or comment carly.charles@outlook.com.