Of all the species we care for as pets, rabbits surely get the most harmful diets. The advice people get and the food available to buy is almost all very inappropriate and leads to shorter, unhealthier lives.
The key to understanding what makes a good or a bad rabbit diet is to study both the wild diet of the rabbit and their teeth and gastrointestinal tract. The rabbit gut is much more complex than ours, and ferments complex carbohydrates from plant roughage to extract nourishment. The fermentation chamber is a large caecum, which is equivalent to a giant appendix, often taking up most of the space in the abdomen. Their teeth grow continuously to account for the constant grinding of the fibre-rich diet.
If rabbits do not eat the same extremely high fibre diet they get in the wild, the contents of the caecum start to form a sludge which stops flowing in and out as it should. This leads to a condition called gastric stasis, though we would better call it caecal impaction. Either way, it is a cause of significant ill health, and is often fatal.
In addition, if rabbits are fed simple carbohydrates, such as grains, molasses, bread or sugars, these will rapidly ferment into harmful substances like lactate which harm the “good’ protective bacteria and favour overgrowth of fatal pathogens.
Lastly, low fibre diets don’t provide enough abrasion for the constantly growing teeth, causing painful spurs or tooth root impaction, and possible starvation.
Before some specific advice, let’s explore the general do’s and don’ts of feeding rabbits:
Rabbit diets should include:
Grass hay such as Timothy, Oaten, Wheaten, Pasture, Paddock, Meadow or Ryegrass. About 80% of your rabbits’ diet should be hay and always be available. A recommended serving size would be 1/8-1/6 of a hay biscuit daily. This will help keep them occupied as well as helping to wear down their teeth and prevent dental problems. This high fibre diet also aids in digestion and prevents gut stasis. Gut stasis is one of the most common problems seen with pet rabbits today. It occurs from low fibre diets, and can cause fatal medical problems.
*IMPORTANT: Straw and Hay are very different. Straw is unsuitable as a food source while hay is a vital part of any rabbit’s diet. If you are unsure of what you are feeding your rabbit ask you veterinarian or your local fodder store. From left to right below are bales of Oaten Hay (looks like dried green grass), Straw (avoid- yellow and stiff) and Lucerne Hay (avoid- very green with oval leaves).
- A fortified high fibre, low grain pellet such as ‘Oxbow’ or ‘Vetafarm’. These pellets are hay based and contain added vital nutrients. Feeding about 50 grams of pellets to every Kilogram of rabbit is the recommended daily intake (i.e. a 2kg rabbit would receive 100gms of pellets daily.)
- Fresh vegies and leafy greens, about 1 cup (200gm) daily. A common mistake is to think this is the ‘healthy’ part of their diet, but if we look at wild rabbits they do not usually have access to many vegetables as a food source. It is better to regard this as a ‘treat’ or ‘junk food’.
- One small piece of fruit daily. (i.e. ¼ apple)
- Chew toys to help wear down teeth and keep them occupied– fresh cut branches from fruit trees (not cherry or apricot), wooden blocks, cardboard boxes, roots and sticks, paper towel/toilet paper rolls etc
|Spring greens||Baby sweetcorn||Snow peas||Turnip||Chicory|
|Spinach||Beetroot (not leafy tops)||Whole Green beans||Celery||Cucumber|
|Dark lettuce varieties(not iceburg)||Broccoli||Fennel||Celeriac||Zucchini|
|Rocket||Brussel sprouts||Parsnip||Cauliflower||Bok Choy/Asian Greens|
|Radish tops||Cabbage||Curly Kale||Carrot tops||Sweet Potato|
|HERBS ( Not all Bunnies will enjoy the flavours)|
Wild Garden Herbs/Weeds/Flowers
|Thistle||Nettle||Nasturtium (leaves and flowers)|
|Dandelions (diuretic)||Couch Grass||Plantain|
|Clovers (leaves and flowers)||Fresh Grass (avoid if lush)||Borage|
Most weeds found growing in lawns are safe, BUT avoid flowering ornamental plants as these are generally toxic.
|Strawberries (including leaves)||Tomatoes (NOT the leaves)|
|Banana||Blackberries (including leaves)|
|Grapes (including leaves)||Kiwi fruit|
|Pear (not seeds)||Pineapple|
|Plums (including leaves)||Raspberries (including leaves)|
|Papaya||Apple (not seeds)|
|Bracken||Bryony||Delphinium||Hellebores (Christmas rose)|
|Avocado||Oleander||Buttercup||Cereal or grain mixed food|
|Iceberg/light lettuce varieties (loose stools)||Poppies||Oak Leaves||Chocolate/sweets/
|Rhubarb or Rhubarb leaves||Sower sobs||Most Evergreen leaves||Breads/biscuits|
|Tomato Leaves||Deadly nightshade||Nuts or seeds||Corn/beans/peas|
|Potato Tops||Scarlet Runner||Foxglove||Elder|
|Minimal brassica (broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower etc||Lucerne (alfalfa) or Clover hay (protein and calcium levels are too high)||Lilly of the Valley||Stick Weed|