Feeding Rabbits

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:

DO:

    1. Feed a diet based around hay
    1. Use veges and greens as treats
    1. Provide fresh water daily
    1. Check the dropping output daily
    1. Feed to an ideal body weight
DON’T:

    1. Buy ‘rabbit mix’ muesli diets.
    1. Feed foods containing sugars
    1. Feed more than one small piece of fruit daily
    1. Feed unknown plants

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

Vegetables

Watercress Asparagus Capsicum Parsnip Carrot (minimal)
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
Squash Pumpkin Cucumber Silver beet Endive
HERBS ( Not all Bunnies will enjoy the flavours)
Basil
Coriander
Dill
Mint
Parsley
Oregano
Rosemary
Peppermint

Wild Garden Herbs/Weeds/Flowers

Thistle Nettle Nasturtium (leaves and flowers)
Camomile Lavender
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.

Fruits: Apricot
Strawberries (including leaves) Tomatoes (NOT the leaves)
Banana Blackberries (including leaves)
Blueberries Cherries
Grapes (including leaves) Kiwi fruit
Mango Melon
Nectarines Peaches
Pear (not seeds) Pineapple
Plums (including leaves) Raspberries (including leaves)
Papaya Apple (not seeds)
NO: Henbane Hemlock Toadflax
Bracken Bryony Delphinium Hellebores (Christmas rose)
Ragwort Privet Laburnum Lupin
Avocado Oleander Buttercup Cereal or grain mixed food
Iceberg/light lettuce varieties (loose stools) Poppies Oak Leaves Chocolate/sweets/

sugar/breakfast cereals

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
Amaryllis White Cedar
Arum Lily Bindweed

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