What do rabbits eat ?
A rabbit is a strict herbivore, it must be fed with fresh grass, hay at will, veggies and occasionally fruits just as treats and a complement of fiber-rich special rabbit pellets. A rabbit will also feast on the bark of shrubs and the tender branches of some untreated trees.
To learn more about how to ensure a healthy and balanced diet for your rabbit, I invite you to continue reading this article.
I will start by giving you a general idea about rabbit food according to their age and how their diet evolves, and then I will tell you exactly what an excellent diet for your rabbit should consist of and the different foods that should be in it and in what quantities, so let’s dive into it …
What do baby rabbits eat (less than 2 months old)?
Rabbits under 3 weeks old are exclusively fed with their mother’s milk, and if you have rabbits of this age at home and without their mother, you can ask for advice from a local vet, he will tell you where to get special milk for baby rabbits, and you will have to give them this milk with a small bottle several times a day (6 to 8 times) until the weaning age (from 25 days to one month) or you will start to present them at the beginning of the hay then greenery (grass and vegetables, start with carrots and carrot and dandelion tops), they must be fresh, crisp and dry (not wet) and at room temperature (not just out of the refrigerator!). ! )
What does a young pet rabbit eat ( between 1 month and 7 months old ) ?
After the weaning of the rabbits, from two or two and a half months, you will gradually change the rabbits’ diet which was strictly composed of milk, so change it with good quality fresh alfalfa hay and leafy vegetables such as lettuce, arugula and kale for example (you will find the complete list below).
You will also give them special rabbit pellets which are rich in fiber (no less than 15% fiber) to avoid intestinal problems for your rabbits.
You can also give them some pieces of fruit occasionally, three to four times a week, because they are growing and they are growing and need a rich food.
What does an adult rabbit eat?
Rabbits generally become adults as early as seven months of age, and you will also gradually change their diet to adapt to their age.
When rabbits are that age, they don’t need too much proteins, so you should gradually decrease the amount of pellets you give them (look on the package) and especially give them pieces of fruit only twice a week, see only once if they lack exercise and show signs of obesity!
Therefore, just give them hay of good quality and at will and especially fresh green vegetables every day.
As for adult females in pregnancy or nursing, they will need more food to produce enough milk and rich milk for the young bunnies and especially to keep their weight down and stay in good shape.
Therefore, a lactating female rabbit needs three times as much food (more than 450 gr/day) as a female rabbit in early gestation, for example, which could be satisfied with only 150 gr of food per day.
What does a senior rabbit (over 6 years old) need to eat?
Rabbits, like guinea pigs, can live more than 8 years and an old rabbit will continue to eat hay, fresh grass that you can get from the garden and especially you will increase his ration of pellets if you notice that he is losing weight.
Old rabbits can easily become diabetic, so limit sweet foods like carrots and fruit only once a week if your old rabbit goes out in the garden and does his daily exercise.
Feeding habits of rabbits aged between 6 months and 18 months:
Here is a table that summarizes the amount of food and water as well as the frequency and number of meals for a rabbit between 6 months and 18 months of age, the amounts may vary slightly depending on the season and the health status and gender of your rabbit:
|6 month old||rabbit 12 month old||rabbit 18 month old|
|Total amount of food per day (Gr)||98||194||160|
|Number of meals per day||39||40||34|
|Amount per meal (Gr)||2.6||4.9||4.9|
|Amount of water drunk by the rabbit per day (ml)||153||320||297|
Meal times for a rabbit
It’s easy to guess when to feed your rabbit, you just have to look at its cousin, the rabbit or the wild rabbit.
The rabbit is a twilight and nocturnal animal, which goes out to feed early in the morning and late in the evening, so give him hay (enough for the whole day) and water early in the morning or when you wake up.
Two hours later you can give him his veggies or his grass ration (100 Gr/kg).
You can take him out of his cage in the afternoon and give him his ration of pellets (30 to 50 gr) or his piece of fruit (candy).
Before you go to bed, give your rabbit his second ration of greenery and make sure he has enough water for the night.
So that was basically the evolution of the rabbit’s diet in relation to its age, we will now see the foods that make up a good diet for a rabbit and we will start with the most important one which is :
1- Hay, an obligatory food for a rabbit:
Your rabbit must always have hay and of good quality , without too much luster, it must be fresh, green in color and it must smell of the meadow when you approach your nose to the bag of hay.
Your rabbit must chew hay and other things all day long to wear out his molars which grow up to 2mm/month and especially his incisors which grow up to 2mm/week in most rabbit species.
Exactly as for Guinea Pigs, chewing hay will allow your rabbit to wear out its teeth and avoid that they grow more than necessary and become a problem for your rabbit, because he will not be able to eat anymore and a visit to the vet to trim them would be necessary.
If on the other hand you feed your rabbit only with pellets, he will not wear out his teeth because he will only move his teeth up and down and this vertical movement will not wear out his teeth, the molars of the rabbit will touch each other (those of the upper jaw basketball).
They will then deform to avoid each other and they will either start to touch the rabbit’s tongue, or his cheeks and that’s where your rabbit’s troubles will start because the roots of his molars will also become deformed and his teeth will continue to grow in the wrong direction and you’ll have to buy a subscription at your veterinarian for a weekly tooth size.
Hay is therefore a mandatory food for the rabbit’s diet, you’ve understood why now!
How does the rabbit manage to digest hay?
Hay is an excellent source of nutriments and fiber (digestible fibers such as pectose and hemicellulose) which ensures a good intestinal transit for your rabbit.
Unfortunately, hay is indigestible but the rabbit uses bacteria, present in its secope (the equivalent of the appendix in humans), these bacteria will ferment the hay to feed on the cellulose and the rabbit will actually feed on the waste produced by its bacteria, and that’s why you notice that the rabbit sometimes eats its droppings (caecotrophy), not all of them but those that are half degenerated (they remain stuck together) and this to get the most out of the work of these bacteria.
But as the cecum is located in the terminal position of the digestive tract, the rabbit does not have time to completely assimilate them. Therefore, the rabbit rejects the droppings at its anus and eats them immediately.
What is the best hay for my rabbit?
Prairie hay consists of dried plants of several species, mainly grasses and legumes. It is a good basic fodder for the rabbit, the regrowth is a hay obtained from the second cut, which is richer in fiber.
Alfalfa hay is recommended for young rabbits only, as it is very rich in calcium and should be fed in small quantities,
finally, there are more specific and higher quality varieties: pasture hay, mountain hay.
Hay; not only as food !
Note also that hay will not only be used as food for your rabbit, but also as a means to satisfy his natural need to dig and make holes in the ground which will not be able to do in his cage !
That’s why it’s recommended to put as much hay as possible on top of your rabbit’s litter , especially if the enclosure is not equipped with holes in the ground for example.
2- Vegetables and greenery for your rabbit
Contrary to popular belief, rabbits don’t always have access to carrots in the wild, and I would like to take this opportunity to ask you not to give too much carrot for your rabbit, which is too rich in carbohydrates, which would risk unbalancing its bacterial flora in the intestine, which will create digestive problems for your rabbit (you’ll get soft droppings when that happens)!!
Since you are not going to bring your rabbit in the wild to eat, bring him the nature and put it in his plate !
Fresh grass ferments quickly in the digestive system, so rabbits should be slowly accustomed to fresh fodder in the spring and should only be given their grass ration at least two hours after you have given them hay . for example hay at 7 am and plants at 9 am so as not to overload their intestines and especially so that they nibble hay to wear out their incisors.
Your rabbit will therefore need twice a day (two rations) of leafy vegetables, (give him up to 10% of his own weight, for example 200 grams of greenery for a rabbit that weighs around 2 kg) Here are those I recommend:
The list of edible plants for rabbit that you can give him on a daily basis, we find :
- Root leaves (carrot, radish, etc.).
- Lamb’s lettuce.
- Lettuce (not the iceberg variety).
The list of edible plants for rabbit that you can give him occasionally (1/2 times a week):
- Turnip leaves (not the bulb!).
- Red cabbage in small quantities.
- Asparagus, not much !
- Swiss chard.
- Cauliflower , not too much !
- Artichoke , in moderation.
The list of wild herbs good for rabbits are :
- Alfalfa in moderation except for the young ones.
- Vegetable sow-thistle.
- Shepherd’s purse cap.
- Bramble leaves.
- Basil, just a little !
- Forest fruit leaves (like blackberries, strawberries, raspberries…).
Know that concerning vegetables and fruits: they must be fresh and crunchy, well washed, not frozen or cooked and especially remove the seeds when there are some.
It is also advisable to give ( each day ) at least one vegetable rich in vitamin A (asparagus, carrot, watercress, celery) and a small quantity of fruits ( once or twice a week ) such as banana, cherry, apple, apricot, melon, blackberry … They should be rinsed thoroughly and presented moist to moisturize your rabbit’s intestines.
3- Pellets for my rabbit?
Pellets for rabbits are created by industrialists during intensive rabbit breeding ; it was a way to fatten rabbits after weaning and the only goal was to produce very fat rabbits for, sorry to tell you that but it was for butcher shops !
So, it’s not necessary to remind you that pellets without moderation (no more than two tablespoons per rabbit and per day about 30 to 50 gr/day of pellets for an adult rabbit).
The only time when pellets can really play a role in your rabbit’s life is when it is just coming out of the weaning period and entering the period of rapid growth, after about 3 months of age.
After adulthood, you must reduce the amount of pellets you give your rabbit to avoid that it becomes too big and especially to avoid unbalancing its intestinal flora and causing other diseases.
It is therefore never necessary to feed your rabbit exclusively with pellets, no wear of the teeth on one side and hello to digestive and intestinal problems on the other, in short, your rabbit will not live more than two years !
The good practice to adopt when you give pellets to your rabbit is to give only one kind of pellets and especially not a mixture of pellets and other seeds such as corn … because it creates digestive problems (poor digestion, diarrhea and soft droppings) this kind of mixtures.
Very important tip about pellets for rabbits :
Never leave the pellets in the cage of your rabbit all day long, your rabbit should only have access to the pellet bowl for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, otherwise he will not eat his hay and it will be the beginning of health problems for your rabbit. Remove the pellets to force your rabbit to nibble hay.
Don’t forget that pellets are very rich in energy, and they are only indispensable in certain cases, such as in winter, during pregnancy and lactation, for growing animals or slimmed down individuals.
If not, the pellet ration of your rabbits will depend on whether they exercise daily or not.
Choose pellets rich in fiber (18-20%), not too much protein (13%) except in winter and for a lactating rabbit and a rabbit that is growing or has lost too much weight due to illness and low in fat (3% max) except in winter or if you live in Alaska for example .
Oligo elements and mineral salts for my rabbit ?
You should never give a salt block for your rabbit, it will overdose on calcium and you will actually cause diseases such as kidney stones …
The rabbit gets all the minerals it needs from its other food and there is no need to give it these kinds of supplements.
A small summary of your rabbit’s nutritional needs
A balanced diet will allow your rabbit to stay alive and healthy, to avoid illness and digestive difficulties if it has its daily dose of fiber, and a regular intake of food rich in vitamins, mineral salts and amino acids will ensure good cardiovascular health, excellent vision and a shiny coat.
|Dietary Fiber||15% of its food||Found in hay, dried vegetables and in fresh and green vegetables|
|Proteins||No more than 14% of its food||as this can cause an abnormal proliferation of dangerous bacteria like Clostridia|
|Lipids||No more than 3%(lipids)||Risk of obesity and disease in your rabbit|
|Vitamins||vitamin A, D, E, B, K||These vitamins, your rabbits gets them from its food and vitamins B and K, he ingests them by eating its caecotrophs. A little sun light for your rabbit for vitamin D.|
|Minerals||Calcium <0.4%, Phosphorus <0.3%The Ca / P ratio = 1.8 to 2||Do not give your rabbit only hay and give alfalfa hay only as a treat !!|
4-No treats for my Rabbit?
Sweets are not allowed for your adorable pet rabbit, especially if he loves to slump on the sofa and watch TV!…so avoid sugar glued seed sticks and this kind of things that are very bad for your rabbit!…!
You can give him from time to time a piece of carrot, apple or pear, strawberries, and seeded fruit after you have removed the seeds of course so that your rabbit doesn’t break an incisor while eating them!
You should never give too much sugar to your rabbit, you will cause an imbalance in the composition of its intestinal flora, too much carbohydrates will favor the bad bacteria in its intestine and it will not digest hay and green vegetables well afterwards and it will suffer from a deficiency in several elements which will cause your bunny some serious diseases .
5-Tree branches and bark to feed a rabbit?
Not only are the soft branches and bark of trees an excellent source of fiber for your rabbit, but this type of food will also serve as an occupation for your rabbits, they will love to gnaw the branches to kill time and also to file their teeth.
The branches that you will give your rabbits should come from healthy, non-pesticide-treated trees and away from roads if possible.
Here are some types of trees that your rabbits will surely love the taste and texture:
Branches of spruce, hazelnut, birch, beech and fruit trees that are not treated with pesticides.
Last tips to feed your rabbit well:
More protein for the pregnant or nursing female:
I will start by feeding a pregnant or lactating female rabbit, you need a pellet supplement for the rabbit unless she is already obese, because she needs more protein.
The rabbit may eats some of its droppings , the caecotrophs:
For those of you who believe that a rabbit eating its droppings is disgusting, don’t think like that, and never pick up this kind of droppings.
These droppings are called caecotrophs, they are generally shiny, wet, soft and usually grouped in clusters, the rabbit usually eats them right after he puts them down or you will see him put his head between his hind legs and eats them directly out of his anus! ! but if you find them in his cage, do not throw them away, they are rich in nutrients and he will surely eat them.
Rabbits produce and ingest caecotrophs cuz they are an important source of protein,micronutrients and B vitamins .
Why does your rabbit eat its own droppings “the caecotrophs”?
Here is a comparison of the average composition of hard dung and caecotrophs in a rabbit, and when you see this, you’ll see the caecotrophs exactly like pellets and when your rabbit eats them, you won’t find this act disgusting anymore, on the contrary, you’ll be happy because your rabbit is enjoying it and getting the maximum nutrients, vitamins and proteins from it, so here is the comparison table:
|Dry matter percentage (%)||Hard droppings ||Caecotrophs|
that your rabbit recycles and eats again
|Proteins||13.1 %||29 to 37 %|
|cellulose (for nourishment of the intestinal flora of your rabbit)||37.8 %||22 to 33 %|
|The Lipids||2.6 %||2.4 to 4.6 %|
|Minerals||8.9 %||10.8 to 18 %|
You can see that the caecotrophs your rabbit eats can be considered as enriched pellets, so don’t look at your rabbit when he eats them, he is completely right to do so.
Last advice, never leave your rabbit without food, his digestive system must never stop spinning ! Always leave at least water and good hay in the cage of your rabbits, so that they always have something to nibble on.
The food not to give to the rabbit
- Cooked Vegetables!
- Wheat-rich foods such as bread, rusks, breakfast cereals, cookies, aperitif cookies, pasta
- Chocolate, cakes, sweets, dairy products (cheese and butter) and corn and rice.
- Some vegetables should be given in moderation to your rabbit such as broccoli, artichoke, cabbage, peas and lettuce which can cause diarrhea and if this happens, just give water and hay for two days.
- Not too much dried fruit and coconut.
- Never give cat or dog food to your rabbit ! (indigestible or even toxic animal proteins).
Toxic food to never give your rabbit :
- The sweet potato
- The Potato
- The Beans
- The leek (very dangerous!!!)
- The sorrel
- The turnip bulb (the vegetable)
Forbidden fruits for your rabbits ( very inadvisable )
- Banana (too sweet and indigestible).
Water for your pet bunny
You must make sure that your pet rabbit always has fresh water at his disposal. Be even more careful in hot periods because rabbits don’t sweat and in order to keep their temperature below 39°C, they need to be hydrated permanently:
No juice (unless you want to mention your rabbit to drink if it is dehydrated in case of diarrhea). No coffee and no alcohol or soda for your rabbits !
Rabbits have high water needs and consume about twice as much water as solid food. Their daily water needs will vary according to :
- The ambient humidity in your home
- The season and ambient temperature of the room where you installed the cage.
- Lactation if it is a female who is nursing small bunnies.
- Certain diseases such as diarhea which makes them thirsty.
Water also plays a very important role in the digestive process of rabbits, therefore, a thirsty rabbit will also eat little.
Water must be fresh and clean. Rabbits consume 50 ml to 150 ml per kg. It is indispensable even if your rabbit eats greenery.
Lack of water can lead to dryness of the rabbit’s digestive system, urinary tract infections, and stress-related behavioural problems. Also avoid water that is too rich in calcium.
A study has also shown that rabbits prefer to drink directly from a bowl rather than using the bottle, so try to take this into account, make sure the rabbit can’t spill his water bowl in the cage, you can use a heavy ceramic bowl for example.
Can I give bread to my rabbit?
Bread is made of cereals and is a great source of carbohydrates (slow sugars) and should not be given to rabbits or only in very small quantities (only as a treat); it must absolutely be dry and mould-free.
Don’t count on bread to wear out your rabbits’ teeth, hay and tree branches are indispensable.
Good rabbit feeding practices :
- Always prepare a balanced mix of the foods I mentioned above to prevent your rabbits from suffering from deficiencies.
- Always start by giving your rabbit hay and water in the morning and 2 hours later you can give greenery and pellets towards the end.
- Get your rabbits accustomed to fixed feeding times.
- Avoid abrupt changes in diet and introduce new food gradually so as not to disturb the intestinal flora of your rabbits.
- Never leave your rabbits without food and especially without fresh water.
How do I know if my rabbit is hungry?
Your rabbit is always hungry and that’s why it needs to have access to hay all day long . But as far as his half cup of vegetables and his quarter cup of pellets per meal, he will be able to claim them to you in his own way.
There are rabbits who go to the place where you store their vegetables and pellets ; other rabbits will go and sit in front of their empty vegetable bowl !
You just have to pay attention to your rabbit’s behavior before you give them their food ration so you know how your rabbit is going to claim their pellets, vegetables or treats.
The best way is to get them used to fixed meal times that you must respect of course.
Let’s sum it up
The best diet for a rabbit should consist of hay at will and always available, good fresh vegetables and not wilted, pellets for two hours maximum, a piece of fruit once or twice a week and especially fresh water and good quality available to your rabbit.
If you only have to choose a single food to feed your rabbit, he could be satisfied with a good hay and fresh water for several days.