As a new rabbit parent, you may be wondering what foods are appropriate for your bunnies. Perhaps an image of a cartoon rabbit nibbling on a carrot immediately springs to mind. But is this really what your bunny needs to thrive?
As a responsible pet parent, understanding the basics of rabbit nutrition is key to keeping your pets fit and healthy. For example, it’s a myth that rabbits should eat plenty of carrots, as they are high in sugar!
In this guide, we'll walk you through everything there is to know about rabbit nutrition and a balanced rabbit diet. Mm mmmm!
A Healthy Diet for Rabbits
The best diet for your bunnies is one nutritionally balanced and high in fiber. Since they are herbivores, everything they eat is exclusively plant-based. So, while a bunny can enjoy carrots just like in cartoons, moderation is key.
In fact, a rabbit’s diet should predominantly consist of hay. You can combine this with a daily serving of leafy greens and a small portion of pellets. Fruits and vegetables are best given as snacks as some are too high in sugar or other nutrients!
What does this look like on an average day? Well, try the following rough guideline, adjusting the exact portions to the size and breed of your bunnies:
- Grass hay - 85% (ideally unlimited, but at least a bundle as big as your bunny)
- Fresh leafy greens - 10% (2 handfuls a day)
- Quality pellets - 5% (just 2-5 tablespoons a day)
- Clean drinking water - unlimited
The Importance of Hay in a Rabbit's Diet
Hay should make up the majority of your bunnies’ daily food intake as it’s high in fiber and protein, so aim to give them an unlimited supply. This food is easy to assimilate for your bunny, and regulates their digestive system while keeping everything ticking along nicely!
Hay also helps your bunny maintain good dental health and prevents hairball blockages in the gut. It’s even good for their mental health, as it engages their brain by encouraging their natural foraging instincts.
In fact, the only downside is that hay can quickly get out of control and look untidy! Fortunately, you can rely on our cute hay bags to keep your bunnies’ digs tidy.
Hay is essential for fiber intake
Rabbits have an impressively long digestive tract, meaning that their bodies are designed to break down high-fiber vegetation.
Thankfully, hay is packed with long-strand fibers that are music to a bunny’s digestive system! That’s what makes it a healthier option than ultra-processed commercial rabbit feed.
Rabbits rely on fiber to keep their gut moving (aka pooping regularly!). If a rabbit doesn’t get enough fiber in their diet, they are at risk of GI stasis - a serious condition where their digestive system slows down or even shuts completely.
Hay keeps your rabbit’s teeth healthy
If optimal dental health for us hoomans is brushing our teeth, then for rabbits it's 24/7 grazing on fresh hay!
Your rabbits' teeth will continue to grow throughout their lifetime, so it’s important that they eat foods that keep their teeth ground down if you want to spare them some uncomfortable dental issues (and pricey vet bills!).
Hay is perfect for maintaining good dental health as it’s coarse and abrasive. Pet-safe wooden chew blocks work excellently alongside hay to keep your bunnies’ teeth neatly trimmed.
The different types of hay
While hay is great for your bunny, not all hay is the same! There’s a difference between feeding hay and bedding hay. Both amount to dried grass, but their nutritional profile is completely different.
Bedding hay is drier and golden in color, while feeding hay is fresher, greener, and is higher in nutrients. The latter is also much more appealing to your bunnies!
We recommend feeding your rabbits timothy hay as it’s the highest in fiber and very coarse - perfect for a healthy digestive system and teeth. But feel free to mix it with small amounts of other grass hays to spice things up (think Orchard, Meadow, or Herbal).
Fresh Foods for Rabbits
Hay makes up the majority of a bunny’s diet, but a daily serving of fresh leafy greens (1-2 cups) is also important for a balanced diet. Especially since rabbits absolutely LOVE them!
However, while most leafy greens are great for hoomans, buns need to be pickier with their choices. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to stick to herbs, lettuce, and other leafy salad greens. Root vegetables and fruits are better reserved as tasty snacks (more on this later).
Most types of greens will be hoppily received by your eager buns. Just make sure to go easy on those that have a higher oxalic acid concentration (e.g. mustard greens, sprouts, parsley, chard, or spinach).
Different flavors and textures will tantalize your bunnies’ tastebuds and provide mental enrichment too. So try different meals to find out what they like best... gradually, to avoid any upset tummies!
Safe Vegetables for Rabbits
Provide your bunnies with at least 3-5 different types of fresh plants and veggies every day to give them a good balance of vitamins and minerals. Safe and nutritional foods include:
- Celery leaves
- Dandelion greens
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Spring greens
Safe Herbs for Rabbits
Bunnies also love a good nibble on some fragrant and enticing herbs! Try adding these to the menu:
Toxic Foods That Rabbits Should Avoid
Finally, there are some fresh foods that should be avoided as they’re either a choking hazard or toxic:
- Bulbs like onion or garlic
- Iceberg lettuce (contains lactucarium, a chemical that can be harmful if allowed to build up in a rabbit’s digestive system over time)
- Tomato leaves and stems
Top tip: To be on the safe side, always make sure to do your research before feeding your bunnies anything new!
How to Feed Rabbit Pellets
Rabbits should only eat a small portion of dry food pellets every day, just 2-5 tablespoons will be enough depending on your rabbit’s size. This is because they are very concentrated and high in nutrients!
If you top up your bunnies’ bowl with just pellets, you’ll encourage them to eat less hay (which is more important to their health!). It’s tough love, but stick to a strict daily serving.
Technically speaking, pellets aren’t an essential part of a rabbit’s diet. However, think of them more like a peace of mind supplement - pellets help ensure that your rabbits get all of the key nutrients they need.
The Best Type of Rabbit Pellets to Purchase
We recommend you carefully check the packet and get rabbit pellets with timothy hay as the main ingredient. Keep it simple and steer clear from the super colorful fruity pellets as those are likely to be way too high in sugar!
Water and Hydration
Your rabbits should have access to fresh, clean drinking water at all times. It doesn’t matter whether you opt for a bottle or a bowl.
Some rabbits find it easier to drink from a bowl, while others are messy drinkers and might do better with a water bottle! If you opt for a bowl, just make sure it’s sturdy and not too easy for them to flip over.
Oh, and remember to top up your rabbit's water more frequently in the hot summer months, and to check it doesn’t freeze over during a cold spell!
Treats for Rabbits
Small pieces of fresh fruit and veggies are the best treats for your bunnies. You can purchase pre-packaged treats from the pet store, but be aware that these snacks are usually high in sugar so not great for their health!
Whichever treat option you choose, remember that treats should be given sparingly to your rabbits - max 1-2 tablespoons a day.
Fruit & Veggie Treats for Rabbits
If you’re looking for something special, here are some rabbit-safe options that will steal the heart of your bunnies fur-ever more. Make sure to cut them up into bite-sized chunks and don’t overdo it!
- Bell pepper
- Green beans
- Kiwi fruit
- Oranges (and orange peel)
Special Dietary Needs for Rabbits at Different Life Stages
Up to this point, all of our recommendations have been for healthy adult bunnies. But what about young, old or expecting rabbits? Do they have any additional dietary needs you should know about? Let’s take a look…
Dietary Requirements for Young Rabbits
To grow up big and strong, young bunnies need more calcium and protein than adult bunnies. This is why alfalfa hay is usually recommended for young bunnies - a nutrient-dense grass that will support and nourish them as they grow.
You should give your baby bunnies unlimited access to alfalfa hay and a higher portion of pellets, and switch to timothy hay once they turn 6 months old.
This is because the extra protein in alfalfa hay goes from benefitting your bunny, to potentially causing excessive weight gain and other health issues.
Dietary Requirements for Pregnant Rabbits
During pregnancy, your mother-to-be will need plenty of nutritious meals. A pregnant rabbit should have access to unlimited alfalfa hay and a higher portion of pellets to get all these extra nutrients.
This is important not only for the health of her babies and the production of milk, but also because a lack of vitamins could sadly cause miscarriages. You should also keep her water topped up at all times as it helps with milk production and keeps her body hydrated.
Dietary Requirements for Elderly Rabbits
Elderly rabbits with no obvious or pressing health problems should be fed the same recommended diet for an average adult bunny. However, if you notice that they're losing weight, you may want to give them access to alfalfa hay and a higher portion of pellets to help them return to full health ASAP.
If you aren’t sure, then consult with your rabbit-savvy vet to ensure that you’re giving your senior bun the best possible care.
Understanding Rabbit Digestive Issues
For hoomans, an upset stomach and indigestion may not be a big deal, but rabbits’ digestive problems can become life threatening. So it’s really important to monitor your rabbit’s eating patterns and take action if you spot anything unusual.
A bad diet is the most common cause of gastrointestinal problems in rabbits. So the best way to prevent these problems is to ensure your rabbit receives a daily diet that is consistent, fiber-rich and full of nutrients.
A bunny with digestive issues may show some of the following symptoms:
- Decreased appetite
- A noticeable change in stools
- Noticeable differences in their normal temperament or behavior
If you think that something might be up, always make sure to bring them to your local vet for a thorough check-up.
Top tip: Rabbits are sensitive souls with even more sensitive tummies, so don’t do anything in a rush. If you’re looking to transition your bunny to a healthier diet, do this gradually to avoid wreaking havoc on their digestive system.
We hope that this blog helped you understand the importance of providing the right rabbit nutrition. From dental health to mental enrichment, the correct diet is essential for your bunny's overall health and well-being.
So make sure you’re loaded up with timothy hay, some varied leafy greens and high quality pellets. Oh, and for an extra-special treat, don’t forget to add in some fresh veggies and fruit!For rabbit cages and accessories designed to help your bunnies thrive in life, why not check out our bun-derful range?