If you're considering owning a pet rabbit, you should ask yourself, "What do rabbits eat?" before you begin stocking up on carrots. Sure, bunnies love carrots, but unlike a certain popular cartoon character, a rabbit needs more than a crunchy carrot a day to be as healthy as it can be. Along with providing the proper habitat, a rabiit needs the right diet to thrive.
The Rabbit's Digestive System
Rabbits have a very delicate digestive system, so it is important to watch what you feed them. If they eat too much of one food and not enough of another, their health can suffer as a result. Additionally, a rabbit needs protein in its diet, so feeding it a vegetable-only diet is not conducive to optimum health.
Foods to Avoid
Before delving into the topic of what do rabbits eat, it's a good idea to understand what they shouldn't eat. There are certain vegetables that you should definitely avoid feeding your rabbit.
- White potatoes
- Green beans
- Sweet potatoes
- Head lettuce
- Rhubarb leaves
- Any vegetable that grows from a bulb
- Grass clippings
Spinach and kale are safe, but these veggies should be limited to one large leaf per day.
So, What Do Rabbits Eat?
The ideal diet for any pet rabbit begins with a pellet food source. Pellet food contains a wealth of nutrition that's specially formulated for rabbits, and this food is easy on the animal's digestive system. A good rabbit pellet food will have between 15 and 16 percent protein, which is usually what most rabbits require. If you notice your rabbit's urine begins to turn reddish in color, try a pellet food with a lower protein content since the reddish urine is a result of the rabbit getting too much protein.
Along with pellet food, a rabbit's diet should be fortified with hay, straw and fruits. Hay and straw are important because they contain a different type of fiber than what's found in most pellet foods, and this fiber is excellent for the rabbit's cardiovascular health. Chewing on hay and straw also helps keep the rabbit's teeth worn down. Good choices include timothy hay, orchard grass, coastal Bermuda or fescue. If you're gathering the hay or straw from your own yard, make sure it is free of thorns, weeds, mold and dust.
Timothy hay cubes are good for your rabbit because they provide it with the fiber it needs. These cubes are also good because the rabbit has to pull the hay from the cube, and this activity helps fight boredom. A cube of timothy hay (not alfalfa) every other day is suitable for most pet rabbits.
As for fruits, a rabbit doesn't need much. A single large strawberry, a slice of apple or a chunk of banana is enough per day for one adult rabbit. Too much fruit will affect the animal's digestive system so keep to one piece per day. Carrot tops, cilantro and parsley are all suitable for adding to a rabbit's diet at any time.
Grains are good for rabbits in a limited supply, and they have to be whole grains. No more than a teaspoon of whole grains a day should be given or it could disrupt the rabbit's digestive system.
Many rabbits live long healthy lives on just pellets, hay and water, but if you want to incorporate vegetables or fruits into your pet's diet, just reduce the amount of pellets you feed when you give your pets the fresh foods.
Which Kind of Pellet Food Is Best?
Rabbit food is one of those things where you really do get what you pay for. Inexpensive pellet food is almost always inferior in quality to those priced slightly higher. Premium pellet food not only has the highest amount of nutrition, it also typically contains ingredients that help reduce the rabbit's odor. Rabbit urine can smell very strongly of ammonia, so feeding your pet a better grade of food can help reduce or eliminate that offense.
If your pet rabbit's urine is very strong-smelling, try a premium pellet food containing yucca in the ingredient list. Within three days, you should notice a big difference. In addition, premium pellet food promotes healthier skin and hair, so for all intent and purposes, it's worth the slightly higher cost.
If you're bringing a rabbit home from a breeder, be sure to ask what the rabbit is currently being fed. The breeder should give you some of that food so you can make the transition to whichever diet you plan to feed. Due to a rabbit's delicate digestive system, it's not a good idea to abruptly change its primary food source. The new food should be mixed with the original food for at least a week so the rabbit can adjust.
This also applies to changing from one vegetable staple to another. In essence, any time you make a change your rabbit's diet, you should do so gradually. If the rabbit experiences a loss of appetite or loose stools, it may be having an adverse reaction to the new food. If that happens, you'll need to go back to the original diet and try to make the switch a little slower. This is usually enough to help the rabbit become accustomed to its new food.
Caring for Your Pet
With proper care and feeding, as well as good husbandry, your rabbit will be a healthy, alert and even affectionate pet. Make sure the food you offer your rabbit is always as fresh as it can be, and take care that his water source is always clean. If you can do that, your rabbit will be quite content.