PDSA's Care Advice

The ideal diet for your rabbits

Vets recommend the following diet for rabbits:

  1. At least their own body size in good quality hay each day (it is best to allow constant access to clean, good quality hay that is not part of their bedding) and -
     
  2. A handful of suitable fresh greens morning and evening and -
     
  3. Just a tablespoon of commercial rabbit nuggets once daily (or twice daily if the rabbit weighs over 3.5kg).
     

Rabbit muesli (a mix of seeds and flakes) should not be fed because it is linked to painful dental disease.

Owners should vary the greens they feed their rabbit. Fruit should only be fed occasionally and in small quantities because it is high in sugar. Sugary treats should also be avoided. 

Feeding your rabbits

Is it true that rabbit ‘muesli’ can cause dental disease in rabbits?

Many of the health problems that vets see with rabbits are caused by their diet. It’s extremely important that you give them the right food. Lots of people have become used to feeding rabbits a bowl of rabbit ‘muesli’. But these muesli-type mixes are linked to health problems, especially with the teeth.

Does your rabbits’ food look like this?

Image showing rabbit muesli

If so, they are more likely to develop painful dental disease. PDSA vets advise that you don’t feed rabbits muesli. 


Which greens can I feed my rabbits?

Aim to feed a few different greens each day sa part of a balanced rabbit diet. The lists below show some greens that are safe to feed, and some that aren’t. The list isn’t exhaustive. If you’re not sure whether you can safely feed a certain plant or vegetable to your rabbit, ask your vet for advice.

Safe
Unsafe
 
Asparagus
Amaryllis
Basil
Bindweed
Broccoli
Bracken
Brussels Sprouts
Elder Poppies
Cabbage
Foxglove
Carrots (only feed occasionally – they are high in sugar. The leafy tops are OK)
Laburnum
Yew
Cauliflower
Lily-of-the-valley
Celeriac
Lupin
Celery leaves
Most evergreens
Chard
Oak leaves
Chicory
Privet
Courgette
Ragwort
Dandelion (in moderation – can make your rabbit go to the toilet more than usual)
Rhubarb leaves
Dock
 
Endive
 
Green beans
 
Kale
 
Parsley
 
Radicchio
 
Radish tops
 
Rocket
 
Salad peppers
 
Spinach
 
Watercress
 

 

Can I give my rabbits fruit?

You should only give fruit occasionally and in small quantities because it is high in sugar. Apples, grapes, pears, plums and strawberries (including the strawberry leaves) are suitable in small amounts.

How can I safely introduce new foods to my rabbits?

Changing a rabbit’s diet suddenly can upset their digestive system, so always introduce new foods gradually over at least a week, unless your vet tells you otherwise.

Can I feed my rabbits treats?

There are natural treats available from pet shops and pet supermarkets which your rabbits will enjoy and are good for your rabbits’ teeth and digestive health. Avoid sugary treats, such as ones made with honey, as these can cause teeth problems and diarrhoea.

My rabbits are eating their droppings, is this normal?

Rabbits produce two types of droppings – hard, dry ones which are true faeces, and dark, shiny, smelly ones. These second types are called ‘caecotrophs’ and rabbits eat them, usually straight from their bottom. This enables them to get the full goodness out of their high-fibre food, so don’t be concerned if you see this.

How do I know if one of my rabbits has dental problems?

Signs include:

  • Going off their food
  • Drooling
  • A wet chin
  • Weight loss
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Dirty bottom


An eye discharge can develop because the abnormal tooth roots can affect the eyes, and the bottom can become dirty because the sore mouth makes licking and grooming too painful for affected rabbits.

Visit your vet if any of your rabbits show any of these signs.

There can be other causes of overgrown teeth (e.g. if the teeth don’t meet properly because of a mouth injury) but the commonest cause is being fed rabbit ‘muesli’ and not enough hay or grass (see What should I feed my rabbits?).

Drinking water for rabbits

Water for your rabbits 

Should I give my rabbits their water in a bowl or bottle? 

Fresh water must always be available. A suitable water bottle with a metal spout is a good way to provide water. Check your rabbits are using the bottle as some rabbits may be used to drinking from a bowl and may not change very easily. Whether using a bottle or a bowl, keep them clean at all times. 

How much water should my rabbits drink each day? 

The amount of water a rabbit drinks can vary quite a lot – from 50 to 150ml per kg body weight per day depending on the temperature and what the rabbit has eaten.

I think one of my rabbits is drinking more than usual, is this important? 

If any of your rabbits start to drink significantly more or less than usual, this can be a sign of a medical problem so you should make an appointment to see your vet. 

PDSA's Findings

PDSA has produced the first ever comprehensive measure of animal wellbeing in the UK, revealing the state of our pet nation - The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report.

Over 11,000 pet owners were surveyed to find out how dogs, cats and rabbits are cared for - below are the findings for rabbits and their diet.

Overview

Hay and grass are the key element of a rabbit’s diet as they ensure good dental and digestive health and are important for good mental wellbeing. Two of the main health issues vets commonly see, dental disease and obesity are directly linked to the inappropriate diets that are commonly being fed (i.e. rabbit muesli and not enough hay or grass). Muesli doesn’t wear their teeth down and, because rabbits often leave the bits they don’t like, this also causes nutrient deficiencies.

Three rabbits

Key findings
 

Diet disaster for UK bunnies.

  • Rabbits fare the worst on diet when compared to the other species surveyed.
     
  • 42% of rabbits eat less than their body size in hay or grass each day, with a further 3% not eating any hay at all. Given the essential role that hay and grass play in ensuring the health and wellbeing of rabbits, it is of particular concern that 9% of rabbit owners did not know how much of these foods their rabbits are eating. In summary, around 750,000 rabbits are not eating the recommended daily amount of hay or grass.
     
  • Owners most commonly use ‘common sense’ (22%) or ‘past experience’ with rabbits (18%) when deciding how to feed their pets, and this contributes to bad feeding practices and associated health problems.
     
  • 10% of owners are giving their rabbits leftovers. Human foods that owners report feeding include cheese, cake, toast, crisps, chocolate and biscuits meant for humans.
     
  • 88% of owners give their rabbits carrots, but these should only be fed occasionally as they are high in sugar. The leafy tops however are high in calcium, which is beneficial.
     
  • Rabbit muesli is another serious concern with 49% of owners reporting it is one of the main types of food that their rabbit gets.
     
  • 65% of owners giving a treat do so daily and 28% weekly.
     
  • Furthermore, rabbit owners report the most satisfaction compared to dog and cat owners, when giving a treat to their pet, with 56% saying it makes them feel happy and 45% saying it makes them feel caring.
     
  • 750,000 rabbits are not eating the recommended daily amount of hay or grass.
     

Top Tip: Hay and grass are the key elements of a rabbit’s diet as they ensure good dental and digestive health. To avoid upsetting their digestive systems always change their diet gradually. If they won’t eat hay, take them to see your vet as this can be a sign of dental disease.

 

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