Rabbit diet

What’s the ideal mix of food for a rabbit? What greens are safe and which ones should I avoid? Can I give my rabbit fruit or treats? Why do my rabbits eat their own droppings?

Rabbits: Diet

In this section we’ll look at:

  • The ideal diet for your rabbits
  • Feeding your rabbits
  • Water for your rabbits
  • Research

The ideal diet for your rabbits

PDSA recommend this three-part diet for rabbits:

  1. At least their own body size in clean, good quality hay each day. Ensure it’s separate from their bedding.

  2. A handful of suitable fresh greens morning and evening. Vary the greens each day to keep the diet interesting. Only feed small bits of fruit occasionally as they are high in sugar.

  3. One tablespoon of commercial rabbit nuggets once daily (or twice daily if your rabbit weighs over 3.5kg).


What not to feed rabbits:


  • Rabbit muesli – a mix of seeds and flakes. This is linked to painful dental disease.

  • Avoid giving sugary treats.


Feeding your rabbits

It’s extremely important that you give them the right food. Many rabbits’ health problems are caused by their diet. Many people feed them a bowl of rabbit ‘muesli’. But these mixes are linked to health problems, especially with the teeth.

Aim to feed a few different greens each day as part of a balanced rabbit diet. The table below isn’t an exhaustive list of what’s good and what’s not: if in doubt, ask your vet for advice.

Safe greens

Unsafe greens

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

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

Yew

Endive


Can I give my rabbits fruit?
Yes, but only very occasionally as it’s 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?
Yes, if they are the right ones. Natural treats are enjoyed by rabbits and are good for their teeth and digestive health: they are available from pet shops and pet supermarkets. Avoid sugary treats, such as ones made with honey, as these can cause dental 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.

  • Dark, shiny, smelly ones, called ‘caecotrophs’. Rabbits eat them, usually straight from their bottom. Don’t be concerned if you see this: it’s natural and means they get the full goodness out of their high-fibre food.


How do I know if one of my rabbits has dental problems?
Visit your vet if any of your rabbits show any of these signs:

  • Going off their food

  • Drooling

  • A wet chin

  • Weight loss

  • Discharge from the eye. This can develop as the eyes can be affected by abnormal tooth roots.

  • Dirty bottom. This occurs if your rabbit has a sore mouth as it makes licking and grooming too painful.


The most common cause of overgrown teeth is because a rabbit has been fed ‘rabbit muesli’ and not enough hay or grass.


Water for your rabbits

Ensure that fresh water is always available. A suitable water bottle with a metal spout is a good method. 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.

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.

If any of your rabbits start to drink a lot more or less than usual, make an appointment to see your vet, as it can be a sign of a medical problem.


Research


PDSA reveals the state of our pet nation each year in a comprehensive measure of animal wellbeing in the UK – The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report.

Since 2011, over 17,000 pet owners, veterinary professionals and children have been surveyed to find out how dogs, cats and rabbits are cared for. Here are the findings for rabbits and their diet:

Overview

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

Read our PAW Report here

Key findings from our most recent report:

Diet disaster for UK bunnies.

  • Rabbits fare the worst on diet when compared to the other species surveyed.

  • There has been a significant improvement in the amount of hay being eaten. In 2011, 42% of rabbits ate less than their body size in hay or grass each day; this has improved and is now just 26%

  • Owners usually apply ‘common sense’ (20%) or ‘past experience’ with rabbits (19%) when deciding how to feed them. This can lead to bad feeding practices and associated health problems.

  • 5% of owners are giving their rabbits leftovers of their own food. These include cheese, cake, toast, crisps, chocolate and biscuits.

  • 86% of owners give their rabbits carrots. 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 remains a concern: 34% of owners report it’s one of the main foods they give to rabbits.


Top Tips: 
  • Give them plenty of hay and grass – two key elements of a rabbit’s diet that ensure good dental and digestive health. 

  • Keep to the same diet. If you need to change it, do so gradually to avoid upsetting their digestive systems. 

  • If they won’t eat hay, take them to your vet as it can be a sign of dental disease.


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