Feeding your rabbits
A good diet is important for all pets but it’s absolutely essential for rabbits because feeding them the wrong thing can lead to serious problems such as dental disease and gut stasis. This simple guide will help you understand how to feed your rabbits the perfect diet – and the good news is, it’s easy!
Why is a proper diet so important for rabbits?
Unlike human teeth, rabbit teeth grow constantly throughout their life. Because of this, they need to spend a lot of time nibbling and chewing to wear their teeth down – otherwise their teeth grow too long and develop sharp spikes that dig into their tongue and cheeks. These spikes, which vets tend to call ‘spurs’, cause very painful mouth ulcers and damage to the mouth, and often occur when rabbits aren’t fed enough hay or grass.
Rabbits need a high fibre diet to keep their guts healthy and active. If they don’t receive enough fibre, their guts start to slow down, and can even stop working completely (which vets call ‘gut stasis’).
The best diet for your bunnies is one that’s as close to a wild rabbit’s diet as possible. Our vets recommend the following:
- Hay & grass – ideally an unlimited amount, but at least a bundle that’s as big as them each day.
- Fresh food – an adult-sized handful of leafy greens, vegetables and herbs twice daily.
- Nuggets – just one tablespoon of rabbit nuggets once daily (or twice daily if your rabbits weigh over 3.5kg).
- Constant access to clean, fresh drinking water.
Around 85% of your rabbits’ diet should be hay and/or grass – ideally an unlimited amount, but as an absolute minimum, a bundle at least as big as them per day.
It’s important to know the difference between feeding hay and bedding hay – they are both essentially dried grass, but nutritionally, they are very different. Feeding hay is fresher, greener, smells more fragrant, tastes better (for rabbits!) and has far more nutrients in it. Bedding hay is usually quite dry – ideal for getting cosy but not so great for nibbling, (although, it’s not a problem if your rabbits occasionally snack on some!).
Ideally, your rabbit should have access to growing grass (not grass cuttings). Access to a large exercise run placed on grass will encourage your rabbits to graze, while also giving them the space they need to exercise. Check out our guides about rabbit-proofing your garden and how to provide the ideal home for rabbits.
There’s huge range of greens and fresh foods you can feed your rabbits, including plants, vegetables, leaves, twigs and grasses. Ideally you should feed five to six different types of fresh plants and vegetables every day to make sure your bunnies get a good balance of minerals and vitamins.
We’ve listed some safe fresh foods for rabbits here to get you started.
- Broccoli – in moderation (can cause gas)
- Brussel Sprouts – in moderation (can cause gas)
- Cabbage (dark green varieties) – in moderation
- Carrot tops
- Cauliflower including the leaves and stalks
- Celery including the leaves
- Courgette (and the flowers but not the leaves)
- Jerusalem artichoke and leaves
- Mange tout
- Peppers (red, yellow and green)
- Salad leaves (for example romaine lettuce – in moderation)
- Spring greens
- Spinach – in moderation
- Parsley – in moderation
Many rabbit-safe fresh foods can be found in your garden, some can be found by foraging when you’re out on walks, and the rest can be bought from the supermarket! Always wash fresh food before giving it to your rabbits and never feed them anything that may have been in contact with pesticides or fertilisers.
- Always introduce new foods gradually so your rabbits don’t suffer tummy problems such as gut stasis.
- Never feed your rabbit anything you can’t identify – some plants are poisonous to rabbits.
As well as hay, grass and fresh food, you should give each of your rabbits one tablespoon of nuggets every day (or twice a day if they’re over 3.5kg). Although this seems like a small amount, dried rabbit nuggets are very concentrated, which is why your bunnies don’t need a lot to get the nutrients they need. If your rabbits are fed too many pellets, they will eat less hay, which can lead to health problems such as overgrown teeth and gut stasis. Even nuggets containing long fibre or high levels of fibre should be fed in small quantities.
What about 'muesli-style' mixes?
Your rabbits’ nuggets should be all a similar colour and shape. If you’re seeing mixed colours and shapes in your rabbits’ food, then it may be a muesli mix. Our vets don't recommend muesli-style mixes for your rabbits. Muesli or mixed diets often look more ‘fun’ to us (as they’re brightly coloured and contain a mixture of seeds and flakes), but they can cause the following issues:
- Rabbits tend to pick out the less healthy, sugary bits, which means they don’t get the correct balance of nutrients, which can cause weight gain and obesity.
- Rabbits don’t tend to eat the bits of the muesli that contain lots of fibre, which can cause life-threatening gut problems and overgrown teeth.
- Rabbits that eat muesli diets can be less likely to eat their caecotrophs, putting them at higher risk of skin problems and fly strike.
If you are currently feeding your rabbits a muesli-style food, we recommend slowly changing them over to nuggets. If you’re keen to give your rabbit a variety of foods try a couple of different types of feeding hay, and use a number of different fresh foods each day.
Switching your rabbits' diet safely
If the diet we recommend is different from the one you’re feeding your rabbits at the moment, you should change their food slowly over a period of at least two to four weeks. If you change their food too quickly they might develop a tummy upset and stop eating (which is an extremely serious symptom in a rabbit).
If you’re changing from muesli to nuggets (or to a new type of nuggets), you should feed a small amount of the new food on the first day, mixed into their current food. Gradually increase the new food and reduce the old food day-by-day until your rabbits have adjusted to their new diet.
If you’re wanting to introduce a new type of fresh food, start off with just a small amount and to see if your rabbits enjoy the taste, and monitor for any signs of a stomach upset. If everything goes well, slowly increase the amount every few days until it’s a regular part of their diet.
If you are introducing hay for the first time it might take them some time to start eating it, but keep persevering –it’s well worth it for your rabbits’ long term health. Offer it to them fresh every day and try different types of hay to tempt them.
Rabbit treats from pet shops are widely available, but are often high in sugar, which is bad for teeth, guts and waistlines! If you want to give your rabbits something special, or exciting for them to forage for, we recommend fresh veg, plants or herbs.
To prevent your rabbits from putting on weight, make sure you adjust their meal size according to how many treats they’ve had that day. You could put aside a portion of their nuggets or fresh fruit/veg each day to use as treats, so you can make sure they’re not accidently getting extras.
A fun way to provide treats is by turning them into a fun game – why not hide your bunnies’ favourite veg in a pile of hay for them to enjoy digging out?
Safe treats for rabbits include: (these should be avoided in overweight or obese pets)
- Apples – not the pips, they’re poisonous
- Kiwi fruit
Are my rabbits the correct weight?
It's a good idea to weigh and check your rabbits’ body shape regularly because being overweight or underweight, is bad for their health. If you’re worried about your rabbits’ weight, body shape or diet, or if you’re not sure you’re feeding them the right amount, speak to your vet for advice.
- Do my rabbits need a food bowl?
- Can I feed my rabbits fruit?
- Do rabbits love carrots?
- Can too much calcium in vegetables cause a problem for my rabbits?
- Are rabbit nuggets not boring?
- My rabbits are eating their poo – is this normal?
- Can I grow food or forage for my rabbits?
- Can I feed mown grass to my rabbits?
Do my rabbits need a food bowl?
No, rabbits don’t need food bowls – in fact, they may prefer not to use them because in the wild they spend a lot of their time foraging for food. To recreate this, try scattering their food in a clean area of their cage, or in a box of hay so they have to search to find their pellets or greens. If you want to use food bowls, make sure they’re cleaned every day and have at least two bowls in different areas of their living space. This way, you can be certain your rabbits won’t stop each other eating, and you will encourage them to exercise by hopping between the bowls.
Can I feed my rabbits fruit?
It’s OK to feed your rabbits small amounts of fruit every now and again as a treat, but it’s high in sugar so shouldn’t be part of their daily diet. Apples, grapes, pears, plums and strawberries are all safe for your rabbits in small amounts (for example, 1/8th of an apple or pear).
Do rabbits love carrots?
Although many rabbits love carrots, they aren’t the healthiest option for them. They contain a lot of sugar and calories, and not much fibre to keep their guts moving. Just like fruit, carrots are okay in small amounts, as an occasional treat.
Calcium is an essential mineral for your rabbits and they need to get the correct amount each day. If your rabbit doesn’t get enough calcium, this can lead to dental problems, but if they get too much it can play a part in bladder problems.
It can be difficult to know which fresh foods are best for our rabbits, as some are higher in calcium than others. We would recommend feeding your rabbits several different fresh foods each day to help your rabbit get the correct balance of nutrients. For most healthy rabbits, feeding small quantities of a variety of vegetables and leaves will mean you should be giving them the right amount of calcium without having to cut out higher calcium plants or vegetables completely.
If one of your rabbits has a medical condition that might be affected by the amount of calcium they eat, for example a urinary or bladder problem, speak to your vet for advice.
Are rabbit nuggets not boring?
Your rabbits’ food might look boring to you, but for them it’s perfect. Just like their natural diet (grass), rabbit pellets take a long time to eat and have a lot of fibre, which help keep their guts moving and their teeth healthy. Did you know:
- If rabbits’ guts slow down or stop it can make them seriously ill
- Rabbit teeth keep growing throughout their whole life – chewing lots of high fibre food helps to keep them the correct length
My rabbits are eating their poo – is this normal?
Yes –it’s completely normal for your rabbits to eat their poo! It might seem strange, but eating poo is an essential part of digestion for your rabbit – it helps keep their guts healthy and allows them to get all the right nutrients from their food.
Rabbits make two different types of faeces (poo). Caecotrophs are the type of poo your rabbit will eat. These are soft, sticky and dark brown and your rabbit should eat them immediately, which means you shouldn’t see them very often. The dried poo you see in their cage is result of your rabbit eating the caecotroph and pooing it out again to make a solid, round ‘pellet’. If you’re seeing dark brown or soft poo in your rabbits’ cage it’s important to contact your vet – this could be a sign they’re not eating their caecotrophs or that they have diarrhoea, which both indicate health problems.
Can I grow food or forage for my rabbits?
Yes! Your rabbits will benefit from a variety of fresh food each day – you can grow some of these at home, and forage for others.
Avoid foraging in areas where there could have been weed killer or pesticides applied, and also where there has been lots of traffic, people or dogs, such as the roadside. It’s extremely important that you can identify all the plants you grow and forage, because many plants look similar and some are toxic for rabbits. Safe plants for foraging include:
- Apple leaves and twigs
- Bramble (Rubus fruticosus)/black current leaves
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
- Chamomile (Asteraceae spp)
- Chickweed (Stellaria media)
- Cleavers (goosegrass, stickyweed) (Galium aparine)
- Dandelion (Taraxacum) (only small amounts – it can make them go to the toilet more often)
- Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
- Pear leaves and twigs
- Plum leaves and twigs
- Sow thistle (Sonchus spp)
- Strawberry, blackberry or raspberry leaves
- Willow leaves and twigs
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) (only small amounts – it can make them go to the toilet more often)
Can I feed mown grass to my rabbits?
You shouldn’t feed mown grass to your rabbits. Your lawn mower can damage and heat up the grass while it cuts, and the clippings can go off very quickly, meaning bacteria can grow on them that could harm your rabbits. If you want to cut grass for your rabbits, use scissors to clip a small amount each day and feed it to your rabbits straight away so it’s as fresh as possible.
Your rabbits' home
Read our vets’ advice on the best home for rabbits including how big your rabbits' hutch should be, how to clean your rabbits’ home, and our top tips for happy rabbit living.
Your rabbits' health
Learn all the basics about keeping an eye on your rabbits' health, including how to give them a quick health check and important things to look out for.