Whenever you have a pet, you are of course responsible for making sure they get good quality, and the right amount, of appropriate food. With dogs and cats, that can be as simple as a good dry chow with the occasional treat. With rabbits, their diet takes a little more work.
Rabbits are herbivores, which means they are strictly plant eaters. In the wild they are also foragers, which means they dig around, eating different kinds of plants. Therefore, in order to feed your pet rabbit well, you should try to emulate this diet as closely as possible.
One thing that plants are high in, in fact most of the plant consists of, is fiber. Therefore a diet high in fiber is essential for your rabbit. Not only do their digestive systems require it, but it helps them to pass hairballs. Like cats, rabbits will groom themselves. However, they are not able to cough up hairballs like cats can if the hair doesn’t pass. The high fiber content to a rabbit’s diet allows them to pass the hairballs easily.
While it is possible to feed rabbits a diet of only rabbit pellets, the chow equivalent for rabbits, this isn’t really the healthiest diet for them. At one point, it was recommended to feed rabbits only pellet food, but vets and rabbit experts say this should be avoided.
While pellets can be a part of your rabbit’s diet, your rabbit will need to be carefully monitored to be sure that they don’t get overweight on the pellets. Because the pellets are high in calories, they may be ideal for baby bunnies, or breeding bunnies, but for fixed adult rabbits, they can be too much.
If you do decide to feed your rabbits pellets, with careful weight monitoring and lots of fresh food, look for a grass hay based pellet. Many are made with alfalfa, which while tasty, can lead to the overweight mentioned above. Grass based hay, most of which is made with timothy, is better for your rabbit.
Consult with your vet as to what is the best amount for your rabbit based on size and current health status.
Hay is the best basic food for your rabbit. Hay is high in fiber and should be made available to your rabbit at all times. Some estimates say that hay should make up 75% of your rabbit’s diet. Look for grass based hays, timothy and oat grass are readily available in bags for your rabbit.
Rabbits love fresh food, and in fact, can survive on fresh food and hay alone. Leafy green and root veggies are the best, with a variety of at least 3 kinds per day.
A young rabbit, under 6 months, can have lots of pellets. However, as they get older, the pellets should be less and less. This is when the switch to fresh veggies and hay being the bulk of your rabbit’s diet can be started. Because rabbits are individual, and their tummies have to adjust to more veggies, start slowly with introducing new varieties.
One at a time, give your rabbits veggies and wait a day or so to make sure that it doesn’t cause soft stools or diarrhea. Once you know that your rabbit likes that vegetable, try adding more until you have a whole list of ones that your rabbit likes. At that point, you can feed them at least 3 different kinds a day.
Rough Food and Dental Health
Because rabbits’ teeth never stop growing, they need rough food to wear down their teeth. Hay and leafy veggies help with this. Your rabbit can also be given special chew treats to help wear down their teeth. Also, talk to your vet or other rabbit expert about giving them clean wood to chew on and wear down their teeth.
It is important to make sure they have plenty of opportunity to wear down their teeth because if their teeth get too long, they will have problems eating, which can lead to poor nutrition. Rabbits instinctively know this is important and will chew on whatever they can if you don’t provide them enough approved chew toys. This could be your furniture or shoes – anything that is the least bit tough could be attractive to your pet.
There are special rabbit treats available that you can give to your rabbit occasionally. Another great treat for them is small amounts of fruit. Fruit is high in sugar, which will rev up your rabbit’s sweet tooth. That’s why it should only be given as a treat.
A Rabbit Garden
One special treat, that is actually healthy, is to plant a rabbit garden for your pet. If you have a green thumb and like to garden, why not combine your hobby with fun variety for your pet? You can use either a section of your yard, if you have it, or a large, flat tray filled with dirt.
Leaf lettuces, parsley, mint, and basil are easy to grow and your rabbit will love them. If you can, leave part of the garden to grow grass regularly. The grass will naturally grow tall when you don’t cut it and will probably even grow dandelions, which rabbits also love. Put a nice fence around it to keep your rabbit confined when you let him roam to eat. This also lets your neighbors know you’re letting the grass grow on purpose and they don’t get mad that you aren’t cutting it!
Of course, make sure that the rabbit garden is an organic garden. Any chemicals can be toxic to your rabbit.
Giving your rabbit proper nutrition means a large variety of plants and some planning. However, once you know what types of veggies your rabbit likes, it’s straightforward to wash them, and feed your rabbit. Along with plenty of hay, easily available at pet stores, your rabbit will be happy and healthy.