Your Rabbit's Feeding
Le Gourmet Lapin (or Who Snarfed My Dandelion Leaves!)Rabbits are “herbivores” – which means that they only eat plant material. This translates into a very simple diet for our rabbits – high fiber and lots of fresh water. A wild rabbit’s diet is comprised of 99% grass and, grass that is dried in the sun is called “hay”. That is why we feed our rabbits a high quality hay product along with a quality pelleted food and fresh greens. Over the years, there have been many debates over what qualifies as a great diet for rabbits and it basically comes down to this: long fibers make for a very happy bunny. A rabbit that eats long fibers (hay, et al), will have a healthy and good-moving gastro-intestinal tract – free of fur build-up. Of course, exercise goes hand in hand with that one. A rabbit digests its food best when it can run, leap and binky before, during and after eating. The motility of the gut actually demands this action. A sedentary rabbit, or a rabbit that sits in a cage, never getting out for exercise, is a sad and overweight rabbit. We won’t get me up on my soapbox right now about caged rabbits – let’s continue with diet. Oxbow Hay Company and American Pet Diner are two companies where we recommend that you purchase your rabbit’s food. Rabbits require different types of food at different ages. Here is a little timeline:
Baby rabbits – age 0 – 6 months
- require a diet high in protein and natural fats – the kind that would be found in green and dried grasses. That’s why it is just fine to feed baby rabbits who are in the process of being weaned (approximately 5-6 weeks old) alfalfa hay and timothy hay along with a green pelleted food. The more hay, by the way, the better! Please don’t add fresh greens until they are at least 8 weeks or older. Their little GI tracts may not be able to handle fresh greens just yet. Recommended Diet: - Tons of timothy hay, good quality green pelleted food (alfalfa-based), lots of fresh water (changed daily), alfalfa hay is OK.
Juvenile rabbits – 6 months to 1 year old
– require a diet still high in protein and natural fats, but now they have also been introduced to pesticide-free green grasses and assorted field and garden greens. Keep that hay coming, and remember to spay or neuter!! Recommended Diet: Tons of timothy hay, god quality green pelleted food (alfalfa-based), lots of fresh water (changed daily, alfalfa hay is OK, introduce fresh cut grass (non-pesticided) , fresh grocery store greens.
Adult rabbits – less than 5 years old
- as a rabbit ages, it’s need for high protein and high fat diminishes somewhat. Alfalfa hay is high in calcium and is considered a rich hay. If your rabbit is less than 3 years old, continuing to feed a good quality alfalfa hay along with timothy (or coastal Bermuda/oat grass et al) is a good rule of thumb. Of course, by now, your rabbit is either spayed or neutered and should be settled into its life routine. Grazing on the grass in the backyard is very healthy for our rabbits – they not only get the rich and fresh green grass – full of chlorophyll and nutrients, but they also get trace minerals from the earth itself. You can always go out and pull a few clumps up by the roots and bring it indoors for your rabbit (if you house it totally indoors), or you can grow grass in containers (great for apartment house people or city folk!). I will have a list of great grocery greens a little later on. Remember to also feed a good quality pelleted food along with fresh greens! Recommended Diet: Tons of timothy hay, good quality green pelleted food (alfalfa-based), lots of fresh water (changed daily, fresh cut grass (non-pesticided), fresh grocery store greens.
Adult/Senior rabbits – over 5 years old
– require a little more specialized diet. Feed timothy hay, but start cutting out the alfalfa hay, especially if you are feeding a pelleted alfalfa-based food along with the hay. As our rabbits grow and glow, their need for both protein and fats diminish – much like us! They will nap more, be more loving and gentle, be wise in watching for the refrigerator door to open, and you will be in tune with its needs and wants. Timothy pellets have been available for some time now through Oxbow Hay Company and American Pet Diner. It would be wise for you to slowly switch your 5+ year old rabbit over to a timothy-based pellet. This will help in weight gain and also be kinder to its metabolism. Continue, of course, with the fresh grass and greens. Recommended Diet: Tons of timothy hay, good quality timothy hay based pelleted food depending upon the health of the rabbit mixed with a quality alfalfa pellet (if there are no kidney problems), lots of fresh water (changed daily), fresh cut grass (non-pesticided), fresh grocery store greens.
Things to Keep in MindRabbits cannot tolerate complex sugars. So please DO NOT buy them all those wonderful treats that have seeds and nuts and dehydrated fruits/vegetables that you see at the stores – they are NOT good for our guys! Too much sugar can lead to overproduction of caecal material, and a messy bottom. It can also lead to a clogged colon, and a bunny with a tummy ache is definitely not a happy bunny. You can, as time goes on, give them a few raisins per day, as this is a fruit with wonderful benefits. An apple slice here and there is also just fine, but do watch the bananas and other fruits.
Rabbits eat long fibers – so a diet totally comprised of a pelleted food is not a good thing! Remember that a pooping bunny is a happy bunny – so keep that hay coming!
Chew toys – resist those in the stores. Go to your friend’s house and ask if you can cut a branch of any fruit tree, willow, even oak! Rabbits love to chew on these and it helps their teeth maintain a sharp edge. The chew toys in the stores are pretty, but contain food dyes that bunnies don’t need in their diet.
Pelleted food was created because rabbits back in the early 1930’s were being raised in commercial production for the purpose of being killed for their meat. So not nice. It was a convenient way for the production people to feed their colonies efficiently – both in time and money. The content of most pelleted rabbit feed is comprised of alfalfa meal and corn. Now, remember what I said about sugars and long fiber? Well, let’s face it – pelleted food may be convenient – both for time and money – but it isn’t the best we can feed our rabbits. Do not buy any pelleted rabbit food that has dehydrated fruits and vegetables – go to your local feed store and get the best rabbit food they have OR just order from Oxbow Hay Company and American Pet Diner. Check around to see if these companies have their products close to you. You can always contact the above companies, we at WildRescue or The House Rabbit Society for further information regarding what we should be feeding our darling rabbits.
What do I mean by “moderation”? Let’s look at fresh green spring grass. When a cow eats all that rich grass, it gets (usually) diarrhea, or loose stools. That is because the food is just too rich for their stomachs, and their GI tracts suffer for it. Once the fresh grass becomes more mature, the molecules change and the grass is easier for them to digest. It is the same thing with horses and the same with our rabbits. And – did you know – that rabbits are more like horses than any other animal? The reason being – horses and rabbits cannot throw up, or vomit. They get “colic” and stasis in their GI tract. It can be just as fatal in horses as in rabbits. How about that. Back to moderation. When you start to feed your new rabbit (especially if it is under 6 months of age) fresh veggies and greens, please go slow. They, of course, will want to eat everything in your refrigerator – especially when they discover where it lives! Go easy. Go slow. Feed in the morning and then again at night. Make sure that, during the day, your rabbit has plenty of great hay, fresh water and pellets on which to snack. Their appetite cycles – which is why I suggest greens in the morning and night. If you see soft fecal pellets or any other “sign” after you have started to feed greens and grasses, then stop, slow down, go back, and start slowly again after the rabbit has stabilized. Remember to observe your rabbits – the more you observe and spend time with them, the better you will know them and be in tune with their needs and wants.
Recommended Greens- Kale (rich in vitamin A, C and calcium)
– Red leafed lettuces (no iceberg lettuce, please!)
– Mustard greens
– Turnip greens
– Any other deep leafy greens EXCEPT spinach (too high in iron)