February 21, 2018

Rabbit Diet

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Adult Rabbits

  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup limit of daily of pellets (per 5 lbs. rabbit) – (plain pellets, no colorful treats or seeds) Vets recommend timothy hay -based pellets instead of alfalfa based for adults.     Recommendations are OXBOX ADULT (ESSENTIALS, Organic or Natural Science)  or other timothy-based pellets          See note below **

Juvenile Rabbits

A young rabbit requires extra nutrients.  Feed unlimited alfalfa based pellets to baby rabbits.  Begin to limit pellets to ½ c -1 cup cup daily of pellets at 9 months or so.

– (plain alfalfa pellets, no colorful treats or seeds – Oxbow Junior is a good option until bunny is older) Vets recommend timothy hay -based pellets instead of alfalfa based for adult rabbits over 1 years old. Do not feed timothy-based pellets to baby rabbits

All ages:

  • Unlimited Timothy hay (or any other grass hay such as meadow, orchard, oat, brome) bunny should never run out of hay. No alfalfa hay for adult rabbits.
  • variety of veggies (at least 3 different kinds per day – a good variety is better). Volume = about 3-4 cups of greens or a big handful that fills and mounds a paper plate.   For baby rabbits begin feeding leafy veggies gradually one or two leafs at a time to ensure their GI tracts can handle them.
  • fruit, limit to one tablespoon per day (carrot, too) – adult rabbits only

Water from a crock/bowl is best, but a water bottle will suffice as well

Here is the list of some of the greens they can have:

romaine lettuce

green/red leaf lettuce

escarole lettuce

parsley

cilantro

dandelion greens

broccoli rapini

carrot tops

kale

endive lettuce

watercress

beet tops

 

 

** Some vets tell people not to feed pellets.  Many vets do this and HRS Chicago does not agree with this because 1) they don’t explain fully that each rabbit is individual and some need more nutrition then others 2) if you are only going to feed hay and greens it has to be about 3 different kinds of hay (not just timothy) and 8 different kinds of greens (mixed to make a huge salad) every day to ensure complete nutrition and 3) their weight has to be monitored to make sure as they age they maintain muscle mass.  HRS Chicago feels that the best way to ensure complete nutrition is to feed limit pelleted food.

©House Rabbit Society of Chicago

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** Commercial Rabbit Pellets
Rabbit pellets should generally only comprise a small portion of a pet rabbit’s diet. There are much healthier commercial rabbit pellets available now then we had 20 or more years ago; then all the pellets were alfalfa and grain based and although they did successfully produce fast-growing rabbits that put on weight quickly, which was the goal of the commercial rabbit industry, we found they caused a number of serious problems for our pet rabbits.

The idea of producing a uniform and concentrated food source was not a bad idea but when fed to the exclusion of anything else in the diet we see these problems in the pet rabbit:

  • High calorie content can lead to obesity – it’s easy to overfeed because the rabbit is always acting “hungry.” Unfortunately the concentrated and small form of the pellets does not lead to a feeling of fullness that a diet based on grass hay can provide. Even though rabbits should eat to their caloric needs, in captivity with boredom they will overeat pellets if they are provided free choice.
  • Low indigestible fiber content can lead to a sluggish GI tract and eventually more serious GI disease, including complete GI shutdown.
  • Doesn’t promote normal tooth wear due to the concentrated nature of the food – a couple of chews and the food is pulverized as opposed to the much longer chewing time it takes to break down hay or greens.
  • Lack of sufficient chewing activity and a “full feeling” in stomach due to concentrated nature of the food may lead to behavioral problems, such as inappropriate or excessive chewing on furniture, plants, wallboard. This could be likened to a sense of boredom. Rabbits in the wild spend a great deal of their day eating. and pellets can be eaten in a few minutes.
  • Concentrated, dry nature of pellets may not promote normal water intake, resulting in potential urinary tract disease. A rabbit’s natural diet would not be this consistently low in moisture.

The recommendation for feeding pellets would be that they comprise ideally 10% of the healthy rabbit’s diet and maximally no more then 20%. In some cases it may be necessary to feed a higher amount for the following reasons:

  • In households where hay cannot be used due to human allergies or unavailability
  • To implement a weight gain most often related to a debilitating illness
  • When the owners are unable to feed a varied diet of good quality grass hay and a variety of green foods. Pellets will help to cover some of the trace nutrients that might be missed in a restricted diet.
  • For female rabbits that are used for breeding during the pregnancy and nursing period. They have a high requirement for calories during these times and it may be necessary to increase pellets during this time period or even to feed them free choice.

When selecting a pellet look for the following:

  • 18% or higher in fiber
  • 2.5% or lower in fat
  • 16% or less in protein
  • 1.0 % or less in calcium
  • Do not buy pellet mixes that also contain seeds, dried fruits or nuts.
  • Buy pellets based on grass hays (timothy, orchard grass, brome, etc) NOT alfalfa hay (your veterinarian can advise you if an alfalfa based pellet is needed for situations in ill animals where weight gain may be needed).

The amount to feed a healthy rabbit would be approximately ¼ cup of pellets per 4 lbs of body weight daily. This can be divided and fed twice a day or all fed once a day. Pellets can even be fed one by one and used in a training program. I recommend 1/4 maximum for other than giant breeds and 1/8 cup maximum for dwarfs, but even less for each if there are medical issues.

NOTE: For rabbits that have chronic GI problems or have issues of excessive weight, it may be preferable to completely remove pellets from the diet. Please consult your veterinarian about changing to this type of diet if needed.