Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the UK, and it’s easy to see why - these little creatures have big personalities, and there’s no denying that they’re incredibly cute - my partner and I currently share our house with two naughty bunnies called Arya and Hector.
In order to keep our bunnies in tip-top condition, it’s important that we feed them a well-balanced, healthy diet. The majority of their meals should be made up of ‘forage’ (grass or hay), with a serving of greens and the odd occasional treat such as fruit or commercial pellets. The ‘Rabbit Feeding Triangle’ gives a rough guide to the quantities of each of these types of feed your rabbit should be eating on a daily basis. You can download your own free detailed poster by clicking on the pyramid below.
Rabbits are herbivores and pet bunnies are not dissimilar to their cousins in the wild, so it’s important that we feed plenty of grass-based feed which will provide them with lots of fibre to keep their teeth and tummies happy. Rabbits will spend all day grazing and make excellent lawn mowers. However, if you are unable to provide a lawn area for grazing, fresh meadow hay and ‘Timothy’ hay are good alternatives for both indoor and outdoor pet rabbits. Three-quarters (75%) of your rabbit's diet should be grass based - as a rough guide, you should be feeding a bundle of hay the same size as your bunny every day. Lawn mower cuttings should be avoided as they can cause upset tummies.
Rabbits like green leafy vegetables and herbs: Arya and Hector particularly love mint, parsley, curly kale, dandelions and spring greens for breakfast. Greens should make up around 20% of their daily intake and can provide variety. Avoid light coloured and iceberg lettuce types as they contain little nutritional value and can contain harmful components that can make your rabbit ill.
A healthy, non-pregnant adult rabbit does not necessarily require pet shop feeds, as all of their nutritional requirements can be met with grass or hay and green vegetables alone. However, rabbits love them, Arya and Hector included! I give them a small amount as a treat and to aid as a supplement during the colder winter months. I recommend using a pelleted type such as “Burgess Excel” or “Supreme Selective”, as opposed to the traditional muesli types which can lead to selective feeding. As a rough guide, an egg cup per kg of rabbit per day should be more than adequate. It’s important to remember that only 5% of their daily intake should be made up of commercial feed and treats.
It is a common misconception that rabbits eat lots of carrots - in fact carrots are high in sugars and so they should be fed in moderation and only used as a treat. The same applies to fruits such as apples and berries. Feeding lots of sugary foods can cause your rabbit to become obese, which can make them prone to dirty bottoms*, arthritis (joint inflammation), heart disease and bladder issues. For this reason, rabbits should never be given any human food such as biscuits, cakes, chocolate or crisps.
*You may notice your rabbit eating their very small, soft droppings - this is completely normal and is called ‘caecotrophy’. Rabbits digest their food twice over to ensure that they get all the nutrients from their diet. Overweight bunnies are unable to reach around to keep themselves clean.
You can make your rabbit’s meals more interesting and provide enrichment by hiding food in toys and scatter feeding to encourage foraging behaviour, this will not only make them work for their dinner but will also keep their brains active and prevent boredom.
It is important that any changes to your rabbit’s diet are made gradually, usually over a period of weeks, introducing any new food slowly alongside what your bunny is used to. Avoid making any drastic changes as your bunny’s tummy will need time to adapt.
It is vital that your bunnies have constant access to fresh drinking water. Water bottles are fine, however some rabbits (my two included) prefer drinking from bowls which can be mounted onto a wire door to prevent spillages and reduce contamination. Whichever your rabbit prefers, they should be kept clean and clear of algae.
Rabbits are a prey-species and so are very good at hiding any sign of illness. A reduced appetite can be the first sign of a more serious underlying issue. It’s important that if you think your rabbit seems unwell that you see your vet as soon as possible.