Rabbits are true herbivores and are hind gut fermenters. This means they are adapted to eat a high fibre diet and a large amount of it. Wild rabbits eat grasses and small quantities of other plant materials such as bark & roots. Inappropriate diet is one of the most common causes of disease in pet rabbits.
What should pet rabbits be fed?
Grass hay, fresh vegetables/herbs, small amount of pelleted diet. They can also be offered treats but in small amounts. Fresh water should be available at all times – water bottles are preferred to prevent water-fouling & wetting of the rabbit.
Good quality grass hay such as timothy, oaten, meadow or paddock hay is suitable. Hay must be freely available at all times. Avoid lucerne (alfalfa) hay and clover as they contain high levels of calcium and protein which can be detrimental to a rabbit long term. The exception is young, pregnant and lactating rabbits which will benefit from increased calcium and protein in their diet – they can be fed some lucerne hay in addition to grass hay.
Suitable fresh food:
Offer at least 3 different types of fresh leave green vegetables or herbs daily. Offer at least 250g per kg bodyweight per day – this will be about 2 packed cups.
Vegetables: Broccoli, cabbage, celery, endive, beet/carrot tops, brussels sprouts, spinach leaves, bok choy & other Asian greens, dark leafed lettuce (not iceberg), chicory, kale, mustard greens.
Herbs: Parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill, mint, etc.
Pellets & treats
Rabbit pellets can be offered in small quantities. It is hard to find a good quality pellet as most of them contain seeds & grains or large quantities of lucerne. Limit pellets to 1-2 tablespoon a day depending on the size of the rabbit.
Treats can be offered but also limit to 1-2 tablespoons per day. Suitable treats to offer include most fruit, root vegetables (carrots, sweet potato), capsicum.
Foods to avoid:
Whole cereals, grains, nuts, seeds, corn, beans, peas, bread, biscuits, lollies, sugar, breakfast cereal, chocolate, etc.
Changing a diet
If a rabbit is not used to eating greens introduce them in smaller amounts first. Generally they really like the pelleted food so will eat that first and then not much hay or greens. For a few hours a day offer only hay then add greens and lastly feed a small amount of pellets.
Image 1: petrabbit care dot org, image 2: pinterest