A simple guide to feeding pet rabbits.
If you’re thinking about getting your first pet bunnies, you’re probably curious about what they should be eating. The diet of rabbits is a bit more complicated than pet stores would have you think. This guide will give you all the basics on rabbit diet you need to know to give your bunnies a healthy life.
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Rabbit Diet Basics
Before we get into the diet specifics for rabbits, it will be helpful to talk a little bit about how a bunny’s digestive system works.
Rabbit’s digestive systems are designed for the bunny to be constantly grazing. This means food is constantly moving through it. The proper diet for a bunny should copy their natural tendency to be always eating so food is moving through their system. If their digestion does slow down, it can lead to all kinds of major health problems.
Although rabbits aren’t rodents (they’re lagomorphs!), they do still have continually growing teeth. The proper diet will also help keep the teeth worn down correctly to avoid dental issues.
The best way to keep a bunny’s digestion moving and their teeth worn down is to provide constant access to high-quality hay!
High-Quality Hay 24/7
Hay is the most important part of a rabbit’s diet. They should always have unlimited access to hay. This is a non-negotiable part of having pet rabbits, so if you are allergic to hay you will probably want to consider a different pet.
There are a few different types of hay that you can choose from. The most commonly fed type of hay is second-cut timothy hay. It has all the nutrition that bunnies need and most of them love it! There is also first-cut, which is much more stalky, and third-cut, which is much leafier than second cut.
Another option is orchard grass. Orchard grass is very similar nutritionally to second-cut timothy, but it is much leafier and doesn’t have the stalks that timothy has. Orchard grass is also a good option to try if you are allergic to timothy hay. I’m severely allergic to timothy hay, but have no issues with orchard!
Unless your rabbits are under a year old, stay away from alfalfa hay. It has more calcium and protein than timothy hay, which makes it unsuitable to feed your rabbits as their main hay source. Too much calcium in a rabbit’s diet can make them more likely to get bladder stones later on in life.
Regardless of what type of hay you feed, you want to make sure it is fresh and of good quality. You want it to be nice and green and have a nice fresh smell. You’ll be able to tell right away if hay has gotten wet at some point and gone moldy because it has about the worst smell in the world. Make sure to throw out any moldy hay as it can make your pet (and you!) sick to have it around!
My absolute favorite brand of hay is Small Pet Select!
Water Bottles vs. Water Bowls
My favorite fun fact about bunnies: a 6-pound rabbit drinks roughly the same amount of water in a day as a 20-pound dog!
Because of this, it’s usually better to give your bunnies a water bowl instead of a water bottle. It’s a more natural way for them to drink and encourages them to drink more so they don’t get dehydrated.
Use a large and heavy bowl that your bunny can’t tip over. You don’t want them to run out of water in a small bowl or be able to throw that bowl around and spill water everywhere.
My favorite water bowl to use is actually a gravity-feed water bowl that is meant for dogs and cats. It’s heavy enough that bunnies can’t knock it over and it’s pretty easy to clean. Plus, I know they’ll always have fresh water available throughout the day.
Fresh Veggies Every Day
Bunnies need fresh veggies every single day. This is something that pet stores often don’t tell new owners when they are getting set up for new bunnies.
Veggies are important for bunnies to make sure they are getting the nutrition they need. A bunny should get about a cup of veggies per two pounds of body weight. So my 6-pound bunny gets about 3 cups of fresh veggies each day.
A sample daily diet could be green leaf lettuce, cilantro, bok choy, and a small amount of kale. I highly recommend checking out this great article about rabbit veggies to put together a safe and healthy diet for your bunnies.
Healthy Rabbit Pellets
Pellets should be a very small amount of your bunny’s diet.
Check out this full article I wrote on the healthiest pellet options for rabbits. I highly recommend checking it out to choose the best pellets for your bunnies.
Rabbits shouldn’t have access to pellets at all times, they should be offered on a limited basis. In general, the maximum recommended amounts for pellets are 1/8 cup for a 2-4 lb rabbit and 1/4 for a 5-7 lb rabbit. Its usually better to feed fewer pellets than more.
Some owners in the past few years have made the choice to eliminate pellets entirely from their rabbits’ diet. You can do more research on this on the House Rabbit Society website. If you choose to not feed pellets, you need to be sure to balance their veggies and hay to be sure they are getting all the nutrition they need.
Treats for Bunnies
My favorite treats for my bunnies are actually just pieces of fresh or dried fruit and veggies. Bunnies absolutely love them and you don’t have to worry too much about them being unhealthy as long as it’s something safe for rabbits.
I also have a few commercial treat options that my bunnies love. The Oxbow Baked Treats and the Oxbow Simple Rewards are my favorites.
Avoid any treats you see marketed for bunnies that have seeds, nuts, or dairy products. Rabbits don’t need these, and they can be unhealthy and dangerous.
Supplements for Rabbits
There aren’t any supplements that rabbits really need on a regular basis. However, there are a few different support tablet options out there if you want to be extra sure your pet is receiving the nutrition they need.
My favorite support tablets for bunnies are from Sherwood Pet Health. I feed my bunnies the digestive support tabs, and occasionally the urinary support tabs. The digestive support tabs are supposed to help keep the digestive system moving smoothly and avoid GI stasis or hairballs.
There are also great support tab options available from Oxbow as well. Some bunnies like these more than the Sherwood tabs since they are formulated more like a treat.
Final Thoughts on the Proper Rabbit Diet
Providing the proper diet to your rabbits is the best way to help them stay happy and healthy! Providing unlimited high-quality hay, fresh veggies every day, a small amount of healthy pellets, and the occasional treat will provide a great nutritional foundation for your bunny!