Feeding rabbits

It's an absolute myth that rabbits can survive on a diet of rabbit food with the occasional carrot. Hay and grass should make up the bulk of your rabbit's diet — around 85 per cent. A rabbit should in theory eat his own bodyweight in hay and grass every day. This should be scattered around freely in his environment so that it is always readily available.

Hay provides the essential fibre your rabbit needs and will also keep his teeth worn properly. Use a variety of different types of meadow hay, ensuring it is fresh and green, not dry and dusty. Ideally allow your rabbit to graze on your lawn or pick fresh grass for him to munch on from your garden. Don't feed your rabbit grass clippings.

Feeding your rabbit fresh fruit and vegetables

Fresh leafy greens and vegetables should also be offered every day. Mallow, plantain, dandelion and even nettles can all be collected for your rabbit from your garden to provide an interesting and varied diet. Look out in hedgerows for blackberry brushes and even pick out a few rose heads and raspberry leaves to keep his diet varied and interesting. Avoid picking weeds and plants from grass verges, which may have been sprayed with pesticides, and wash all the fresh food thoroughly before eating.

Vegetables including spring greens, broccoli and herbs can also be offered, remember though to keep it varied and interesting for your rabbit. A very small amount of fruit like grapes and apple make a nice treat for your rabbit, as can a carrot. These are all quite high in sugar so should be fed in small amounts - approx half a cm cube.

What plants are poisonous to rabbits?

Below are a list of the plants that are known to be poisonous to rabbits:

  • Beech (Fagus Syvatica)
  • Box (Boxus Sempervirens)
  • Christmas Rose (Helleborus Niger) 
  • Daffodils 
  • Hyacinth 
  • Ivy berries 
  • Lobelia 
  • Potato tops 
  • Pivet 
  • Rhubarb leaves 
  • Scarlet Runner 
  • Tulip 
  • Yew

Feeding rabbit pellets

In addition to a fresh diet and ad lib (available at all times) hay, rabbits should be offered a small bowl of pelleted rabbit food every day to ensure he is receiving all the vitamins and minerals he needs. Richard Saunders, BSc(Hons), BVSc, MSB, CBiol, DZooMed (Mammalian), MRCVS says: “A rabbit mix or pellets should only make up a small amount of your rabbit's overall diet as he will be unable to get all the fibre he needs from this alone. Be cautious of rabbits ‘selectively feeding’ if using a mix as they will be ingesting too much of one thing and not enough of others. Pelleted mixes rather than the muesli-style foods will often be the better option.”

Using food to enrich your rabbit's environment

You can use your rabbit's food to help enrich his environment too. Marie Channer, head of small animals welfare at Wood Green, says: “Place food everywhere in your rabbit's environment; fill paper bags with a variety of food and hay, place it in plant pots, scatter it around and use hanging baskets too.” 

Doing this will provide both entertainment for your rabbit and encourage him to eat. Hanging up blackberry branches can also encourage your rabbit to stretch up as he would do in the wild.

How much do rabbits drink? 

Rabbits should have access to fresh drinking water at all times. It can be provided in a heavy-bottomed bowl or from a drinker bottle. Water should be checked regularly during the day and changed every day to ensure that it is fresh.

Feeding an older rabbit

Older rabbits may benefit from slightly more pelleted food in their diet as they age. Ensure that the food has the highest fibre content possible. Chopping up the greens and vegetables may also help him to digest his food better. The same amount of hay and grass should continue to be offered.

How can you tell if your rabbit's diet is healthy?

It's all in the poo! Your rabbit's droppings should be round and large. If the droppings are small and dry it may indicate that your rabbit needs more fibre in his diet. You can try changing the hay you are feeding and vary the different greens and vegetables, introducing any new foods one at a time until your rabbit is producing the perfect droppings!

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