by Nancy J. LaRoche
Copyright 2001 - All Rights Reserved
(May be copied for free distribution)
As the House Rabbit Society continues to collect data, and to enlist the interest of veterinarians in their beloved companions, we are learning more and more about keeping them healthy and increasing their longevity. Within the past few years, it has been determined that there are better diets than those previously recommended. This version of “Your Rabbits’ Diet” offers the latest in what we know about the ideal diet for your rabbits.
Explanation Of Terms
Hay and Straw
Straw has few nutrients; it is used as bedding and high-fiber chewing material. Hay is nutritious and high in fiber; it is the fundamental part of the rabbit’s diet. There are two types of hay, grass hay and legume hay.
- » Grass hays include oat, barley, wheat, brome, orchard, etc. They are just what the word says: grass - long, pieces of grass
- » Legume hays have leaves; they include alfalfa and clover. Legume hays are higher in calcium and calories than grass hays
- Stock-Rabbit Pellets and Companion Rabbit Pellets
- » Stock-rabbit pellets are designed for stock rabbits where rapid weight gain is desired, are high in calories, and relatively low in fiber. These (and show-rabbit pellets) were designed for rabbits up to the age of three years. Stock pellets (such as Manna Pro’s “Double Duty,” Purina’s “Complete,” and Kaytee’s “Rainbow Exact.”) are good for young, growing bunnies, but generally not for adult rabbits. Besides causing obesity, they cause many rabbits to develop an overproduction of cecal droppings, which are soft and smelly, and stick to the rabbit, creating a nasty mess and are often the primary material in stomach blockages.
- » Companion-rabbit pellets is a generic term for pellets designed for companion rabbits. They are formulated for health and longevity. Oxbow’s “Bunny Basics” line is an example of these pellets. “Bunny Basics 15/23” is ideal for growing companion rabbits. “Bunny Basics T” is used for adult rabbits. Use BB-T for your adult rabbit unless instructed by a veterinarian to use a higher calorie pellet.
Diet for Rabbits 6 Weeks to Adulthood
- Always present:
- » Fresh water
- » Alfalfa hay (avoid mold - mold on hay causes sclerosis of the liver, leading to death)
- » Alfalfa pellets
- » One papaya tablet once or twice a day. These are available from:
- o The Colorado House Rabbit Society (303- 469-3240)
- o Oxbow (1-800-249-0366)
- o Health-food stores
- o Some grocery stores
- » Vegetables in small amounts beginning at 8 weeks of age -
introduce these one at a time for three days before introducing another - see our list of safe vegetables.
Diet For Adult Rabbits
A good diet provides good nutrition and maintains appropriate body weight. Weigh adult rabbits once every two months until you know what they need to maintain ideal weight. It is extremely important for rabbits to maintain proper weight! Obesity kills!
- Always present:
- » Fresh water
- » Grass hay
- o Alfalfa has more calories and calcium; use it only if rabbit needs extra calories to maintain good weight (alfalfa is also high in protein which is hard on the kidneys)
- o mold in hay will cause sclerosis of the liver leading to death; avoid moldy hay!
- o rabbits should never be without hay;
- » A small quantity of companion rabbit pellets such as Oxbow’s “Bunny Basics T” (see package for recommended amounts and modify as needed to maintain ideal weight - a good rabbit veterinarian can help you determine what that weight should be)
- o Use pellets to maintain weight—give more to younger, active adults who need more calories; give less to older, less active ones, who need fewer
- o After rabbits are 3 yrs old, give them half of their pellets in the morning, and half in the evening. This will help prevent blockages.
- » One papaya tablet twice a day (double or triple when shedding heavily)
- » Three different vegetables, one crunchy, two leafy - one should be a source of vitamin A - see our list of safe vegetables.
Treats For Rabbits
Fruits and grains are high in carbohydrates and sugars, which can cause serious digestive upsets. However, given in tiny quantities as treats, they delight rabbits (as candy does children), and most rabbits will tolerate them. Avoid dried fruits. The sugars are too concentrated, and it is easy to give too much.
- » Things we usually think of as fruit are safe - apples, peaches, pears, grapes, bananas, oranges, rhubarb stalks, etc. Some things which are technically a fruit, such as avocado are not safe!
- o Apple seeds contain toxins which eventually poison rabbits
- o give no more than ½ teaspoon per pound of body weight per day (no earlier than 12 weeks of age)
- » Rolled oats or barley
- o Avoid grain treats if your rabbit tends to have any kind of digestive problems
- o give no more than ½ teaspoon per pound of body weight per day (no earlier than 12 weeks)
- » Unsugared whole-grain cereals such as Corn Chex, Cheerios, and bite-sized Shredded Wheat
- » Dried whole-grain bread and whole-grain crackers
Papaya tablets contain enzymes that help digest the material hold hair together in the rabbit's stomach. With the papaya enzymes digesting this material, the hair is free to pass through the rabbit's system. Many veterinarians say there is no scientific proof that enzymes prevent or cure hairballs. To date we are unaware of any controlled experiments done to prove or disprove papayas effectiveness for this purpose. However, the enormous amount of data collected by the House Rabbit Society does statistically prove that hairballs are prevented and treatable with these enzymes.
To introduce papaya tablets to your rabbit, crumble a few over the rabbit's pellets until the rabbit recognizes them when you offer them from your hand. They become one of almost rabbit's favorite treats. If your rabbit continues to refuse them after several weeks, try another flavor.
- Rabbits are herbivores whose digestive systems are unsuited to digesting any animal products, such as milk, cheese, meat, etc.
- Cat and dog food is unsuitable for rabbits. How bad it is for them depends on the specific food and how much of it the rabbit eats. In general, don’t give them foods intended for dogs or cats. If the rabbit “snitches” a bite, don't panic, however take steps to protect the rabbit from a similar mistake in the future.
- Candy intended for human consumption should never be given to rabbits, primarily because of the sugars.
- Salty, sugary, or fatty snacks intended for people should never be fed to rabbits. They contain no nutrients, encourage bad eating habits, and cause obesity and intestinal upset.
- There is no evidence to suggest chocolate is harmful to rabbits. However, most chocolate products are sugar-rich and thus, should be avoided.
WARNING: Never feed “gourmet” types of pellets with grains, seeds, etc. in them. Bunnies eat the "goodies,” ignore the pellets, and become malnourished.
WARNING: Never give “Yogurt Drops” or the “ropes” of grains and seeds found in pet stores. Either of these could lead to the sudden death of your rabbit. Pet stores are in business to make money, not to provide what is good for your companions!