Rabbits are social animals. They are cute, clean, quiet, independent, easy-going and most importantly, they are inexpensive pets. They are warm and they easily entertain themselves. Their friendly nature makes them good pets.
In this article, we address the question ‘What do rabbits eat and drink’ and look at all the alternative food options available for you to feed your rabbits.
Rabbits have a digestive organ referred to as the ‘Cecum’ which aids to break down fibre into fats and nutrients. Hence, their diet should consist of 90% of fibre. They can also eat pellets, hay, rabbit flakes and other treats. Water is the best liquid option for rabbits although they drink most liquids.
The Perfect Diet For Rabbits
Rabbits should be fed carefully as they have an extremely sensitive digestive system. Hence, it is important to know what they should and should not eat. This will aid their health, growth, and life span.
It is necessary that Rabbits ingest proper diet as they are at risk of having a serious condition called “gastrointestinal stasis” (which is caused mainly by stress, dehydration, dental problems, urinary tract disorders, an intestinal blockage, insufficient dietary crude fibre.)
It should be kept in mind that their diet is very vital to their health, growth, longevity, and happiness.
Their diet consists majorly of fibre which is broken down into fats and nutrients by an organ called the “Cecum” (a blind sac or paste that comes off the junction of the small and large intestines. It is located where the appendix is in humans.) Food always needs to be made available for them because their teeth are constantly growing and therefore need to be exercised as frequently as possible.
According to the popular carrot myth, it is said that Rabbits love and eat carrots a lot, right? Except, they do not. Rabbits are not in the habit of digging up root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes. Rather, they prefer wild greens such as grasses and clover.
In fact, carrots may be bad for rabbits because although they are high in good nutrients including beta carotene, they are also relatively remarkably high in sugar. Therefore, feeding Rabbits with lots of carrots could lead to tooth decay, obesity, and digestive problems. It should be fed as occasional treats and mainly in small quantities.
All species have nutrient requirements. A rabbit’s basic nutrients are protein, carbohydrate, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water, which is the most important.
Hay should be 80% – 90% of a Rabbit’s diet
Rabbits should be fed with hay all day, every day. The reason why hay is important in their diet is listed below.
- Hay is rich in fibre and contains lots of tender stalks.
- Hay keeps cecal flora in balance- it promotes a healthy gut.
- Hay prevents fur blockage.
- Hay desensitizes rabbits to little changes in smell and texture thereby making them good and consistent eaters.
- Hay encourages natural behaviours such as foraging and grazing which diminishes boredom and provides a sense of security.
Grass hays are best as they are lower in calcium and protein. Others include bluegrass, marsh, orchard, oat, and ryegrass.
Vegetables Should Be 10% of A Rabbit’s Diet
Rabbits love vegetables but not all vegetables are healthy for rabbits as some are toxic due to the fact that they are most times rich in sugar and starch and can give rabbits breathing troubles, cause abdominal sprouts, heart failure and other major discomforts. Therefore, they should be taken in little quantities or they should not be taken at all.
Also, vegetables are mostly full of fibre and contain leaves and stalks reach in water thereby keeping the rabbit hydrated. Vegetables that are safe to eat include celery, brussels sprouts, wheatgrass, carrots, parsley, bell peppers, alfalfa sprouts, parsley, broccoli, spinach.
Poisonous vegetables for rabbits include potato, mushrooms, avocado, rhubarb, kidney beans, iceberg lettuce. Celery and Wheatgrass are especially
Rabbit Pellets should be 5% of a Rabbit’s diet
Pellets are also known as nuggets. They should be grass mature as rabbits are strict herbivores. They should have at least 22% crude fibre, 14% protein, 1% fat, 1.0% calcium.
Rabbits should be fed high-quality pellets as they grow as they get a lot of benefits from it. Pellets contain fibre, nutrients, and calories. There should be no additives such as dried fruits, nuts, or seeds in them as these have no benefits.
Healthy Treats should be 0-5% of a Rabbit’s diet
Treats can be used as a training technique for rabbits. Treats should be limited to 1-2 tablespoons twice a week so as not to raise their sugar levels. Fruits and healthy snacks are good options and the ideal Rabbit treat. Treats, however, affect rabbits differently therefore it is important to monitor rabbits to see the effect and thereby reduce the fruits or snacks accordingly.
Recommended fruits and snacks include apples (remove seeds cause they contain arsenic and may be poisonous), berries, peaches, pineapples, plantain (Plantago) leaves, fresh and dried leaves (marigold, dandelion, peppermint).
Generally, treats whilst not toxic to rabbits, when fed in large quantities can lead to weight gain or cause serious gastrointestinal problems. As with all treats, strawberries should be limited to two tablespoons, chopped. They should not be fed to your pet every day; twice a week is sufficient.
Feeding your Bunnies
Baby rabbits which are referred to as ‘bunnies’, must be fed especially. They require kitten or goat milk and heavy whipped cream to imitate Rabbit’s milk which is extraordinarily rich in calories. It is strongly recommended to add “Achidophilus” in little bits to their formula milk to prevent the risk of unhealthy gut bacteria. Add only in little bits, so that it is not too hard on their tummy.
Take care when feeding a baby rabbit, and do not force milk down their throat. This can cause the liquid to go into the lungs. Instead, if your baby bunny is not receptive to a bottle, which does happen sometimes, try a sterile oral syringe. Once again, be very gentle while feeding a rabbit from a syringe. Let them go at their own pace, and make sure they swallow correctly.
At 7 months, they should be consuming alfalfa (young one’s pellets), then gradually timothy (adult pellets) and oats as they mature.
The Diet of a Rabbit should change as they age
What do rabbits eat and drink as they age? Like most animals, rabbits require a slightly different diet at different stages of their lives. High-quality pellets (ensure that they are at least 18% fibre; the more the better, within reason) should be fed to young rabbits primarily.
As rabbits reach adulthood, offer fewer pellets, and gradually switch them to alfalfa and hay. Young rabbits can get a lot of benefit from rabbit pellets, as they are high in fibre, nutrients, and calories. Adult rabbits can also benefit from pellets to a degree. Feeding an adult rabbit too many pellets can result in obesity. Always feed an adult rabbit 80-90% hay. Rabbits need to be wormed every 3 months from eight weeks of age, with either a spot-on treatment or an oral liquid or paste.
Unhealthy Diet for Rabbits
As much as we now know the right diet for rabbits, it is also important to know what to avoid feeding rabbits with.
- Bread, Pasta and Crackers which are high in carbohydrate produce a lot of sugar and cause “Enterotoxemia”.
- Corn can cause serious indigestion complications.
- Avocados contain a chemical called “persin” which is very harmful.
- Peas being high in sugar and vegetable can be very toxic to Rabbits.
- Eggs, meat, and dairy which are animal products will be difficult to digest as Rabbits are herbivores.
- Chocolate contains “theobromine” which is extremely toxic to Rabbits
- Nuts contain a lot of fat which makes digestion difficult.
- Onions and garlic can cause ‘Harmolytic anaemia or Anaphylactic shock’.
- Yoghurt drops contribute to a lethal case of “enterotoxemia”.
- Apple seeds when consumed in large quantities are toxic.
- Meat, eggs, or diary have disastrous consequences when consumed, as Rabbits are obligate herbivores.
- Cereals such as flaked maize, peas, grains can lead to tooth and tummy problems.
- Iceberg lettuce contains lactucarium, a chemical that can be harmful to the rabbit if ingested.
- Cauliflower causes rabbits to bloat and gassy.
‘Enterotoxemia’ is typically the result when rabbits are fed the wrong diet. Enterotoxemia is a condition whereby there is an excess of harmful bacteria in the intestinal tract of a bunny. If the bacteria go unchecked, this can all too swiftly lead to the shutdown of the Rabbit’s digestive system. This is of course deadly.
Water consumption is essential for Rabbits
It will be inappropriate to conclude this article without emphasising the importance of liquid intake in rabbits.
73% of the body of a rabbit is made of water! That explains their love for drinking water. Rabbits require a lot of water for hydration, to keep the kidney healthy and for longevity. Therefore, clean fresh water should always be made available.
Fluids other than water should not be given to rabbits, especially adult rabbits. However, bunnies can consume liquids such as kitten milk or goat milk.
You now have an idea about what rabbits should eat and drink. Feel free to also treat your rabbits occasionally but ensure that the treats are not toxic fruits or snacks and are given in the right proportions.
Remember, a well-fed rabbit is a healthy and happy rabbit and will make the best pet.