Diet and Nutrition
Just like people, rabbits need the proper diet and nutrition to help them live a long and healthy life.
Rabbits need access to fresh, clean water at all times. Use a sturdy ceramic water bowl or a water bottle that attaches to the cage. Be sure to change the water two or three times a day to prevent bacteria from building up.
Rabbits are herbivores with an unusually practical system for processing food. They are built with a gastrointestinal system designed to foster survival on large quantities of grasses and leaves — the foods most readily and safely available in the wild. Rabbits produce what are called cecotropes, a special dropping made from the gastrointestinal system that extracts the most important nutrients from their food. Cecotropes are dropped from the anus and then rabbits eat them. It is important to understand that these droppings are not made from waste, but from organisms rich with nutrients. This process allows rabbits to live off of diets that would otherwise not supply the energy they need to survive. Cecotropes are easy to distinguish from waste droppings. They are a green, long dropping with a strong odor.
Your rabbit’s diet should consist of grass hay, green foods and some other fruits and vegetable. Grass hay should be available in your rabbit’s cage at all times throughout the its life. It provides much of the vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber rabbits need as well as the building blocks for the micro-organisms that create cecotropes. It also helps prevent many diseases. Grass hays generally come from oat, rye, barley, timothy, meadow or Bermuda grasses. They are preferred over legume hays because they are lower in calories and will help prevent your pet from becoming overweight. You can get hay for your rabbit from local vet clinics, horse barns, feed stores or rabbit clubs.
Please note: Do not feed your rabbit straw. It does not contain the nutrients that rabbits need.
Green foods are another fundamental component in your pet rabbit’s diet. They offer a similar range of nutrients as hay, but different micronutrients that rabbits need. Greens are also appropriate to rabbits of any age and help supply water when rabbits forget to drink. This keeps your bunny’s kidneys and bladder functioning normally. Feed your rabbit a variety of greens a day, preferably two or three, to get the best mix of micronutrients. If possible, buy organic greens to prevent exposure to harmful chemicals from pesticides. The best greens are those with a deep color, such as collard greens or chickory, not iceberg lettuce. Other greens your bunny will savor include broccoli (leaves and tops), dandelion greens and flowers, Brussels sprouts, celery leaves, bok choy, basil, swiss chard, parsley, water cress, endive, mustard greens, escarole, kale and carrot or beet tops.
On a limited basis, rabbits can also be served some fruits and other vegetables. However, these items should not make up the majority of your rabbit’s diet because they do not provide enough nutrition and are generally more caloric than hay and greens. Fruits you can use to supplement the diet are kiwi, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, blackberries, blueberries, pears, peaches, papaya, apples, mango and melons. Other vegetables you can serve on a limited basis are carrots, squash, bean or alfalfa sprouts and any organically grown edible flowers.
There are some foods that you should avoid because of their high fat or starch content. They include seeds, nuts, corn, wheat and other grains, peas, cereals, breads, any kind of beans and chocolate. Rabbits will eat these foods if they are provided, so just eliminate them from your pet’s diet. Some people also prefer to supplement hay with commercial rabbit pellets. However, these products tend to be high in calorie and low in protein and fiber, which can cause indigestion and weight gain. If possible, feed your rabbit a healthy diet with hay, greens and limited fruits and vegetables.
Because cecotropes are so effective at supplying rabbits with all the vitamins and minerals they need, pet rabbits do not need any additional supplements.