Rabbits belong to a group of animals known as herbivores. All herbivores subsist almost entirely on a diet of plant material. As they belong to the group of herbivores known grazers, rabbits eat plenty of food almost the entire time they are awake. You should also know that rabbits have very sensitive digestive tracts, and even relatively minor changes to your rabbit’s diet can lead to adverse health problems.
What Rabbits Eat in the Wild?
Today there are over 300 species of domesticated rabbits compared to only about 30 wild species. While selective breeding of domestic rabbits has caused some considerable differences between them and wild rabbits, their biology and behavior are very similar. Understanding the eating habits of rabbits in the wild will help you decide on the best diet for your pet rabbit.
On the main, wild rabbits eat green and dry grasses complemented with a variety of green herbs and miscellaneous plant matter such as shoots, dandelion greens, and flowers. A wild rabbit’s diet may also include small insects, seeds, fruits, grains, and even tree bark. Although, as such, plant materials contain very little nutritional value, wild rabbits have to feed often and in relatively large amounts compared to their body sizes.
Wild rabbits are crepuscular, meaning they are mostly active in the hours right after dusk and right before dawn. They rarely stray too far from their burrows to find food. Unlike many other herbivores, they are not gregarious; they rarely live or graze in groups. Once they have identified a suitable place to feed, wild rabbits spend between half an hour to an hour feeding on that spot before moving on.
Feeding Your Rabbits
When it comes to feeding your domesticated rabbits, you should forget everything you have seen about what they feed rabbits on pop culture and kids shows. Carrots and lettuce are not the most important or favorite items in a rabbit’s diet.
It is especially important to keep in mind that rabbits are very versatile animals in terms of behavior, including their dietary habits. Rabbits have to adapt their diet and feeding hours to avoid predators in the wild. Pet rabbits do not have such concerns, of course. Provided there is suitable food available; your pet rabbit will munch away most of the time while it is awake, whether at night or during the day.
Babies Versus Adults
Baby rabbits have different nutritional requirements compared to adults. Suckling babies get most of their nutrients from their mother’s milk and can only eat fresh vegetables and soft grass shoots. As they grow older, diversify food to ensure they are getting a balanced diet with all essential nutrients, minerals, and vitamins they need for a healthy life.
A young rabbit who is not nursing should be given an unlimited supply of rabbit pellets on top of copious amounts of fresh hay. Once they are over seven months old though, you should consult your veterinarian on whether you should start limiting the supply of pellets and hay. What constitutes a healthy diet for adult rabbits depends on factors such as their general state of health, activity, and if they are under any form of medical treatment.
Here is a look at the various kinds of food you should feed your pet rabbit to ensure they have a balanced diet of all the nutrients they need:
Grass Hay, Your Rabbit’s Staple Diet
Wild rabbits feed almost exclusively on fresh and dry grass. As such, grass hay should be the foundational level on which to build your pet rabbit’s diet pyramid. Grass hay varieties such as timothy, orchard grass, oat, and brome contain the long-stemmed fiber necessary to keep the guts of your pet rabbit healthy. On the other hand, alfalfa hay is a legume, not a grass, and may cause adverse health problems for your rabbit.
The most important factor to keep in mind is that the grass should be as fresh as possible when it comes to hays. The grass stems should lo0ok and smell fresh. Any signs of damage such as moldy smell or dark spots should serve as a warning that such hay could cause your rabbit digestive problems.
Fruits and Vegetables
Depending on the local environment, a wild rabbit’s diet will include a motley supply of fruits and vegetables on top of the grasses and shoots they mostly subsist on. These include leafy greens as well as wild fruits, berries, and seeds.
Domestic rabbits should be fed vegetables and fruits which are as close or identical to what is available in the wild as possible. Since such items as carrots do not grow in the wild, they should only be treated in limited quantities and occasionally. Carrots have plenty of sugar, and too much of them can lead to your rabbit gaining too much body weight.
Leafy green vegetables are great for supplementing the dietary needs of your domesticated rabbits. Give these greens in small quantities and after ascertaining that the rabbit has taken enough hay for the day. The most recommended choices include such dark leafy greens as romaine lettuce, mustard greens, carrot tops, bok choy, cilantro, broccoli greens, beet greens, basil, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, and watercress.
While not outright harmful to rabbits, some leafy greens should be fed sparingly and not as part of your rabbit’s daily diet. These include kale, dandelion greens, collard, and Swiss chard. These have an inordinately high amount of calcium, and excess feeding may cause your bunny to develop kidney stones.
As intimated previously in this guide, only baby rabbits should be given an unlimited supply of rabbit pellets. An average-sized adult rabbit that is one weighing between six and ten pounds should be fed about a quarter-cup worth of pellets daily. If you have a bunny weighing more than ten pounds, you can provide more than a quarter cup of pellets but not by much. Pellets and other treats should not dominate your bunny’s diet.
Timothy hay pellets are best for adult rabbits. They should also be given to younger rabbits. However, rabbits younger than one year can still occasionally feed alfalfa pellets.
Domesticated rabbits need to stay well hydrated. Therefore, you should ensure that there is an unlimited supply of freshwater for your rabbits. Using a heavy ceramic bowl as a water container is highly recommended as it is a lot harder for the rabbits to tip over. Throw out the water remaining in the container at the end of the day and replenish it with a fresh supply. You should also clean the bowl with clean water and soap at least every couple of days.
Quick Tips for a Healthy Rabbit’s Diet
Here are some quick tips to keep in mind to ensure you are giving your bunnies a nourishing and healthy diet:
- Recommended hays should constitute the major component of your rabbit’s dietary needs
- Feed your bunnies only small quantities of pellets
- Feed your bunnies fruits and vegetables once or twice per week
- Treats with high-calorie content should be given sparingly
- Ensure your rabbit has adequate fresh water to drink daily
Foods to Avoid Giving as Rabbit Food
The following is a list of all the foods and treats that you should not be given to rabbits as food:
- All items considered as treats by humans (chocolate, cookies, candy, etc.)
- Sugary foods
- Dried fruit
Rabbits are some of the most friendly domestic animals you can raise even with limited space at home. Their dietary needs are limited to plant materials which is very different compared to more common pets such as dogs and cats. With all our in-depth guidelines, tips, and recommendations, you should be able to raise your rabbit into a healthy, happy, and adorable specimen of hopping bunny goodness.