This article will provide a basic overview of each part of the diet. In Part One we will address pellets, hay and water. In Part Two we’ll talk about vegetables, supplements and treats. Rabbits are crepuscular, which means that they are most active at dawn and dusk. Many caregivers find that feeding their rabbit at these times fits well with their work schedule, but all rabbits, and people, are different. Some rabbits eat only pellets in the morning and vegetables in the evening; others graze throughout the day. Your rabbit’s individual needs and your lifestyle will dictate their feeding schedule. However, rabbits should never go more than 24 hours without eating. (If you rabbit stops eating, consider it a medical emergency and seek professional veterinary assistance immediately.)
Pellets Almost all rabbits require a high quality pellet unless they are elderly or cannot tolerate alfalfa. Choose a national brand to ensure consistency in ingredients and portions. Major feed producers are more stringently and regularly tested for quality control. Avoid buying pellets from pet stores and grocery stores because their bags may sit longer in the warehouse and become stale. Pellets should contain 16-20% crude fiber and 14-16% protein. Commercial pellets were originally intended for breeding rabbits or those raised for meat or fur, so they are loaded with calcium and calories.
House rabbits are generally living longer and just don’t have the same nutritional requirements as breeding rabbits, so care must be taken to feed them for longevity. Bunnies should be able to eat all the pellets they want up to eight months of age, then pellets should be rationed. How much you feed your rabbit daily depends on their size and ideal weight: 2-4 pounds = 1/8 cup 5-7 pounds = ¼ cup 8-10 pounds = ½ cup 11-15 pounds = ¾ cup Rabbits who are trying to lose weight or who have special needs may require different amounts. For example, rabbits that get regular exercise may tolerate extra calories; a rabbit with a disability that cannot burn off the calories as quickly would need fewer pellets. If you change brands, mix the new pellets with the old for a gradual change. Avoid the so-called “gourmet” pellets containing dried fruits, nuts or vegetables.
This is nothing but junk food and can cause fatty liver and kidney disease. Never feed pellets with antibiotics added; your rabbit may become desensitized to the medication and be unable to combat disease. If pellets become moldy, bug infested or stale, discard them. Most people recommend buying no more than a six-week supply at a time, but they can be stored in the freezer to extend their shelf life. Hay The importance of eating hay cannot be emphasized enough. Rabbits have long digestive tracts that slowly break down and process cellulose in the form of tough, woody stems and fibrous vegetation. Their systems function best when they have something with which to work.
Therefore, the key to keeping rabbits alive and happy longer is to make sure their digestive tracts stay viable and motile, while balancing between indigestible fiber and nutrition. Coastal and timothy hay can be fed in unlimited quantities. Alfalfa is high in calcium and calories and should be fed sparingly. Some people liken the taste difference between alfalfa and timothy as chocolate versus lettuce. Most rabbits love alfalfa. My three year-old mini-lop gets a small basket of alfalfa once a week, and free feeds on timothy the rest of the time.
Hay is cheap and readily available at most feed stores, or can be ordered via mail from Oxbow Hay. Other types of hay such as brome or orchard grass can be fed for variety. Water Rabbits should always have access to a supply of fresh, clean water. Some prefer to drink from bottles; others like to lap it up from a bowl. Either utensil should be washed with hot, soapy water at least once a week. Bottles should hold no less than 16 ounces of water per rabbit.
Any less and they may run dry while you’re at work, and any more will sit stagnant before it is consumed. It is a good idea to find out what’s in your city water supply and how much calcium it contains. If you are concerned that your rabbit is getting too much calcium, provide bottled water instead of tap water.