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Rabbit advice: Feeding your rabbit

What should I feed my pet rabbit?

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As a rough guide, about 70% of the diet should be hay/grass, 28% vegetables and only 2% pellets or nuggets, which is about 1-2 tablespoons a day for an average rabbit.

Feeding rabbits is actually simple and straightforward. The best diet for rabbits is one that mimics their natural grass-based diet in the wild as closely as possible. This means they should be fed unlimited good quality hay or grass, and some leafy green vegetables and herbs, which can be supplemented with a small measured amount of nuggeted or pelleted feed in an amount recommended by the manufacturer. Treats should be kept to a minimum, but if they are fed they should be healthy and natural. Fresh drinking water must always be available.
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Grass and hay

The bulk of the diet of the pet rabbit should consist of grass (fresh or freeze-dried) and / or good quality meadow / timothy hay which is available at all times. 

More about grass and hay

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Green foods

Green plants are a useful way to provide variety, some nutrients, water and some dental wear, but as they are generally 90-95% water and often relatively low in fibre excessively large amounts would need to be consumed to fulfill daily needs. 

More about green foods

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Commercial feed and muesli

When rabbits are fed mixed feeds, many only eat certain components meaning they get an unbalanced diet, with an insufficient intake of fibre, protein, calcium and phosphorous.

More about commercial feed and muesli

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Treats and supplements

High fat or starchy treats should be avoided as they can lead to obesity and digestive upsets. If the correct treats are chosen, they provide your rabbits with an extra source of fibre.


More about treats and supplements


Why is the right diet important?

We know from scientific studies that feeding an incorrect diet, one that is low in fibre and high in carbohydrate, is directly linked to the development of dental disease, gastrointestinal disease, obesity and behavioural problems. In recent years pet food manufacturers have responded to the need for better diets for pet rabbits, but in fact the vast majority of a rabbit’s diet should not come out of a packet.

Fibre is vital for healthy teeth. To cope with an abrasive tough diet, rabbit teeth grow continuously throughout life, and eating a high fibre diet with the right mineral balance helps keep them at the correct length and shape. If they don’t eat enough fibrous food or have a diet with an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus the teeth get too long, change shape and develop painful spikes and spurs. Periodontal infection can also develop which can lead to large abscesses. These conditions develop on the back or cheek teeth, used for chewing and grinding food, and are impossible to check without the use of special dental equipment as a veterinary procedure. Any rabbit that is not eating well or stops altogether must be checked by a vet for dental disease.

In summary, feeding the correct diet to rabbits not only provides the right nutrition, but fulfills their behavioural needs to spend a large part of their time eating, and maximises health and welfare by helping to prevent a wide variety of commonly seen diseases.

Eating habits

Feeding takes place mainly in the early morning, evening and at night – this is because in the wild this is when the rabbit is safest from predators, and many owners notice this pattern in their pet rabbits. Rabbits will spend about 6-8 hours a day eating and the rest of the time they will be safe from predators underground digesting the food.

While feeding, a rabbit is potentially always alert and on the look out for predators, so along with its acute hearing it uses its large eyes on the side of its head to get a wide field of vision. It can’t actually see what it’s eating under its nose and instead relies on smell and feel to detect its food. The characteristic long powerful hind legs and lightweight skeleton mean it can make a sudden rapid sprint to the safety of the burrow to escape a predator if needed.

Rabbits do not need lots of variety from day to day and sudden changes in diet must be avoided, as this can upset the delicate balance of bacteria in the hindgut and lead to diarrhoea due to the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Any change in diet should be made gradually over several days or weeks, starting with small amounts of the new item and gradually increasing them, at the same time making a corresponding decrease in the unwanted item if necessary.

When purchasing a rabbit it is important that the rabbit’s past diet is known so that any changes can be introduced gradually. A sudden change in diet and a lack of fibre, combined with the stress of movement, is a significant cause of disease and death in young rabbits over the period of weaning; for example, when moving to a pet shop or a new owner.

Digestive system

Rabbits are hindgut-fermenting herbivores with a specialised digestive tract which is large and very complex. Food passes rapidly through the gut and is sorted into the digestible parts that are useful, and the indigestible parts which do not provide nutrition, but nevertheless are still important for healthy gut and teeth function. The rabbit’s gut sorts out and expels the long fibrous indigestible parts very quickly – these are passed out frequently as hard dry droppings. It retains the digestible parts in a part of the hindgut called the caecum where it is fermented to provide energy and nutrients by ‘good’ bacteria and other micro-organisms.

Rabbits also eat caecotrophs, which are soft packets of partially digested food, bacteria and bacterial products including vitamins from the caecum, that are expelled from the gut mainly at night. These caecotrophs are an essential normal part of the rabbit’s feeding strategy, and are normally never seen as the rabbit bends down between its legs and eats them directly as they emerge.

Even though they can’t digest much of the fibre they eat, it is very important to stimulate gut motility. The production of plenty of good-sized dry droppings is a good sign that the rabbit gut is moving properly, but if fewer, small or abnormally shaped droppings are seen or if they stop completely, that is a sign of gastrointestinal disease, as is diarrhoea. If sticky caecotrophs are seen around the back end of the rabbit that means that it is not eating them for some reason, which is abnormal and needs veterinary investigation.