Rabbits should be fed the types of food they are adapted to eating. In the wild, rabbits eat predominantly grass. They may graze for up to 6-8 hours a day. Their whole digestive tract from their teeth right down to the end of their gastrointestinal tract is adapted to this diet and eating habit.
Providing grass or grass hay to pet rabbits is critical to maintain health. Eating grass/grass hay provides for long periods of chewing which is necessary to wear down their continuously erupting and growing teeth thereby helping to prevent dental disease (which is a common health problem in pet rabbits).
Rabbits are also intelligent animals and chewing on grass or grass hay helps to keep them occupied and prevent boredom. The high fibre content of grass and grass hay is also crucial for normal digestion. If the diet is too low in fibre, fatal digestive problems can occur - another common problem in pet rabbits. Feeding the right diet is one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy rabbit.
To ensure your rabbit has a healthy balanced diet, you should:
- Provide a constant supply of good quality fresh grass and grass hay (they should comprise about 80% of the overall diet) - e.g. Timothy, Oaten, Wheaten, Pasture, Paddock, Meadow or Ryegrass hays. Rabbits should not be fed Lucerne (alfalfa) or Clover hays as they are too high in protein and calcium. Grass or grass hay is paramount in providing sufficient fibre for gastrointestinal health and encouraging chewing for long periods of time for healthy teeth.
- Provide plenty of fresh leafy greens & vegetables. As a guide, feed around two packed cups of leafy greens per kg body weight per day. Some examples are vegetables such as broccoli, celery, endive, beet/carrot tops, brussel sprouts, spinach leaves, bok choy, other Asian greens, dark leafed lettuce varieties and herbs such as parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill, and mint.
- Treats may be offered in small quantities (1-2 tablespoons per rabbit per day). Examples include most fruits, root vegetables such as carrot and sweet potato and capsicum.
- High quality commercial rabbit pellets with a minimum crude fibre >18% (Indigestible fibre content >12.5%) may be offered in small quantities only, but should not form the main part of the diet.
- Avoid cereal/grain mixes.
- Providing other objects to chew on is also a good idea such as wooden chew blocks or old telephone books.
- Aim to keep feeds and feeding habits consistent. Any changes to the diet must be made gradually (over a 2-3 week period) to minimise digestive upsets.
- Always have fresh clean water available.
- Do NOT feed the following: cereals, grains, nuts, seeds, corn, beans, peas, breads, biscuits, sweets, sugar, breakfast cereals, chocolate or any garden plants that are toxic to rabbits (see links below).
For more information please see the following useful links: Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) at http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/ RWAF diet pamphlet at http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/resources/content/leaflet_pdfs/going_green_oct_06.pdf