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What should I feed my pet rabbits?

Feeding the right diet is one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy rabbit. 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 pattern.

Providing grass or grass hay to pet rabbits is critical to maintain health. Eating grass/grass hay encourages long periods of chewing, which is necessary to wear down their continuously growing teeth, thereby helping to prevent dental disease (a common health problem in pet rabbits).

The high fibre content of grass and grass hay is crucial for normal digestion. If the diet is too low in fibre, fatal digestive problems can occur – another common problem in pet rabbits. Foraging for and chewing on grass or grass hay also helps to increase activity levels and prevent boredom and behavioural problems [1].

To ensure your rabbits have a healthy balanced diet, you should:

  • Provide a constant supply of good quality fresh grass and grass hay (this 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, which could lead to the formation of urinary stones [2].
  • Provide plenty of fresh leafy greens & vegetables (10-20% of overall diet). 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. Note that carrot should not be fed in large quantities.
  • Give about 1 tablespoon/kg of pellets with a minimum crude fibre >18% (Indigestible fibre content >12.5%) (no more than 5% of overall diet) and ensure the pellets are formulated for pet/domestic rabbits and not for commercial rabbit farming purposes [3]. Rabbits can get by without pellets as long as hay and fresh green vegetables are given every day.
  • Avoid cereal/grain mixes (such as rabbit mix muesli) as these can encourage selective feeding, nutritional imbalance and obesity [1, 4].
  • Providing other objects to chew on is also a good idea. Examples include 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 unlimited fresh clean water available. Rabbits prefer open dishes (bowls) over bottled drinkers as lapping from a dish is more natural and encourages greater water intake [5].
  • 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 https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/ RWAF diet pamphlet at https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-diet or https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/RWAbrochuremaster.pdf under ‘Chapter three’.

References

[1] Prebble, J.L., Langford, F.M., Shaw, D.J, Meredith, A.L. (2015). The effect of four different feeding regimes on rabbit behaviour. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 169, 86-92.

[2] Clauss, M., Burger, B., Liesegang, A., et al (2012). Influence of diet on calcium metabolism, tissue calcification and urinary sludge in rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Journal of Animal Physiology Animal Nutrition, 96 (5), 798–807.

[3] Clauss M., Hatt J. M. (2017). Evidence-based rabbit housing and nutrition. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, 20(3), 871–84.

[4] Harcourt-Brown, F. M. (1996) Calcium deficiency, diet and dental disease in pet rabbits. Veterinary Record, 139, 567-571.

[5] Tschudin, A., Clauss, M., Codron, D. et al (2011). Water intake in domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) from open dishes and nipple drinkers under different water and feeding regimes. Journal of Animal Physiology Animal Nutrition, 95, 499–511.

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Updated on April 30, 2019
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https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-should-i-feed-my-pet-rabbits/

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