Welfare of rabbits: the need for a suitable diet

A rabbit’s daily diet should consist mainly of large quantities of hay or dried or fresh grass to provide the necessary fibre.

The need for a suitable diet

It is your responsibility to make sure your rabbit is fed a suitable diet. Rabbits are herbivores, they need a diet that is high in fibre to wear down their continuously growing teeth, keep their intestines functioning properly and help prevent them from becoming bored.

A rabbit’s daily diet should consist mainly of large quantities of hay or dried or fresh grass that will provide the necessary fibre for the rabbit. Rabbits should have hay or dried or fresh grass during the day and night.

Green plants and a small amount of high quality specialist rabbit food such as extruded nuggets or high quality pellets should make up the rest of your rabbit’s diet.

Balanced diet

Muesli-type mixtures may be attractive, but you must make sure a balanced diet is eaten because your rabbit may only pick out the ‘tastier’ ingredients, often called selective feeding. You should check that all of the previous meal has been eaten before offering more and any food that is mouldy should be removed as soon as discovered.

Fresh grass can be fed to a rabbit if plucked from the ground, but avoid dirty roadsides or places where the grass may have been treated with pesticides or contaminated with faeces. Lawn mower clippings should not be fed as they can contain metal slivers and oil which can be harmful.

Overfeeding

Obesity, teeth and gut problems in rabbits can be caused by inappropriate diets and overfeeding.

Root vegetables can be given occasionally but, as carrots are especially high in sugar, you should use the carrot tops and a small piece of carrot.

All fruit should be regarded as a treat item and fed in limited quantities as fruit is high in sugar and can lead to gastro-intestinal disturbance as well as causing dental problems.

High-fat or high-carbohydrate foodstuffs should be avoided completely including commercial ‘rabbit treats’, bread, milk, breakfast cereal, nuts, seeds and chocolate.

Do not make any sudden changes to your rabbit’s diet as this could upset its digestive system and make it very ill. Rabbits are very sensitive to any change in their diet so any alterations must be introduced gradually. This is especially so when weaning rabbits and introducing them to green plants.

Green plants

Broccoli, cabbage, parsley, watercress, celery leaves and kale are suitable vegetables for rabbits. Safe wild plants include chickweed, bramble, raspberry, blackberry and strawberry leaves and dandelion. All green foods should be washed and dried. You should not feed any plant to your rabbit unless you are sure of its identity and safety. Many plants can be poisonous to your rabbit.

Changes in the amount your rabbit eats may suggest illness.

Water for rabbits

Your rabbit must always have access to fresh water in either a bowl or a metal-tipped bottle. Both will need cleaning daily. Water bottles must be checked for leaks and air blocks. In cold weather, make sure that the water has not frozen. Water bottles can be insulated to help prevent this. Water bowls should be non-spill.

Cater for your rabbit's preference by using a water bowl or water bottle. It is best to use whatever your rabbit is familiar with. If the water is presented in a new way, your rabbit may refuse to drink and become dehydrated.

Healthy weight

Your rabbit should not be too fat or too thin. Ideally you should easily be able to feel its ribs. Adjust how much you feed your rabbit to make sure that it does not become over or underweight. Rabbits should be weighed regularly to assess any increases or decreases in weight as rabbits that are over or under weight may suffer.

Other dietary needs

Sometimes rabbits have different dietary needs, such as when they are recovering from an illness, or if they are pregnant, or experiencing cold weather. Your vet or qualified pet care specialist will be able to advise you about this.

Housing, disease, normal behaviour

Find out more about housing rabbits, normal behaviour patterns and protecting them from pain, injury and disease:

More useful links

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