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What should a rabbits diet be?

If YRR was to give one single piece of advice to new rabbit owners it would be to thoroughly research the correct diet for them. We believe this is the most important part of caring for your rabbits. 

They have a VERY complicated and sensitive
digestive system. Giving them an incorrect diet can quite literally be fatal. The majority of illnesses they experience can stem from a bad diet. 


Where welfare information is constantly improving people still are not researching and rabbits suffer as a consequence of not receiving their natural food. 

This is a big part of why rabbits are such a high maintenance pet and not for the novice or deciding to get them on impulse.

As a guide rabbits need 80% hay, 15% fresh foods and 5% nuggets/treats. 

 

Hay


Why is hay so important? 
Hay contains essential fibre which helps keeps their digestive system moving. Should this stop it becomes an emergency. Rabbits teeth are continuously growing; the long fibres help to keep them worn down and in good shape. Without hay and / or grass their teeth can become overgrown. This can cause ulcers and sores on their tongue and cheeks possibly resulting in them not eating as they should.

Hay essentially is dried grass. Please don't give your rabbits clippings from a cut lawn - these ferment much faster than if it was hand picked and can cause tummy upsets. 
There are many different types of hay; lets look at some of the main ones you will come across: 


Meadow hay is usually a sweet hay and is therefore preferred by your rabbit. It is a better choice if you have a fussy bun who wont eat hay (this is usually due to them not being offered it when they are young).

Timothy hay is the most popular choice with most balanced nutritional benefit. 

Alfalfa hay is better for young rabbits with a higher protein and calcium content. 

You will also see hays mixed with herbs & flowers (forage) and some with dried carrot and apple; these are also good choices to entice your bun to eat hay and also good stimulation as they will have to forage through looking for the tasty parts! If you can get a variety of hays for your rabbits, this will be closer to that of a natural diet as they would have the choice of over 60 species of grass in the wild.

Hay is easy to mix up with straw if you're a newbie, please make sure it is hay you're picking up. Rabbits can eat straw; it wont harm them but it has next to no nutritional value and is primarily used for bedding. Straw is lighter, more yellow in colour than hay and is thicker and hollow.
Placing your hay... rabbits like to toilet at the same time as eating so its a good idea to place your hay in a holder above a litter tray. This is a great litter training aid and will keep the hay from being soiled on and wasted. 
How much hay? Rabbits shouldn't be limited to how much hay they get; it should be constantly there for them to eat. The rule is they would generally eat a ball of hay the size of their bodies daily; but we would always advise just to make sure they always have some. Some rabbits will pick at hay and only eat the best parts so even if they have some left ensure you are topping it up daily. 

Fresh foods / Foraging

Our thinking is rabbits wouldn't naturally have access to loads of vegetables and certainly not fruit. We think overuse of these foods are where the majority of tummy upsets occur. The best fresh foods for your rabbits are those that can be found in your garden; even better they are free! Spring/summer are best times for foraging for these plants. If you enjoy walking or blackberry picking etc you can forage for your bunnies at the same time. Please do your best to ensure you look in areas where pesticides wont have been used. There are a few really good groups on Facebook to help you learn and identify safe plants/flowers/weeds. Also look up 'Twiggs Way' who has a book you can order via RWAF. Please ensure you are confident in the plants you identify as some plants can be toxic!

 

Safe forage:

  • Dandelion (flower/root/leaf)

  • Apple/Pear branches & leaves

  • Plantain

  • Hawthorn

  • Herb Robert

  • Yarrow

  • Bramble (leaf & stem)

  • Willow branches & leaves

  • Sow thistle

  • Dead nettle

  • Nettle (we find they prefer this when dried)

  • Cow Parsley (not to be confused with Hemlock which is highly toxic)

  • Sticky Weed aka Goose Grass
     

Fruit & Vegetables

Rabbits can have a variety of different veg but please be careful how much you feed. Baby rabbits up to 4/5 months old we would suggest only feeding dry foods as their tummies are particularly delicate at this time. Any new foods should be introduced slowly. We no longer feed our rabbits vegetables (opting for natural forage instead).  
Fruit should be considered a treat due to the amount of sugar. Only a very small amount should be fed no more than once a week, if you decide to feed it at all. 

Some safe vegetables are:                                                     

  • Spring greens                                                          

  • Broccoli

  • Parsnip (very sugary, feed sparingly

  • Carrot (very sugary, feed sparingly)

  • Herbs - Basil, Dill, Parsley, Coriander, Mint - Herbs are the only other fresh food we will feed our bunnies

  • Cabbage (gassy)

  • Spinach (high in calcium, feed sparingly)

  • Kale (high in calcium, feed sparingly)

  • Pak Choi

  • Cauliflower (& leaves)

  • Rocket

  • Watercress

  • Dark lettuce leaves (NOT iceberg, feed sparingly)

Pellets/Nuggets

 

Years ago most rabbits were fed muesli - the colourful mixes you see in some pet shops. This is very unhealthy for them for a number of reasons. Rabbits will pick out their favourite bits which results in them not getting all the nutrition they need. It is also full of sugars and things they wouldn't naturally eat. The make up of the food isn't as good at wearing down their teeth because it doesn't contain long fibres. It looks more appealing to us and more fun /tasty for them but its not worth the health issues that comes with it. We would never recommend feeding this. 
Nuggets are the best for them; with each nugget containing balanced nutrition and long hay fibres to help keep their teeth in check. Burgess Excel or Science Selective are two of the main brands you will find.
Rabbits shouldn't be fed solely on this as it can cause weight gain, sticky bums and issues with their teeth. If rabbits are given mainly nuggets on a daily basis they will choose to eat this over hay which can cause the teeth to become overgrown. Our rabbits are given a small handful of this daily. The ideal amount is an eggcup full. Some choose a hay only diet, feeding no nuggets at all which is perfectly fine if it agrees with your bunny and they eat plenty of hay.  But never completely fill their bowl up with nuggets and certainly don't refill once they've eaten as they need to fill up on hay.
We do provide them with a little more over winter as we'd prefer them to carry slightly more weight with them being outdoor.

 

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