Calling all Rabbit lovers and owners alike! Have you recently switched your rabbit’s diet during the romaine shortage? Have you ever wondered what a healthy and balanced diet looks like for your little bunny? First time exotic pet owner and just want what’s best for them? At Erindale Animal Hospital we love your little bunnies just as much as you and care about their diet too. Rabbit diets are carefully made to ensure your bunny receives all the essential nutrients necessary for them to live a long and healthy lifestyle. We have formulated a guideline for a well-balanced diet and cannot wait to share it with you and your little bun. These tips will provide you with all the tools necessary to keep your bunny healthy, ESPECIALLY during the romaine shortage.
Healthy and Balanced Rabbit diet:
Unlimited timothy hay – high in fiber to promote digestion and keep the gut filled with healthy populations of good bacteria. Should be the bulk of a rabbit’s diet (70-80%) and should ALWAYS be available. Timothy hay is broken down and converted to nutrients for your rabbit by a host of healthy bacteria making a population called a microbiome. High fibre hay also helps keep your rabbit engaged in grinding of their teeth when they chew to keep your rabbits’ teeth healthy! Allow your rabbit to forage for the hay by hanging it in feeders, leaving some around the hutch and some hidden in logs/hiding areas
Why can’t I feed Alfalfa hay instead?
Unlike Timothy hay, Alfalfa hay is a bloating grass. It is rapidly fermented by your rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract, producing excess gas, bloating and predisposing them to urinary issues such as bladder stones from calcium buildup.
Pellets – Pellets are high in carbohydrates and digested rapidly by the gastrointestinal tract; they should be fed in small quantities per day to provide essential carbohydrates and micronutrients not found in Timothy hay. Large volumes cause gas build up, GI issues, obesity and reduces healthy behaviors such as foraging due to their convenience. They should only receive about 2-4 tsp per day pending body weight
1/8 – ¼ cup per day per 5 lbs of body weight (ex a 2.2 kg bunny would receive about ¼ cup per day)
Leafy green herbs and vegetables – parsley, cilantro, mint, dill, romaine lettuce. These vegetables all have a high-water content to provide good hydration to your bunny as well as a lot of essential vitamins and minerals while keeping the gastrointestinal population happy with good bacteria. Leafy greens are high in beta-carotene which rabbits can use to efficiently be converted to a source of vitamin A for your bunny. These veggies are non-bloating and low in carbohydrates to keep their guts functioning and moving. Although healthy for your rabbit, these should be fed as a supplement with Timothy hay and not as a replacement.
Treats – Rabbit treats should be given in small quantities and given only once in a while. These include fruits and vegetables which are high in carbohydrates and sugar (apples, banana, berries, carrots, pear). Sugars and carbohydrates can move through the gastrointestinal tract at a rapid rate and disrupt the carefully balanced bacterial flora in your rabbit allowing for bad bacteria to overload your bunny. This can cause GI upset such as bloating, gas, GI stasis, inappetence and diarrhea. Foods which are high in sugars, carbohydrates and calcium should be fed in limited quantities (as a treat) or even avoided if possible.
1-2 tbsp of fresh fruit or vegetables every 1-2 days
Consistency – Rabbits are habitual creatures! This means they love a consistent lifestyle – and so do their microbiomes! (Isn’t that cool?) Their gastrointestinal tract is home to a huge family of microbial bacteria which ferment and slowly breakdown all of their food to use as energy for your rabbit. Feeding your bunny a consistent diet filled with their favorite hay and vegetables allows the healthy bacteria to thrive and keep your bunny healthy!
Leafy greens are not all equal!
Rabbits do require an abundance of healthy and high fiber leafy greens – however not all greens are healthy for your rabbit to consume. Some greens are rich in calcium and this can predispose your bunny to urinary issues due to the excess of calcium in their bodies. Rabbits excrete their excess calcium through their urinary tract which can build up in the form of calculi and over time create stones in your rabbit’s urinary tract. Vegetables that are high in calcium can be given occasionally as a treat but should be avoided as part of their everyday diet. These vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, kale and spinach.
What are Caecotrophs and why are they important for your rabbit?
Caecotrophs are small pieces of partially digested food containing nutrients and health benefits from your rabbit’s diet, micronutrients, vitamin B and bacteria which are a (gross) but essential part of your rabbit’s diet. Rabbits are not able to synthesize their own vitamin B and as a result; caecotrophs are their only means of vitamin B and vitamin K in their diet. Diets which are low in fibre and high in sugars, calcium and carbohydrates reduce your rabbit’s appetite, slow down digestion and reduce the caecotrophs being produced. This means your rabbit is at a greater risk for GI stasis, obesity and will not consume critical nutrients they need.
Meredith, A. Feeding Rabbits and Getting It Right: The Effects of Diet on Health and Behaviour. Royal School of Veterinary Studies. 2013.
Hess, L. Feeding Your Rabbit. Care and Wellness Nutrition. 2022.
Prebble, J.L., Meredith, A. L. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. Blackwell. 2014.