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The Perfect Diet For Your Rabbit

Updated on December 4, 2014
Frederick Green profile image

Frederick is currently the proud owner of two healthy rabbits. He likes to read and research about everything to do with rabbits.

What does a bunny eat?

Ask anyone you want: "What does a bunny eat?" Thanks to Bugs Bunny from "Looney Toons", most people will tell you that a rabbit should eat carrots! Actually, carrots are high in sugar which is never good for your rabbit. Feeding your rabbit too many carrots may make it sick, just the way a child eating too many sweets is not in good health.

Or visit the "rabbit section" at the pet store. Inevitably, you will find rabbit pellets left and right. Therefore, many people have developed the thought that rabbits should eat only pellets. Unfortunately, this is also a myth as pellets are actually the least important part of your bunny's meal.

The main part of a rabbit's diet is neither carrots nor pellets. So what is it?

Hay there!

Hays are healthy and delicious too...so delicious your rabbit may even try to swim in it!
Hays are healthy and delicious too...so delicious your rabbit may even try to swim in it!

70-80% of Diet: Hay

Despite what you have seen from your childhood cartoons, hay is the most important part of rabbit's diet. In fact, at least 65% of your bunny's daily intake should consist of fresh hay. The ideal range is 70-80% of diet; some rabbits may require even more than that! Unlimited hay should be provided at all times.

Hay is terrific for rabbits because it has a lot of fiber which is fantastic for herbivores' digestive system. Munching on hay also helps your bunny maintain his teeth length. Grass hay, a source of long-strand fiber, is absolutely vital to the digestive health of your small herbivore. It prevents obesity, dental disease, boredom and diarrhea.

What is your bunny's favorite hay?

See results

Which type of hay? How to judge whether a hay is good or not? Where to shop?

There are many types of hay! Hays are divided into two groups: grass hays and legume hays. Grass hays include:

  • Timothy
  • Meadow
  • Orchard
  • Oat
  • Barley
  • Wheat
  • Pangola
  • Bluegrass
  • Bermuda
  • Paragrass

Legume hays are not as popular as they are very high in protein and calcium which adults don't really need. It also contains a lot of calories which aren't always burned off. Only bunnies under 6 months of age should receive this type of hay as their main hay. Alfalfa hay is the most popular legume hay; they are usually fed to young rabbits to help them grow, thanks to the protein. As the rabbit grows older, it should switch to Timothy or other grass hays. Legume hays should only be rewarded as a treat for adults. Clover hay is another type of legume hay, though not so popular.

If your rabbit is young, feed it legume hay but gradually change the legume hay to grass hay as he ages. It is important to gradually change the diet as rabbits have sensitive stomachs and if the change is not slight, it may upset your bunny's stomach. Alfalfa hay is the most abundant and nutritionally complete legume hay. As for the grass hay, it depends on the individual. Some rabbits do not mind which grass hay are given to them whilst some are picky and only consume certain hay. Buy a variety for the first time and see which one your rabbit enjoys! Each hay is different so a variety of hay is best!

If your rabbit does not like hay, try hiding a few treats in it so it can forage through the hay to find the yummy reward, hopefully munching on some hay in the process. Some brands, such as Kaytee's "Timothy Hay Plus" and Oxbow's "Botanical Hay" already has added treats such as herbs, fruits and flowers.

Good quality hay is green (not brown), smells sweet and fresh, and not too course. When buying hay, I always look for bales/bags that contain all the parts of the plants: plant heads, leaves and steam. Therefore, I am sure that my little ones are getting all essential nutrients. You'll also notice that good hay is flexible and shouldn't be too brittle. No mold should be present as that can make your rabbit very sick.

You will also notice that hays at a pet shop are a lot more expensive than hays at a local farm. There is usually no quality difference except that pet shops' hays may be dust-free as they are often processed. Therefore, I encourage you to purchase hay at your local farm as they are a lot cheaper and more fresh (you never know how long that bag of hay has been sitting on the pet shop's shelf).


Oxbow Animal Health Botanical Hay for Pets, 15-Ounce
Oxbow Animal Health Botanical Hay for Pets, 15-Ounce

Botanical hay makes mealtime a joy thanks to the nice smell. A few nice-tasting herbs and flowers are added to the timothy hay. Together, it's a great mix that your bunny will love!

 
Kaytee Orchard Grass, 16-oz bag
Kaytee Orchard Grass, 16-oz bag

This orchard grass is enjoyed by many rabbits. It has a nice fruity smell which is great when mixed with other hays.

 
Would you get bored if you can only eat one food for the rest of your life? Same with rabbits! Variety is best. I bought this variety pack which included Timothy, Alfalfa, Barley, Wheat, Oat, Pangola, Botanical hay and two rare legume hays.
Would you get bored if you can only eat one food for the rest of your life? Same with rabbits! Variety is best. I bought this variety pack which included Timothy, Alfalfa, Barley, Wheat, Oat, Pangola, Botanical hay and two rare legume hays.

10-15% of Diet: Leafy Greens

Rabbits need and love veggies! If you plant vegetables and also happen to live in a rabbit-infested area, you have probably learned this lesson the hard way! Although rabbits can eat most vegetables, the healthiest are leafy greens. 1 cup of leafy greens per 2 lbs of body weight per day is a good rule to follow. Although hays are nutrient powerhouses, they are not complete. With vitamins from leafy greens, your rabbit is guaranteed to live a long life!

There are many types of leafy greens that you can feed your rabbit. Most leafy greens that a human can consume is safe for a rabbit. However, there are a few exceptions. These exceptions aren't deadly but may be harmful in large amounts. Iceberg Lettuce, for example, contain laudanum which is bad in large quantities. Romaine Lettuce, on the other hand, is much more preferred.

Although vegetables that aren't leafy greens aren't as healthy, they still provide some great nutrition (not to mention taste!). Try mixing some of those into the pile of leafy greens as well! However, these should be controlled hence the concerning fat content but it's better than being too harsh on them!

Rabbits under 5 months of age should not receive too much fresh food, although a few pieces of veggies per day is fine. When your rabbit is old enough, start introducing vegetables to it. As I have mentioned before, rabbits have sensitive stomachs; therefore, it is best if you introduce vegetables one at a time.

2 cups of chopped veggies (try to include at least 3 types) per day should be good for the average house rabbit. You may want to adjust this number if you have an extra small/large breed.

Arugulas are great for rabbits; no pizzas involved though!
Arugulas are great for rabbits; no pizzas involved though!
Kales are one of the healthiest vegetables. Many health benefits for both humans and bunnies!
Kales are one of the healthiest vegetables. Many health benefits for both humans and bunnies!
Bok Choy is a crunchy, nutrient-packed food, brilliant for the rabbit's digestive system hence the fiber.
Bok Choy is a crunchy, nutrient-packed food, brilliant for the rabbit's digestive system hence the fiber.
Radish Tops are healthy but should be limited as too much oxalic acid is not good for rabbits.
Radish Tops are healthy but should be limited as too much oxalic acid is not good for rabbits.

Great leafy greens include:

  • Arugula
  • Carrot tops
  • Cucumber leaves
  • Endive
  • Ecarole
  • Frisee Lettuce
  • Kale (all types)
  • Mache
  • Red or green lettuce
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spring greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Mint (any variety)
  • Basil (any variety)
  • Watercress
  • Wheatgrass
  • Chicory
  • Raspberry leaves
  • Cilantro
  • Radicchio
  • Bok Choy
  • Fennel (the leafy tops as well as the base)
  • Borage leaves
  • Dill leaves
  • Yu choy

Good but should be limited due to oxalic acid:

  • Parsley
  • Mustard greens
  • Beet greens
  • Swiss chard
  • Radish tops
  • Sprouts (from 1 to 6 days after sprouting, sprouts have higher levels of alkaloids)

Everyone is envious of bunnies with great health!
Everyone is envious of bunnies with great health!
Oxbow is a great brand that produces healthy pellets. This particular product is enjoyed by all my bunnies.
Oxbow is a great brand that produces healthy pellets. This particular product is enjoyed by all my bunnies.
Rabbit pellets usually look like this. They are green to brown in color and cylindrical in shape. Sometimes, they may be red or spherical.
Rabbit pellets usually look like this. They are green to brown in color and cylindrical in shape. Sometimes, they may be red or spherical.
Rabbits love pellets! Rabbits should be provided with a limited amount of pellets because they are artificial, once he is done with his pellets, he can move on to munch on hay or veggies!
Rabbits love pellets! Rabbits should be provided with a limited amount of pellets because they are artificial, once he is done with his pellets, he can move on to munch on hay or veggies!

6-10% of Diet: Pellets

Pellets for rabbits are like supplements for humans. For some reasons, we can all agree that eating natural food is always better than artificial food. However, it's sometimes an easy way to squeeze in some nutrition! They're obsessively crunchy and delicious (I imagine)!

Any local pet store should have a nice bag of good-quality pellets. Pellets are somewhat hard to choose since they all look the same but can have quite different effects on your bunny's health.

Here I have a nice eliminating process I have learned myself:

First, grab a few bags of pellets that interest you and compare them side-by-side.

Pellets are usually either timothy-based or alfalfa-based. Like what I have mentioned earlier, Alfalfa is great for young rabbits but are too high in calories and protein for adults. Rabbits younger than 6 months should receive alfalfa pellets but adults (older than 6 months) should munch on timothy-based pellets. Once you have eliminated all the types which your rabbit shouldn't eat, you can continue onto the next step.

Protein level is very important to consider. Generally, the lower the protein, the better. 14-16% protein is perfect if your rabbit is a non-woolly breed. If yours has long hair, protein level above 16% is good as they need extra nutrition for their extra long fur. Eliminate all the bags of pellets with an unsuitable protein level. The next step will look at fiber levels.

Unlike protein, the more fiber the better! 20% should be the minimum since rabbits need that fiber for their digestive tracts. I try to get 25%, if possible. Aim even higher if you can! Now eliminate all the pellets with low fibers since that will be insufficient for your rabbit!

Pellets with very high fat can cause obesity. The best fat level is between 1% to 1.5%. Some brands may go up to 5% which is definitely not acceptable. Eliminate all pellets that are not in the acceptable range.

Calcium level, like protein, should be low. 1% is usual fine but go even lower if possible. If your rabbit is experiencing bladder, sludge, or kidney problems, it is advised that you go even lower than 0.7%. Some brands have 0.5% calcium level which is great! Again, eliminate inadequate products.

Some pellets come with seeds, nuts, herbs, fruits, etc in them. If you are introducing your rabbit to pellets for the first time, this may encourage your bunny to try them out. However, these can be fattening if your rabbit is having it all the time. If your rabbit already enjoys his/her pellets, it is a good thing to eliminate these "junk" food.

Look back at your pile of pellets. Hopefully, this process has eliminated some of the unhealthy pellets. If you don't have anything left, go with the closest contenders. If you really love your bunny, you may want to move on to another pet shop and continue your hunt for the perfect bag of pellets. If you have more than one bag, you can go with the one which you think is best; or buy all of them and see which your rabbit enjoys most.

A helpful rule of thumb is half a cup for every 6 lbs of weight. Once you have measured out the appropriate amount, serve them in a container you like. It shouldn't be hard for you bunny to reach, nor should it be any harmful. If your rabbit is very young, you may want to consider adding some water to the bowl of pellets just to soften the pellets, making them easier to chew. Munch!


Extra: Treats!

What would our children be like without their bars of chocolate and scoops of ice-cream? Once in a while, it is fun to reward our bunnies with some treats. It is often recommended that you use treats as motivations when training your rabbit. Try rewarding your rabbit with a treat whenever it does something good. For example, if your rabbit uses his litter box, offer a small treat. Or reward a yummy snack when it lets you pick it up without biting or aggressively wriggling and squirming. This will help promote positive behavior.

Or simply give your bunny a cup of treats once in a while. Put a cup of treats in his cage twice a week. Your bunnies will be a lot less aggressive since it is in a very positive mood. Good treats should be fun and delicious yet healthy. There are many foods that are great as treats!


Treat Ideas!

Flowers
Herbs
Fruits
Chamomile
Rosemary
Dried Pineapple
Clover
Basil
Raisins
Dandelions
Mint (any variety)
Raspberries
Dried Rose Petals
Oregano
Bananas
Marigolds
Nettles
Mangos
Hay-based treats are usually best because they contain hay, one of the healthiest food for rabbits. Added fruits or herbs will make the treat even more delicious!
Hay-based treats are usually best because they contain hay, one of the healthiest food for rabbits. Added fruits or herbs will make the treat even more delicious!

Buying and Making Treats

Sometimes, a few plants and some fruits can get boring. Combining different flavors and textures from different foods can make things a little more interesting!

Apart from hays and pellets, pet shops are also armed with a dazzling array of treats. However, most of these treats contain too much sugar and other junk ingredients. There are a couple ways to choose the healthiest treats for your rabbits.

  • Color

Bright, colorful treats are signs that the food has been treated with food coloring. A lot of dyes and colorings are derived from chemicals which aren't always bunny-safe. Some treats may use dyes from natural plants (such as butterfly pea) which are safe. Unless the color comes from natural dyes, it is best to avoid these treats.

  • Ingredients

There is nothing better to do than to check what the treat has been made out of. If the treat is made mostly out of hay or leafy green vegetables, it is worth buying. If it is made out of fruits, flowers, vegetables high in sugar or herbs, it's safe but should be fed in moderation. If it contain lots of wheat, soy, added sugars, seeds, nuts, beans or any other food that may be toxic, it is best to stay away from it.

  • Nutrition

The treats that you buy should not contain too much protein, fat content or calcium; it should contain lots of fiber for your bunny's digestive tracks. Although not all the treats you buy has to meet every single requirement, it is best that you make an effort to prevent your bunny from hazards such as obesity, digestive diseases and dental issues.


If you do not want to buy treats, you can make them, yourself. One of the main benefit is the control you get over the ingredients. You can cut off sugar and foods high in fat or add in extra hay or veggies to ensure that your bunny is getting all the good stuff.

My rabbit's favorite treats are my veggie cookies and hay pretzels which are not hard to make. Here are some links to safe recipes:

Did your homemade treat pass the test?
Did your homemade treat pass the test?

Bunny diet is a very easy concept to understand yet it can save your rabbit from deadly diseases and painful suffering. Simple: lots of hay, some leafy greens and a little bit of healthy treats and good-quality pellets.

Bunny Appétit!

A helpful food pyramid to sum up this article!
A helpful food pyramid to sum up this article!

© 2014 Palis Pisuttisarun

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