Intro to Feeding

Proper nutrition is absolutely essential to keeping rabbits healthy and happy. As prey animals, rabbits have unique dietary needs that require specialized care from owners. While they have voracious appetites and may seem like they will eat anything, rabbits actually have very sensitive digestive systems that can be easily disrupted. An improper diet high in carbohydrates or sugar is a major contributor to serious health issues like gastrointestinal stasis, dental disease, obesity, and bladder sludge. 

Fortunately, with the right guidance, it is easy to keep your bunny healthy through feeding a balanced diet. The key is to focus on providing plenty of hay as well as leafy greens and vegetables. Meanwhile, treats and fruits should be limited, and commercial rabbit pellets should only be fed in moderation. This ultimate guide breaks down everything you need to know about proper rabbit nutrition. We’ll cover the staples they need, the treats they enjoy, and what foods to avoid. Whether you’re a new bunny owner or a long-time caretaker, you’ll learn how to create the optimal diet to keep your rabbit thriving with this guide of what to feed your rabbit.

Background on Rabbit Digestive System

Rabbits have a unique digestive system that is optimized for processing grasses and hay. They are hindgut fermenters, meaning they digest food in their large intestine rather than their stomach. The rabbit’s stomach and small intestine are relatively small, while their large intestine makes up the bulk of their digestive tract.

This digestive strategy allows rabbits to extract nutrients from the cellulose in grasses and hay. Food passes through their stomach and small intestine quickly, then ferments in the cecum (a pouch connected to the large intestine). The cecum contains bacteria and protists that break down cellulose and produce nutrients like fatty acids, B vitamins, and vitamin K that rabbits can absorb.

Because of their specialized digestive system, rabbits have different dietary requirements than many other pets. They require a high-fiber diet with lots of grass hay. Without enough fiber, food passes too quickly through their digestive tract and does not get adequately broken down and absorbed. Rabbits that lack fiber can end up with gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, gas, and stasis (slowdown of the intestines).

The rabbit’s unique anatomy and physiology require pet owners to properly educate themselves on ideal rabbit nutrition. Their digestive system has evolved for a high-roughage diet, and deviating too far from that can have negative health consequences. Understanding how a rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract works is key to choosing the right foods and maintaining their wellbeing.

Fresh timothy hay

Hay is a Staple Food

Hay should make up the majority of a rabbit’s diet. It provides essential fiber that facilitates digestion and helps wear down teeth. The fiber also promotes gastrointestinal motility to prevent potential issues like GI stasis.

The recommended amount of hay is unlimited. Rabbits should have access to hay at all times. They tend to eat more hay at dawn and dusk. Make sure the hay rack is consistently stocked. 

Different types of grass hay suitable for rabbits:

Timothy Hay – This is generally considered the best hay for rabbits. It has lower calcium and protein than legume hays. The fiber supports dental health.

Orchard Grass Hay – Soft and fragrant hay that encourages eating. Lower in calcium than alfalfa.

Oat Hay – Higher fiber than other grass hays. Can be a good alternative if Timothy hay is unavailable.

Bermuda Grass Hay – Decent source of fiber though not as high as Timothy hay. Can offer variety.

Meadow Hay – Made from mixed grasses and weeds. Varies in nutritional content. Only feed if harvested properly.

Alfalfa Hay is another option you will see when shopping around for your rabbit. It’s typically not recommended due to it being too rich in protein and calcium. However it can be fed to bunnies under 6 months if they have health problems or are still growing. After 6 months alfalfa should be slowly swapped out for something like timothy hay for them have a healthy balanced diet.

Different cuts of hay?

First-cut Hay – Typically coarser and stalkier in texture, resembling straw. While this high-fiber cut is beneficial for your bunny’s digestive health, it may not be as palatable for some rabbits due to its less appealing taste.

Second-cut Hay – Dark green in color, finer in texture, and more grass-like compared to first-cut hay. This cut contains lower fiber content, making it the second choice in terms of nutrition. Similar to humans, rabbits often prioritize taste over nutrition when making food choices. Many rabbits would likely vote second-cut hay as the “best tasting” option due to its more favorable taste profile.

Sticking with first-cut timothy hay is going to be best choice for your rabbit’s health, but some rabbits will refuse it, so second-cut is better then no fiber. Whichever grass hay you choose, ensure it is green in color, has a fresh aroma, and is free of mold, dust, or debris. Store hay properly to maintain freshness and nutritional value.

Products we recommend (Chewy):

Romaine lettuce is great for rabbits

Leafy Greens – The Best Ones and How Much to Feed

Leafy greens are an essential part of a rabbit’s diet and should be fed daily. They provide vital nutrients like calcium, vitamins, and fiber that rabbits need. Leafy greens should make up 75% of a rabbit’s vegetable intake. It’s recommended to feed your rabbit about 1 cup of leafy veggies per 1kg (2.2 lbs.) their weight weighs.

Here are some of the best leafy greens to feed your rabbit:

Romaine Lettuce

A favorite for most rabbits. Romaine is high in fiber and low in calories.

Red or Green Leaf Lettuce

Similar to romaine in nutritional value.

Spinach

Packed with nutrients but high in oxalic acid.

Kale

An excellent superfood for rabbits but introduce slowly due to gas-causing compounds.

Swiss Chard

Both the leaves and stems of Swiss chard can be fed daily.

Basil

High in vitamin K and antioxidants.

Cilantro

Provides great flavor and nutrients.

Parsley

Another nutrient-rich herb safe for rabbits.

Mint

Provides a refreshing and aromatic flavor while offering digestive benefits and potentially soothing upset stomachs in rabbits.

Bok Choy

Low in calories and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making it a nutritious and hydrating addition to rabbits’ diets.

Alfalfa Sprouts

Rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, such as calcium and vitamin K, supporting rabbits’ overall health and growth.

When introducing new leafy greens, start after your rabbit is 12 weeks old and go slowly to avoid digestive upset. Rotate the varieties to give your rabbit diversity. Chop greens into bite-sized pieces for easy eating. Always thoroughly wash and check for pesticides before feeding. With the right amounts of fresh leafy greens, your rabbit’s diet will be optimized.

Rabbits eating veggies

Non-leafy Greens

Non-leafy vegetables should make up the other 25% of a rabbit’s daily veggies. Vegetables like carrots, parsnips, turnips, and sweet potatoes make great additions to a rabbit’s diet in moderation. These veggies provide important vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It’s recommended to give about 1 Tbsp per 1 kg (2.2 lbs.) of your rabbit’s weight.

Recommended Non-leafy Veggies:

Carrots

One of the most popular veggies for rabbits. Carrots are high in vitamins A, C, K, potassium, and fiber. Feed no more than 1-2 tablespoons per 2 lbs. of body weight per day. Too much can cause gastrointestinal upset.  

Parsnips

Similar to carrots nutritionally but with a higher sugar content. Feed in moderation, no more than 1-2 times per week.  

Turnips

Turnip greens are great but the root itself should only be fed occasionally as a treat. It contains glucosinolates which in large amounts can affect the thyroid.  

Sweet Potatoes

An excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese and fiber. Due to the high starch content, limit to no more than 2 tablespoons per 2 lbs. body weight per day.

Radishes

Full radishes can cause gastrointestinal upset. Should only be fed radish tops occasionally in small amounts.

Broccoli

Rich in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and calcium, and provides essential nutrients for rabbits’ overall health.

Brussel Sprouts

High in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, which support digestive health and immune function in rabbits.

Celery

Low in calories and high in water content, making it a hydrating and nutritious snack for rabbits.

Collard Greens

Nutrient-dense leafy greens packed with vitamins A, C, and K, as well as calcium, promoting overall health and well-being in rabbits.

Green Pepper

Contains vitamin C and antioxidants, providing rabbits with essential nutrients and supporting their immune system.

Dandelion

Nutrient-rich herb that aids in digestion, supports liver health, and provides vitamins and minerals for rabbits.

Wheatgrass

High in fiber, vitamins, and chlorophyll, promoting digestive health and detoxification in rabbits.

When introducing new root veggies, do so slowly and watch for any digestive issues. The fiber, vitamins and minerals in root vegetables make them a beneficial addition to a rabbit’s balanced diet when fed properly. Follow suggested amounts based on your rabbit’s weight.

Fruits for rabbits

Can Rabbits Eat Fruit?

While hay and leafy greens should make up the bulk of a rabbit’s diet, small amounts of fruit can be offered as an occasional treat. Fruits provide some nutrients, but they are high in natural sugars and should only make up a tiny portion of a rabbit’s overall food intake. 

Some fruits that are safe for rabbits include:

Apple

Contains vitamin C and antioxidants. Only give 1-2 small slices per day as too much sugar from apples can cause digestive upset. Be sure not to include the seeds as these are toxic to rabbits.

Banana

High in potassium and vitamin C. Rabbits like the taste but limit to 1-2 thin slices daily due to high sugar content.

Blueberries

Loaded with antioxidants and safe for rabbits. Give just 2-3 berries 1-2 times per week. 

Melon

Cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon provide hydration and nutrients. A 1 inch cube is a good serving.

Cranberries

These tart berries are safe for rabbits and contain beneficial nutrients. Around 2-3 whole cranberries make a good treat.

Mango

High in vitamins A, C and E. Give just a few small diced pieces at a time.

Pear

A non-acidic fruit that’s a nice alternative to apple. Give a quarter of a small pear once or twice a week.  

Pineapple

Contains vitamin C and antioxidants. A small slice or few tiny pieces are ok occasionally.

Raspberries/Blackberries

High in fiber and antioxidants. Give 1-2 berries as an infrequent treat.

Strawberries

These contain vitamin C and fiber. Offer a quarter to half of one once a week.

The key is moderation. Limit fruit treats to once or twice a week, and only give tiny portions of 1-3 bites. Too much natural sugar from fruit can lead to digestive issues for rabbits. Think of fruit as a garnish, not a dietary staple.

Rabbit pellets

Pellets

Pellets are a popular and nutritionally balanced commercial food for rabbits. They are designed to provide all the key nutrients rabbits require in a convenient pellet form. Here are some of the benefits of including high-quality pellets in your rabbit’s diet:

Nutritionally complete – Pellets contain a precise blend of nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This helps ensure rabbits get all the nutrients they need for good health.

Support dental health – The abrasive texture of pellets helps wear down teeth and keep them at the proper length. This promotes dental health.

Easy to feed – Pellets are very convenient since they do not require prep work like chopping up vegetables. You can simply pour pellets into the food bowl.

Promote healthy weight – High-fiber pellets with controlled calories can help prevent obesity versus unlimited hay or treats.

When choosing pellets, look for all-natural pellets without artificial additives, colors or sugary treats mixed in. Timothy-based pellets are lower in calories and higher in fiber versus alfalfa pellets. 

Adult rabbits typically need 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pellets per 5 lbs. of body weight daily. Feed twice daily and ensure pellets comprise no more than 20% of total diet. Limit pellets for overweight rabbits. Always provide unlimited hay along with pellets.

Products we recommend (Chewy):

Fruit skewers are a great treat for rabbits

Rabbit Treats

While hay and vegetables should make up the bulk of a rabbit’s diet, healthy treats can be given in moderation. We recommend they should be no more than 10% of a rabbit’s daily calories.

Healthy Commercial Treat Options

Oxbow Simple Rewards

These are made from timothy hay and contain no added sugars. Good options are the banana and apple flavor.

Standlee PremiYum Treats

These are 100% timothy hay treats that come in fun shapes like banana and apple slices.

Small Pet Select Natural Treats

These contain just a couple all-natural ingredients like oats, herbs, seeds or dried fruit. Their yogurt treats are a healthy choice.

Homemade Treat Recipes

Here are some healthy homemade treat options:

Oatmeal cookies – Mix 1/2 a banana, 1/2 a cup of oatmeal, 1/2 cup of shredded carrots, 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, 1/4 cup of chopped raisins. Knead into balls and bake at 350′ for 30 minutes. If too dry add water or more banana.

Fruit skewers – Skewer together chunks of banana, apple, melon and berry.

Vegetable pops – Blend veggies like carrots, sweet potato or pumpkin with a little water into a thick puree. Fill ice cube trays and freeze.

Hay cubes – Mix timothy hay with water or broth into a mash and press firmly into an ice cube tray. Freeze and pop out.

No matter what treats you choose, introduce new ones slowly and in small quantities to avoid digestive upset. Stick to a couple times a week for training rewards or special occasions.

Do not feed rabbits beets!

Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Rabbit!

Rabbits need a balanced diet with plenty of hay, greens, vegetables, and selective fruits. there are many foods that should be avoided. Rabbits have a very sensitive digestive system, so feeding the wrong foods can lead to serious health problems. Here are some of the most common foods that should be avoided for rabbits:

Iceberg Lettuce

While leafy greens are healthy for bunnies, iceberg lettuce provides little nutritional value and is difficult to digest. It can lead to diarrhea in rabbits so opt for leaf lettuces or other greens instead. 

Cereal

Breakfast cereals designed for humans are much too high in carbohydrates and sugars for rabbits. The grains and added sugars can disrupt their sensitive GI tract. Do not feed any cereals.

Yogurt Drops

Many pet stores sell these high-sugar yogurt treats marketed specifically for rabbits. However, the added sugars and dairy can cause stomach upsets, gas, and diarrhea. They lack nutritional value.

Chocolate

Chocolate contains theobromine, caffeine, and sugars that are toxic to rabbits. Never feed chocolate, even in small amounts.

Cookies, Crackers, Chips

These starchy snack foods are unhealthy for rabbits and can lead to obesity over time. Avoid anything made with white flour, added sugar or salt. 

Meat & Fish

Rabbits are herbivores and cannot properly digest animal proteins. Avoid feeding any meat, fish, eggs, or other animal products.

Cow’s Milk

The lactose in cow’s milk and dairy is difficult for rabbits to digest. Do not offer milk to drink.

Beets

Too high in oxalates which can cause bladder stones.

Onions

Toxic to rabbits.

Potatoes

Too high in starch and solanine, can cause digestive upset.

Nuts & Seeds

High in fat and can cause digestive upset or obesity in rabbits.

Corn

High in starch and low in fiber, which can lead to digestive problems and obesity.

Oats

High in carbohydrates and can cause digestive issues if fed in large quantities.

Peas

High in carbohydrates and can cause digestive issues, such as gas or bloating, in rabbits.

Bread

High in carbohydrates and low in fiber, which can lead to digestive problems and obesity.

Wheat

Contains gluten and may cause digestive issues or allergic reactions in some rabbits.

Keeping treats rare and avoiding the foods listed above will help keep your rabbit’s digestive system healthy and happy. Be sure to slowly transition their diet when making any changes. Check with your vet if ever unsure about a food item.


Sample Diet Plans

Feeding rabbits the right diet through various stages of life is key to their health and happiness. Here are some sample daily and weekly diet plans to follow for adult, baby, and senior rabbits. As always, pay attention to your rabbit’s behavior and adjust as needed. Be sure to talk with your vet if you’re rabbit is acting off or you’re unsure about certain foods.

Baby Rabbit Diet

Daily:

  • Unlimited alfalfa hay 
  • Alfalfa pellets
  • Mother’s milk until 8 weeks

Weekly: 

  • Gradually introduce hay, greens, veggies starting at 12 weeks. Limit fruits & starchy veggies.

Adult Rabbit Diet

Daily: 

  • Unlimited hay (1/2 cup leafy greens per 2 lbs. body weight)
  • 1/4 cup pellets per 5 lbs. body weight  
  • 1-2 Tbsp treats (no more than 10% of calories)

Weekly:

  • Introduce and rotate a variety of leafy greens like romaine lettuce, kale, parsley, cilantro, basil, mint, arugula, red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, and small amounts of carrots, bell peppers, strawberries and other fruits.

Senior Rabbit Diet

Daily:

  • Unlimited grass hay
  • Decrease pellets depending on weight
  • More leafy greens for moisture & nutrition  
  • Probiotics & nutrient supplements as needed

Weekly: 

  • Monitor weight and adjust greens or pellets as needed
  • Limit sugar and carbs, provide extra fiber 
  • Provide variety of favorites to encourage eating

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, an excess in calcium can lead to urinary tract issues such as bladder sludge or kidney stones. However too little calcium can lead to bone and dental problems. The recommended amount in a rabbit’s diet is about 200mg of calcium per 1kg (2.2 lbs.) of body weight daily. Which is easy for your rabbit to get normally through timothy hay, pellets, and vegetables. Every rabbit is different, so talk with your vet if you notice changes in your rabbit’s behavior like lethargy, change in eating habits, or urinary issues.

Everyday your rabbits should have an unlimited supply of fresh hay, about 2 tbsp of pellets, and 1 cup of leafy greens/veggies per 1kg (2.2 lbs.) of body weight. Always make sure their water dish is topped up so they never get thristy.

Yes, as long as it’s safe for humans to drink it’s safe for your rabbits. However if you live in a region with ‘hard water’, you should avoid giving it to your rabbits as it’s richer in minerals like calcium and magnesium. Filtering your water is always the best option for you and your rabbits if you can.


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