In the wild, grasses make up the vast majority of a rabbit’s diet. Roots, shoots, leaves, and flowers are also favored. Domestic rabbits can’t feed themselves, so their diet requires a bit more preparation. Rabbits have an incredibly high metabolism, so keeping their gut moving at all times is essential. In fact, a lack of access to forage, even for a short time, can be fatal to rabbits. So how can we keep these fragile animals happy and healthy?
A Rabbit’s Everyday Diet
Wild rabbits spend the majority of their time grazing, and almost never stop nibbling on fresh grasses. These animals have incredibly high metabolism and need constant calories to fuel their bodies. An estimated 70% of a wild rabbit’s day is spent nibbling and grazing!
A diet mimicking this routine will help set your rabbits up for success. This is why rabbits should have access to hay at all times. Don’t be afraid to top off hay heartily! Alfalfa hay is healthy for growing rabbits but is too rich in protein for adult rabbits. Adult rabbits can enjoy timothy, orchard grass, or brome grass. Placing the hay in a hanging feeder will prevent it from being spilled or stepped on, ensuring the rabbits have constant access to this vital food. Hay should also be used in a rabbit’s litter box. The rabbits will snack as they use the bathroom.
A limited amount of grass-based rabbit food pellets should be fed daily, following the manufacturer’s recommendations. A small amount of fresh, leafy greens and herbs should also be given daily, both to increase the diversity of nutrition and to incorporate moisture into the rabbit’s diet. Rabbits can also enjoy supervised outdoor time in a sturdy X-pen, grazing the grass in your backyard. Be sure that no pesticides or herbicides of any kind have been sprayed on the grass before allowing rabbits to do this.
The Dangers of GI Stasis
GI stasis is a very real threat to domestic rabbits. This condition happens quickly, and results in a change of bacteria normally living in a rabbit’s intestinal tract. Most often, GI stasis is a preventable condition.
Rabbits who stop eating due to stress, dental issues, or pain can develop GI stasis. Rabbits who consume too many carbohydrates and lack fiber (found in grasses) can also suffer from this severe condition. Feeding your rabbits exclusively pellets and vegetables increases their odds of experiencing GI stasis.
VCA Animal Hospitals statesthat rabbits suffering from this deadly condition will appear “bloated, pass little to no stool, and have big, gas-filled stomachs and intestines on x-rays.”
If left untreated, GI stasis will most certainly kill your rabbit. This is why it’s essential to monitor your rabbit’s eating habits and provide a healthy, consistent diet. Following dietary guidelines, reducing stress, and providing constant access to quality hay substantially reduce a rabbit’s likelihood of experiencing GI problems. If you think your rabbit is experiencing GI stasis, call your rabbit specialist veterinarian immediately. The sooner you interfere and seek medical care, the higher the veterinarian’s odds of saving the rabbit’s life are.
Tasty Treats for Rabbits
Treats are essential for both training and bonding with rabbits. Ideally, treats should be given in tiny tidbits, and should be limited to prevent obesity or GI upset.
Tasty herbs are of high value to many rabbits and are among the healthiest treats you can offer. Cilantro, basil, parsley, sage, rosemary, dill, thyme, and mint are all on the safe list for rabbits to consume. What a variety! All rabbits are individuals, and what some rabbits will refuse, others may enjoy with enthusiasm.
Higher-value treats include apples, carrots, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, plums, watermelon and more. Most rabbits will go crazy for these treats, but due to their high sugar content, they must be limited. Dice these treats into tiny tidbits for successful training. On warmer days, you can refrigerate treats to help cool rabbits down. With tasty snacks and patience, you can teach a rabbit anything!
Dangerous Foods for Rabbits
Have you ever heard someone say that animals will know if a food is unsafe to eat? That dangerous myth could not be further from the truth. Every year, countless companion animals die from consuming toxic foods and plants. Just like lilies kill cats and chocolate upsets dogs, there are foods that are inherently dangerous for rabbits.
This myth applies to native animals in their native ecosystems, but not to domestic animals. These vulnerable creatures have no way of knowing what is safe for them. That’s why they rely on us to keep them safe.
Rabbits should never consume meat, eggs, dairy, avocados, chocolate, garlic, fruit seeds or pits, raw potatoes, or processed foods. These foods can range from unhealthy, to toxic, to outright poisonous. Be sure to research toxic foods before bringing rabbits into your home. If your rabbits are free-range in your home, block access to all house plants that could be harmful.