The single most important thing you can do for your rabbit is to ensure you provide him with a healthy diet. Rabbits are herbivores that are designed to graze for most of the day.
Their intestinal systems and teeth are adapted to eat high-fibre, low energy foods i.e. grass and hay. It is the period of time spent grinding long grain, fibrous foods that maintains their teeth in their normal shape. Their teeth grow approximately 1mm every 3 days. Without grinding and a diet sufficient in calcium they quickly become distorted and overgrown.
Rabbit mixes and pellets are only designed to provide a small supplementary part of your rabbit’s daily food intake. They are high in energy and protein. Rabbits fed these foods predominately will become overweight. They quickly satisfy their requirement for energy and will be short on fibre.
So, in short, rabbits eat grass and hay
The vast majority of a rabbit’s diet must be made up of good quality hay, fresh grass and non-poisonous weeds. 5-10% of the diet can be made up of rabbit mixes and vegetables, but not at the expense of the all important grass and hay. We recommend feeding Burgess Supa Rabbit Excel available from reception as an excellent quality food to supplement grass and hay.
Provide a grass run in the garden if possible. Where season or weather does not permit, pick grass and garden weeds and take them to your rabbit. Always remember to provide fresh water in a drinking bottle or bowl at all times.
Diets high in calcium
Rabbits fed a high calcium diet, consisting of alfalfa hay, calcium supplements and vegetables high in calcium (kale, carrot tops, spinach, parsley and spring greens) can be pre-disposed to bladder stones. Never feed adult rabbits alfalfa unless they need supplementation due to pregnancy, feeding their young or growth of young rabbits.
Limit the amount of high-calcium vegetables, and never use calcium/mineral supplements or blocks. A rabbit fed a good quality diet has no need for calcium.
Don’t be tempted to feed your rabbit human food and lots of shop bought treats. They are high in calories, low in fibre, or high in fat and sugar. Only use as rabbit treats, food items which form part of a rabbits’ natural diet.
Slices of vegetables make inexpensive, healthy treats – carrot, broccoli, cabbage, chard, chickweed, celery leaves, corn on the cob, endive, dock, basil, kale, radish and beet tops or watercress. Spring greens can be offered but only in small quantities, as they can pre-dispose to bladder stones. Lettuce should be avoided.
Dandelion leaves are adored by most rabbits but feed sparingly as they have a laxative effect. Most rabbits also enjoy freshly picked clover.
Always make sure you pick wild grass or plants from areas not treated with pesticides or polluted with exhaust fumes. If you are not very careful, picking plant material from the wild could also expose your rabbit to disease. Vegetables and herbs should also be washed to remove traces of chemicals.
Fresh grass may be better than hay, where possible due to the higher water content. Fluid intake may also be increased by flavouring water with fruit juice. Water can also be added to vegetables.
Ensure that your rabbits’ water supply does not freeze over the winter. This can be done by adding a couple of drops of medicinal glycerine and regularly checking that the ball-bearing is turning.
A low water intake can lead to urinary tract problems, including bladder stones.