Rabbits can make incredible pets, combining many of the unique traits of other animals. Like dogs, they are playful and loyal, but like cats, they often have an independent streak and require less attention. But what do you feed a rabbit? Which rabbit food to choose?
Even though your rabbit is domesticated, its diet should resemble what it would eat if it were in the wild. So that offers a great starting point for launching into our topic!
What Do Wild Rabbits Eat?
In the wild, the key component of a rabbit’s diet is hay. In fact, it accounts for anywhere from 80%-90% of a wild rabbit’s diet. That means it should account for the vast majority of your domesticated bunny’s diet as well.
Why is hay so important? It has a number of vital health benefits for rabbits:
- Rabbits need the fiber in hay to support their digestive system. Without enough fiber, blockages may form. When this occurs, it is known as “gastrointestinal stasis.” It is a common problem with rabbits—and a severe one—as it can result in death within 24 hours.
- One curious fact about rabbits is that their teeth are constantly growing. That means they need to be ground down, or they will grow out of control, forming abscesses and other alarming health problems. Chomping on hay wears down the teeth so that they remain safe.
- Chewing on hay can help strengthen a rabbit’s jaw.
- Rabbits enjoy sorting through their hay, so it keeps them entertained.
Aside from hay, what do wild rabbits eat and drink? When the weather is warm and food sources are plentiful, rabbits in the wild turn to various grasses, weeds, vegetables, and flowers to fill out the rest of their diets.
As these food sources dissipate in the winter, bunnies may consume bark, twigs, and needles from evergreen trees. During the springtime, they also may eat buds while waiting for vegetables to grow and flowers to bloom.
What Do Pet Rabbits Eat?
For the most part, your pet rabbit’s diet is going to closely resemble that of a wild rabbit.
When shopping for rabbit food for sale, you will be looking for hay for rabbits to eat as well as vegetables. But you also will be shopping for pellets and treats.
Before getting into the details, it is worth pointing out that baby rabbits have different dietary needs than adult rabbits. So let’s break this section down and look first at what you should be feeding a baby bunny, and then what you should feed a full-grown rabbit.
What Do Baby Rabbits Eat?
If you want to know how to feed and take care of a baby bunny, that depends in part on whether you are talking about a wild bunny or a domesticated baby rabbit.
Say you found a baby rabbit nest, and that nest has clearly been disturbed. Your first thought is probably going to be to move the nest, the babies, or both.
You should generally not do this, as the babies probably have not been abandoned. Mother rabbits avoid their nests most of the time so that they will not draw the attention of predators. They return to feed their babies.
If a baby is severely injured and/or you have stronger reasons to believe they are truly orphaned, you may feel tempted to take them in. Their care and feeding is quite complex, however, because you have to find a way to replace the protective nutrients in their mother’s milk.
For this reason, it is highly advised that you call a local wildlife rehab center and get an expert on the job.
What do domesticated baby bunnies eat? Head to your local pet store and shop for either goat milk or kitten milk replacer (KMR). Sometimes a vet will carry these as well. Never go with low-fat! You also should add probiotics to the mix.
Note that the exact formula you need will vary from one species to the next, as will the amount you need. Domestic baby bunnies should be fed sitting upright twice a day using a syringe or eyedropper. In theory you can follow these rules with wild babies as well, but again, contacting your local wildlife rehab center is highly advised.
How often do you feed a rabbit? Following are basic guidelines for babies. Remember, they can vary from species to species:
- 1-2 weeks old: 5-7 cc/ml, twice a day
- 2-3 weeks old: 7-13 cc/ml, twice a day
- 3-6 weeks old: 13-15 cc/ml, twice a day
With certain species of baby bunnies (with the exception of jackrabbits), you need to also make sure that they are urinating and defecating after eating. This procedure involves using a cotton ball swabbed in warm water. It is a bit beyond the scope of this article, but hopefully it helps you see important it is to do in-depth research before caring for a baby bunny.
What Do Adult Rabbits Eat?
Now that you know more about what baby bunnies eat, let’s talk about what to feed an adult rabbit.
- Hay: Most of your adult rabbit’s diet will be comprised of hay. What do young bunnies eat after they are ready to start in on hay? Alfalfa is a good choice—but it is not ideal for older rabbits, who do better with oat hays, grass hays, or timothy hays. Always make sure the hay is fresh. Note that some rabbits are picky eaters, but you must find some type of hay that your rabbit will eat. You cannot have a healthy rabbit without a hay-based diet!
- Vegetables: Your rabbit also will eat a variety of vegetables. What vegetables can rabbits eat? Some examples of veggies which are appropriate to feed to rabbits include celery, broccoli leaves, bok choy, cilantro, collard greens, dill, mint, clover, and water cress.
- Pellets: Rabbit food pellets should be low in protein, high in fiber, and fresh. Make certain they do not contain additives. They should make up a small percentage of your bunny’s diet.
- Treats: Most of the “bunny treats” sold in stores are not healthy since they contain too much sugar and fat. Fruit is an ideal alternative; consider strawberries, pineapple, bananas, raspberries, or apples. Do not go overboard with fruits; your bunny’s sugar intake should be kept at a low level.
What Do Pet Rabbits Drink?
Do pet rabbits drink water? Yes! In fact, wild rabbits turn to ground sources of water to stay hydrated, so if you serve your bunnies water out of a bowl, that mimics how they would drink in nature.
You can purchase water bottles for rabbits, but these are largely used in breeding facilities and the like because they are convenient for staff—not because rabbits enjoy them. Rabbits prefer bowls, so stick with a heavy ceramic bowl (a lightweight plastic dish will “wander” a lot, as rabbits like to move things around).
What Rabbits Can’t Eat
Now that you know what to feed a rabbit, it is also important to talk about foods not to feed rabbits. Here are some examples:
- Tomato leaves
- Green beans
- Bread, crackers and other high-carb foods
Note that this is not a complete list of all foods bunnies can’t eat—if in doubt, always look up a specific type of food before you feed it to your rabbit (you can check our post about what can rabbits eat).
There are many outdoor plants which your bunny should also avoid, some examples being clover, anemone, buttercups, hemlock, ivy, and foxglove. Again, this is not an extensive list, so make sure your yard is safe before you let your bunny go out and munch on your plants.
- If you have to change your rabbit’s diet, so do gradually. A sudden change can result in digestive problems. It may also be deadly with a baby rabbit, old rabbit, sick rabbit, or any rabbit that is particularly fragile or stressed.
- If your bunny has never eaten a certain food before, introduce it in small amounts and see what happens. If your rabbit is able to digest it with no issues, you can incorporate more.
- Foods which cause gas are very dangerous for your rabbits since they cannot expel it. Certain herbs such as fennel and lemon balm can help relieve bloating and gas.
- If your rabbit becomes lethargic, hunches over, and loses its appetite, it could mean it is suffering from gastrointestinal stasis. Other signs include small, unusually-shaped or absent fecal pellets. Seek emergency treatment immediately or your rabbit could die inside 24 hours.
There are many things which can go wrong with a rabbit’s diet, whether we are talking about an adult rabbit or a baby. So make sure that you research the topic in-depth before you attempt to care for a pet rabbit of your own. That way you can ensure that your bunny will stay safe and healthy!