When we first adopted Bunny, he was a little over a year old and on a high pellet, hay, and low vegetable diet. After a bunch of research and several discussions, we decided to slowly introduce more vegetables and ultimately get rid of pellets. After all, they are processed and no rabbit would naturally have access to them, so they are not necessary to Bunny’s well-being. In fact, it would be much healthier to feed him fresh food instead and cover all of his nutritional needs through variety. According to our research, healthy rabbits that are small to medium sized and live indoors do not need pellets, provided they get a well-balanced fresh diet. All others should carefully select the right kind of pellets, but that will be another blog post.
When only dry food is given to a rabbit, it’ll consume much less water, which is why certain vegetables with high amounts of oxalic acid or calcium cannot be fed at all or only rarely and in small quantities. Feeding large amounts of fresh food provides the rabbit with plenty of water and enables its body to simply flush out any toxins while keeping the vitamins and minerals the vegetable provides. Fresh food also keeps the ever-growing teeth in check and it enables us to consciously choose what ends up in Bunny’s body, instead of having to rely on profit-driven companies.
So Bunny ate mostly pellets and we had no idea what vegetables he was even used to. Our ultimate goal was to have him on a diet where he gets 7-10 different vegetables a day and the vegetables would get rotated constantly from a larger list. Hay, of course, would continue to be available to him at all times and we’d offer him leaves, grass, sticks, seeds, oats, and roots every now and then as well. It took us about 6 months to reach that goal.
Changing a rabbit’s diet is a slow process. Every new vegetable needs to be introduced one at a time in extremely small quantities (fingernail-sized) over at least a week to determine whether or not it will upset their stomach. If not, it can slowly be given in larger amounts and another new vegetable can be introduced. We worked on the “easier” options first. Cilantro, fennel, romaine lettuce, and basil are easily digestible. At the same time, we slightly reduced the amounts of pellets Bunny got with every new vegetable we introduced.
While all this was happening, we also ran into a few obstacles. First of all, Bunny turned out to be picky. Some vegetables he would devour in seconds (like cilantro or fennel), others he’d only eat if he was really hungry (like green peppers or cucumbers), and some he wouldn’t touch at all (like dill or mustard greens). That shortened the list of vegetables that were acceptable sources of food for a rabbit considerably. It was frustrating to not be able to rotate the vegetables immediately, because Bunny didn’t like any of the options we had. The second obstacle was that Bunny’s stomach is very sensitive, doesn’t adjust well to change, and he often ended up with soft stool. Not diarrhea, though, so while that slowed down the whole process of introducing new vegetables, it did not discourage us. We were ultimately able to get rid of his soft stool issues completely once we realized that feeding him lots of small meals a day made him wait for those meals instead of snacking on hay. He simply did not eat as much hay as he needed to anymore. Now he gets 2 cups of fresh food in the morning and 2 before bed time and is “forced” to consume hay during the day. Problem solved. He’s still picky, though.
Bunny is at a point now where he gets 3-4 cups of vegetables every day and a bit of fruit every now and then for his sweet tooth. He is used to a wide variety of food, including cilantro, parsley, Italian parsley, basil, romaine lettuce, arugula, fennel, pepper, cucumber, parsnip, carrot, banana, apple, strawberry, blueberry, broccoli, dandelion, spinach, kale, collard greens, celery, apple mint, mint, nettle leaves, nettle root, dandelion root, chamomile, grass, some types of leaves, and more. We try to stick with fresh food only, but have to switch to dried versions at times, especially when it comes to more unusual choices (such as nettle root). Since we always have 7-10 different vegetables at home, his diet is well-balanced and he only gets a small amount of each food. We always prepare all vegetables carefully and make sure they are washed and often skinned, especially if the skin was waxed (apples and cucumbers) or contains a high amount of toxins (parsnips). Bunny does not get food that has gone bad.
While it can be a pain to chop up vegetables every day, it is much less wasteful and expensive than we thought. We rarely have to throw any fresh food away, because it all keeps for about a week and that is plenty of time for Bunny to eat it, even when we have 10 different vegetables at home. Fennel can be expensive at about $4 each, but it lasts for 5-7 days. Kale and collard greens never add up to more than $0.50 per rotation. Most other vegetables can be turned into a salad for us humans, too. I’d say we probably spend around $15 a week on Bunny’s fresh food diet, not counting the hay. While he certainly loved the pellets, he goes just as crazy over a bit of cilantro.
This post is just an introduction to a pellet-free rabbit diet. Please research and understand the whole process completely before making any changes. I am not a vet and am not claiming to be one. Also, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that this is the one and only way to go and every rabbit should be fed the way ours is. I am just offering you our perspective.