Even though wild rabbits and our domestic pet rabbits look different, their digestive system is still very much alike. This means that the ideal and most healthy diet for our little pets should be similar to what wild rabbits intuitively pick out for themselves. That being said, it is not always possible for people to provide the same kind of food and if that is the case alternatives need to be found. How much a rabbit should eat depends on its size and won’t be covered in this article. Here are the categories of food in order of healthiness for rabbits:
Wild rabbits primarily feed on meadows full of fresh grass and herbs, which provide them with all the vitamins and minerals necessary to lead a healthy life and ensure that their ever-growing teeth stay at an ideal length. If at all possible, our pet rabbits should be allowed to feast on as much grass (and as many varieties of grass) and herbs as they like, because that is the most proper and healthy diet they could get. Most people will find this to be an impossible task, though, especially while living in a big city.
If grass and herbs are not readily available or not available in the necessary quantities (which should be the case for most of us), then hay (which is dried grass) is a great alternative. Choose hay such as Timothy or Orchard for adult rabbits and alfalfa for babies. Whatever hay you choose, it should be accessible at all times. While hay is a great substitute, it is not as good as grass, because through the drying process a lot of water and some of the minerals and vitamins get lost.
Vegetables and Herbs
Fresh vegetables and herbs (or even better: fresh organic vegetables and herbs) are next on the list. In the wild, rabbits are certainly able to find a large variety of them. Not all vegetables and herbs we humans can eat are healthy for rabbits. Some of them should be avoided or fed in small quantities only. Bunny gets about 4 cups of 8-12 different kinds of vegetables and herbs every day in addition to unlimited hay. Aside from the occasional piece of fruit, sticks, and leaves, this is basically all he eats. Click here for a detailed list of vegetables rabbits are allowed to eat.
Some bunnies love sticks (for example from an apple, willow, or hazelnut tree), some have no interest at all. We offer them regularly with mixed results. Roots and leaves are a bigger hit around here and our bunnies benefit from the extra nutrition.
Fruit makes a great treat! Just like almost every human would rather eat chocolate than a salad, rabbits will often go for food high in sugar as well. It is perfectly fine to treat those bunnies to a bit of fruit every now and then (a piece of apple, for example, is a great and healthy choice), but keep in mind how little your pet is. A piece of banana will be eaten by a rabbit just as quickly as by a human, yet we are so many times bigger that we need a much larger amount of sugar to feel/see any consequences. Rabbits that exercise a lot may be allowed to have more treats than a rabbit that doesn’t.
Pellets were created for commercial rabbits that are raised for meat and fur. All the vitamins and minerals for a healthy rabbit are already contained in the food groups mentioned above. In fact, if you look at the ingredients of pellets, there isn’t even one kind of vegetable or herb in there. Green pellets are not made of herbs, orange ones not made of carrots. The colors are there to make us humans think we are buying something extra nutritious.There is also way more energy in those pellets than necessary.
We do not feed pellets to our rabbits, but if you want to it’s best to choose the plain kind without colors or seeds. They should be Timothy hay based and only be offered in small quantities. Many rabbits have dental issues, because they eat too many pellets and not enough greens and hay/grass.
Unless we are talking about dried herbs or (untreated dried) fruit or oats, it’s probably unhealthy and possibly harmful for rabbits. If it has a bunch of colors, mentions eggs, honey, milk, or added vitamins, it’s probably better to stay away. The colors are more than likely artificial. Rabbits would never eat dairy products in the wild and can’t properly digest them. Added vitamins are unnecessary (why are they not naturally a part of the treat?). I’m not saying your rabbit is going to die from a couple of yogurt drops every now and then. BUT be aware that fresh or (freeze) dried natural treats will make your bun just as happy and keep him/her healthier in the long run.
Rabbits do not need bread. Not even to wear down their teeth – that’s what grass and/or hay is for. They would never get it in the wild, there is no nutritional value in bread, and it may cause issues in the digestive system. Same goes for Cheerios.
Please note that any abrupt changes to your rabbit’s diet may cause diarrhea and other issues. Any changes should be made gradually over time. Also, not every rabbit will respond well to every type of food – test one new food item at a time and introduce it slowly while monitoring how it affects your rabbit. Please also be aware that I am not a vet and am not claiming to be one.