Feeding your pet rabbit an appropriate diet that fulfils all of their needs is essential in order to keep your rabbit healthy, and ensure that they stand the best chance of reaching old age. People often mistakenly think of the rabbit as an easy pet to keep, particularly when it comes to feeding them; but in fact, the metabolism of rabbits is complex and delicate, and you should spend a significant amount of time addressing their unique dietary requirements.
In this article we will look at rabbits and their nutritional requirements in more depth, and discuss what you should feed your rabbit to keep them healthy and well.
Wild rabbits that live outdoors with free range to roam eat what is right in front of them; grass! They also eat a wide range of other grazed foods, including plants and weeds such as dandelions and herbs. Rabbits are obligate vegetarians, meaning that they do not and cannot eat meat and meat by-products. Rabbits also consume their own poop in small quantities, which is an important part of keeping their metabolism ticking over, and ensuring that they gain all of the necessary nutrients from their diet.
Whenever you see a rabbit, be it wild or tame, the chances are that it will be chewing! Rabbits have a very fast and delicate metabolism, which needs to be constantly ticking over in order to keep going. A gap of any significant amount of time between meals means that the rabbit’s digestive system will grind to a halt, which is potentially serious as it can be hard to get things going again.
Rabbits graze and masticate right throughout their day, and will not be healthy or thrive with set mealtimes.
The teeth of the rabbit are specially designed to allow them to begin the process of digesting the tough, fibrous vegetation that they eat, making it easier to process within the stomach. Unlike human teeth, the teeth of the rabbit are constantly growing, and do so for the duration of their lives. The diet that the rabbit consumes requires plenty of chewing, which keeps the rabbit’s teeth short enough for comfort. In the wild, it is very rare to see a rabbit with overly long teeth, but this is an issue that can arise in domestic rabbits that are fed a different diet to that which they would naturally forage for.
When keeping rabbits domestically, it is vitally important to keep an eye on their dental health, and ensure that their teeth do not become so long that they cut the lower lip, cause problems chewing, or obstruct the normal movement of the jaw.
Providing lots of roughage and things to chew on can help with this, but some pet rabbits need to visit the vet now and then to have their teeth cut or filed down to a suitable length.
The domestic pet rabbit by necessity will eat a rather different food mixture than they eat in the wild, although it is important to try to mimic their natural diet as much as possible.
The ideal rabbit diet should consist of several things; highly nutritional rabbit-specific food such as pellets, fresh greens and vegetables, and plenty of roughage for grazing.
Roughage consists of grass or hay, and if possible, you should allow your rabbit every opportunity to graze on grass as part of their daily routines. At any time when they cannot access grass, such as when they are inside, if there is not enough grass or it is too cold outside, they should be fed a constant supply of good quality, rabbit-friendly soft hay.
Providing free access to hay or grass at all times is vital to ensure that your rabbit’s metabolism does not stall.
Rabbits also very much enjoy a whole range of fresh greens and raw vegetables, which can help to supplement their diets and provide essential nutrients. You should shop specifically for your rabbit with their needs in mind, and not simply feed them scraps and cooked veg from your own meals!
If you are not totally sure what type of greens or veg are good for your rabbit, any item from the list below will prove to be a safe pick.
This list is by no means fully inclusive, but does represent some of the most common suitable vegetables and leaves that rabbits can enjoy as part of a balanced diet.