What Should I Feed My RabbitRabbits are very different from cats and dogs. Dogs and cats are predators while rabbits are prey animals. Dogs and cats let you know when they are sick (sometimes by vomiting all over the carpet). Rabbits hide pain and illness (no vomiting). Once they do show symptoms, they are usually in pretty bad shape.
Rabbit caretakers need to be super vigilant about monitoring their food intake and making sure food is moving quickly and easily through their systems - AKA pooping a bunch. If they stop eating or pooping, they are probably headed for Gastrointestinal Stasis, a potentially deadly condition in which the digestive system slows down or stops completely. A proper diet is essential for a healthy rabbit and should consist of timothy hay, greens, and a small amount of pellets (as a special treat).
Rabbits Need Hay, Lots and Lots of Hay
The main component of a rabbit's diet should be timothy hay, grass hay, or a combination of both. Alfalfa hay should be reserved for baby bunnies unless your veterinarian advises otherwise. Typically hay is placed on top of litter in the litter-box. Yes, they eat in the same place as they do their business, but we all have our quirks. You should replenish hay several times a day to keep it fresh. I also have a couple of bunny safe baskets that I fill with hay so Lulu has options. She also enjoys toilet paper rolls filled with hay - part toy, part snack and eco-friendly.
Timothy Hay is available in small bags in many pet stores, but it is more economical to find a source where you can purchase larger quantities. I highly recommend Oxbow Hay. Visit their website for a listing of where you can purchase their products online or in your community. If you are in the Chicago area, you can also buy 25 pound boxes of hay directly from Lulus's (and Pip's) rescue organization Red Door Animal Shelter.
Rabbits Eat Two Salads a Day (To Keep the Doctor Away)
Rabbits need two salads a day with a mix of 2-4 different greens and a few special toppers. Romaine, red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, butter lettuce, and Boston lettuce make a great salad base. In addition to the greens, add your bunny's favorite toppings like arugula, basil, carrot greens, cilantro, dill, endive, escarole, parsley, mint, radish greens, water cress, or a little chunk of carrot. A tiny bit of spinach or kale can be added, but both are high in calcium so use with caution.
Salad size is based on bunny weight - a tiny rabbit should have one or two cups of greens a day while a larger rabbit might eat four to six cups a day. Lulu has about 3 and a half cups of greens.
Bunny Bonus Tip: Greens should be fresh and washed. Never feed your rabbit greens that you would not eat yourself. Lulu eats her salad on a paper plate, which she then likes to fling around the room like a Frisbee.
Pellets are Treats
Pellets were originally invented for breeders as an inexpensive way to fatten up their animals. For most bunnies, pellets are optional and should be more of a treat. Timothy hay based pellets are the best for adult rabbits and Oxbow's Bunny Basics are a great option. Portion size depends on rabbit weight and varies between 1/8 teaspoon and two tablespoons.
Avoid pellets that have ingredients such as birdseed (cause bunnies are not birds), dried corn, peas, or fruit. Fiesta or so-called gourmet mixes can cause serious, even fatal problems for rabbits. Treats such as yogurt drops or granola-type birdseed are also risky.
Lulu doesn't even like pellets. She much prefers a small piece of banana or extra basil for a special treat.
If you missed Bunny Basics Part One, you can find it here. Tune in Monday, March 13 for information on housing and bunny proofing your home.