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How to feed your rabbit

Rabbits are grazing animals and need access to hay round the clock. But they need much more than just that. Get some advice on the best way to feed your rabbit.

What do rabbits eat?

Rabbits are roughage eaters, which means that they can and should digest cellulose with the help of their bacteria in the caecum. Like horses and cows, they are grazing animals that in nature mainly feed on grass, leaves and other low plants.

In captivity, incorrect feeding, both directly and indirectly, is the most common cause of disease in rabbits. In addition to potentially life-threatening stomach and intestinal diseases, rabbits can have problems with their teeth and a weakened immune system.

Hay

About 80% of your rabbits diet should be hay. Feeding hay must always be available in unlimited quantities, but your rabbit needs much more. That being said, your rabbit will likely prefer the tastier food, so make sure they don't get too much - hay is still the priority.

Vary between the types of hay but be careful not to give too much alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay has lots of calcium carbonate and can cause problems with urinary stone formation.

Also keep in mind that loose hay is better than compressed hay. The hay must be of good quality, and make sure it's not dusty and doesn't feel damp or smell musty. Store the hay dry and preferably airy so you don't get mould.

Leafy vegetables

As a complement to hay, the best food is leafy greens of various kinds. In the wild, rabbits eat the foliage and stems of the plant, not the roots or fruits. Ideally, you should vary as much as possible and try to bring three different varieties every day. 

Some examples of good leafy greens include:

  • Grass
  • Raspberry leaves
  • Dandelions and other weeds
  • Leaves from fruit trees and other common deciduous trees
  • Fresh potted herbs
  • Parsley
  • Hibiscus leaves from unsprayed plants
  • Broccoli with leaves
  • Cabbage of various kinds
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard

Spinach, Swiss chard, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli should not be given too much as they can cause metabolic diseases, but in a mixture and in smaller amounts it is fine. Cabbage can also cause a lot of gas and the rabbit can get a stomach ache if they get too much.

Dry food for rabbits

The most common dry food sold for rabbits consists of pellets. Mixtures containing grain, seeds, corn, flakes, dried fruit and more are very useless and should not be given at all. They are far too fatty, high in carbohydrates, easy to chew and low in fibre.

The risk with these mixtures is that your rabbit will pick out the tastiest seeds. These are usually the most fatty, leading to a one-sided, high-fat diet.

Pellets of good quality and high fibre content (at least 20-25%) can be given in limited amounts but they're not necessary. If you want to feed with pellets, don't feed any more than 1-2 tablespoons per day to a two kilo rabbit.

Night stools

An important part of a rabbit's diet is also the self-produced night faeces. These small "plutters" with a slightly grape-like and glossy appearance, come from the caecum and contain important vitamins and nutrients. Although a little unappetising to us, these little "vitamin bombs" are of the utmost importance for the rabbit's health.

Treats

Just like us, rabbits enjoy a treat every now and then, the following can be given about once a week:

  • A small piece of carrot, fruit or berry
  • A little dried fruit
  • A piece of crispbread

Nuts, seeds, cookies, chocolate, breakfast cereals, sweets and other sweetened foods should be avoided altogether. Make sure your rabbit can't access food for your other pets, such as dog or cat food.

Mineral stones

Salt and mineral stones should not be given to rabbits as it contributes to an increased risk of urinary stones.

Vitamins

Vitamin supplements are unnecessary to give to healthy rabbits that eat a wholesome diet.

Sensitive tummies

Rabbits can be sensitive to abrupt feed changes. If a new feed is to be introduced, it must be done gradually in a very small amount at first. At the slightest sign of diarrhoea, loss of appetite or reduced stools, stop feeding the new diet immediately and contact the vet.

If you have an Agria Pet Insurance policy, you can get veterinary advice 24/7 through the Agria Vet Guide app.

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