Rabbits are herbivores and require a varied, balanced diet. They have a specialised digestive tract that allows them to digest the large amount of fibre that is required in their diet.
What should rabbits eat?
The majority of commercially available rabbit foods are actually inappropriate for pet rabbits – they are too concentrated in carbohydrates and fats and lack appropriate levels of fibre, as well don’t allow for adequate dental wear and gastrointestinal movement.
Rabbits have a gastrointestinal system designed to digest large amounts of fibrous material. Wild rabbits eat grass and weeds, some flowers and other plant material, occasionally fruit and also chew on bark and branches.
Essentially rabbits should be fed a hay and vegetables diet – grass hay (meadow, pasture, oaten, cereal, ryegrass or timothy hay) should be available at all times. To prevent soiling, hay can be placed in a wall rack. Grasses of most kinds can be offered (except for grass clippings as they often go mouldy), as well as a variety of garden weeds. Avoid lucerne and other leguminous hays (alfalfa, clover) as they are too high in calcium, except for juvenile, pregnant or lactating rabbits which may benefit from a higher calcium/protein content in their diet.
A range of fresh vegetables should be offered each day, especially leafy green vegetables such as spinach, bok choy/other Asian greens, cauliflower leaves, chicory, kale, mustard greens, cabbage and Brussels sprout leaves. Celery, pea pods, herbs (parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill, mint, etc), broccoli, spring onions, sprouts, dark-leafed lettuce varieties, radish and carrot tops are also suitable.
Give about 2 packed cups or 250g/kg bodyweight per day of at least 3 different varieties – rabbits will usually pick out the things they like.
Feed limited quantities of pellets (no more than 3% of the rabbit’s body weight) and avoid rabbit mixes altogether (selective feeding of items in the mix can lead to dietary deficiencies).
Fresh water needs to be provided 24 hours a day in a bowl that can’t be tipped over. Preferably use water bottles that hang on the side of the cage.
Do I need to give my rabbit vitamins?
No, rabbits do not require extra vitamins or salt licks if they are provided with a proper diet. To help control hairballs, your vet may prescribe a laxative paste that can be given daily or every few days.
Don’t be alarmed if you see your rabbit eating its own droppings! This is called coprophagy and is normal behaviour, being necessary for a rabbit’s health. Rabbits eat special droppings that are passed at night, containing fibrous matter that needs to be re-eaten before the nutrients can be absorbed.
Can I offer my rabbit treats?
Keep treats to a maximum quantity of 1 to 2 tablespoons per rabbit per day.
Most fruits can be offered as a treat e.g. apples, pears, oranges and strawberries. Root vegetables (carrot, sweet potato) and capsicum can also be given as treats. Carrots can be suspended form the cage to keep them occupied and increase time spent eating.
Avoid commercial treats (these are usually high in fat and sugar) and never give chocolate, bread, biscuits, sweets, sugar, breakfast cereals, grains, nuts, seeds, corn, potato peels, rhubarb, peas or beans.
Wood sticks should be provided for chewing. This will help prevent overgrown incisors (front teeth) and keep your rabbit entertained.
Avoid any sudden changes in feeding regimes as this can cause gastrointestinal upset.
Exercise is also important to aid gastrointestinal health and prevent obesity.
Rabbits and the law
Please note that keeping rabbits as pets is currently illegal in Queensland under the Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002. There is a penalty for keeping a rabbit without a permit (maximum $88,000). A permit may be granted for research, public education or public display.
For further information on rabbits in Queensland see the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry page on Rabbits.