So, you've brought home your cute ball of fluff and you're ready to feed it all the carrots in the world... but before you do, maybe have a read of this post first to see if that's a good idea or not!
If you've been in the bunny community for a while, it's likely you have a good understanding of what to feed and what not to feed your buns. But if you're a newbie, popular pet stores and old rabbit care myths can lead you down the wrong path...
You see this image? Looks awesome right? So many fun colours and lots of variety...your buns are bound to love it! Yep, I'm sure they will - but that definitely doesn't mean you should feed them it, especially if you want your bun to live a long, hoppy and healthy life. This is basically a pick n mix for your buns, and well - while I'm sure most of us would happily have a pick n mix for every meal, we probably know better, right? Trust me...when I was much younger I fed my bunny the same & if you asked me what bunnies ate a few years ago - that image would probably be the first thing that came to mind (along with an endless supply of carrots too - another big no due to the high sugar content!)
In fact, the staple of your buns diet actually looks kind of dull and boring compared, as you can see in this next picture. But don't worry - hay is actually super tasty to buns, and as long as you provide them with good quality and fresh hay they'll be super satisfied and have very hoppy and healthy tummies. Watching my buns munching on hay is actually one of my favourite things to do (yes maybe I need a life but...#bunmomlife😜).
So anyway - let's get right into it with the basics:
This food pyramid shows a quick overview of what you should feed your bunnies and in what quantities (Graphic from RWAF).
Now let's go into a little more detail...
1. Grass & Hay
Like I mentioned previously - hay should be the staple of your buns diet and ideally provided in unlimited quantities.
But why is hay so important to a rabbits diet? Firstly, and most importantly - to ensure good digestive motility. Bunnies can be at risk of blockages, for example, from ingesting fur or other bits they shouldn't be eating. This can be uncomfortable for rabbits, but more importantly - fatal. Hay therefore provides a good source of fiber and keeps the gut moving. Moreover, since rabbit's teeth never stop growing, constant hay munching helps wear them down over time so that they don't end up with overgrown and painful teeth which can also lead to a number of further health complications.
There are a number of different types of grass hay you can feed your bunnies and most are nutritionally quite similar, so it doesn't really matter which one you give your bunnies as long as they enjoy eating it in large quantities. The most common types are timothy, meadow, orchard and oat hay. If you don't know which hay your bunny likes best, many small pet hay suppliers offer sample boxes where you can purchase smaller quantities of the different types in a tester box - like this you can get a feel for the hay your buns prefer and endeavour to purchase that type going forward. Alfalfa is another hay variety, however this does have significantly different nutritional values, namely a much higher protein content and higher calcium levels. Due to this, alfalfa hay isn't recommended for adult rabbits and should only be given to young growing or underweight rabbits.
When looking out for hay look for long green and luscious looking strands rather than short yellow strands or dusty bags of hay.
Feed at least a body sized amount of hay daily, however provide unlimited access to hay as much as you can. You can either invest in a large hay rack that you don't need to refill throughout the day (or potentially longer based on the size), or you can replenish your bunnies hay a few times throughout the day.
What about grass you ask? Well - of course, grass is the most natural option for your rabbits, however it isn't always practical to provide for your buns in the quantity they would require for a number of reasons. For example, if your buns live indoors, if you don't have access to a garden, or more likely - if you are unable to provide the amount of fresh grass a bunny would need to eat daily (hence why hay is more often given to rabbits instead). However, grass is still a great addition to a bunnies diet if you are able to provide it, e.g. by cutting some fresh grass from your garden, growing them their own mini indoor grass patch or giving them some outdoor time frequently if you have a garden. Just remember - if your bun has never had fresh grass before, make sure to introduce it to their diet slowly, (as you should with any new fresh green you endeavour to introduce), in order to prevent any potential stomach upset.
2. Fresh Greens
Rabbits should also be given a portion of fresh veggies per day where possible. There are a large number of veggies that are safe for buns, however the best options tend to be dark leafy greens e.g. cilantro, basil, romaine lettuce, bok choi, carrot tops - to name a few. Other options include parsley, kale and spinach to name a few again, however be mindful to give these latter types more sparingly as they have higher calcium contents, and too much calcium can cause certain health issues in rabbits. My usual approach when out shopping for veggies is to do a quick google search if i'm unsure.
When introducing new veggies, give to your rabbits in small amounts and pay attention to stomach upset or diarrhea. If you're introducing fresh greens into your buns diet for the first time, it might be worth giving them a small portion every few days rather than daily, and overall, monitor how your bunnies respond to fresh greens. Every bunny is different, and while some buns may tolerate fresh greens daily in large amounts, others might not, so monitor any changes in your buns poop and try to develop a routine that works best for you and your rabbit. For baby rabbits, endeavour to feed fresh greens after around 3-4 months. Other sources recommend waiting till 6 months + however, every case is different, so if you feel more comfortable you can wait a little longer to play it safe!
If you search for 'rabbit food' on google images you'll without a doubt see the majority of pictures displaying pellets for rabbits. Pellets however, are not a necessary component of a rabbits diet and definitely shouldn't be the primary component of their diet. Many rabbit savvy vets will tell you that you don't need to feed your rabbits pellets at all - mine did. However, many rabbit owners including myself do feed their rabbits pellets for a few reasons. Firstly - since rabbits tend to love their pellets, it can be a helpful indicator to when your bunny might not be feeling so well. Most bunnies usually get super excited for their pellets so if they refuse them or show less interest than usual, it may indicate something is wrong or that they are feeling a little off.
Another reason you might want to feed your rabbit pellets is for nutritional reasons. Maybe you are worried they aren't getting their complete nutritional needs or calories as maybe you aren't able to provide large variety of fresh veggies daily. It is important to be mindful however, that excess feeding of pellets can lead to obesity in rabbits and other health issues, and a rabbit that fills up on pellets is less likely to eat as much hay (remember - hay is important to keep the gut moving!!). It is recommended to feed your buns about a quarter cup of pellets per 4lbs of weight - so adjust based on that! I like to split my buns pellets allowance into two meals so they get breakfast and dinner pellets and like that I'm able to monitor their appetite throughout the day.
Treats are a great way to bond with your bun, teach tricks and well...don't we all love a treat here and there? While treats are enjoyable for your buns, always be mindful of the sugar content of what you're giving them. Buns will go bun-anas for banana but only very small pieces should be given due to the high sugar content. If you wish to give your rabbit fruit as a treat, try to offer small pieces and favour lower sugar fruits such as berries over higher sugar content fruits such as bananas. You can also buy many different pre-made treats for bunnies, however aim for the ones that have few total ingredients and use natural ones, rather than ones that have plenty of random ingredients and additives; some of our personal faves are the natural selective treats.
Phew...that was a lot!
So hopefully you now have a better understanding of what your buns really need to stay hoppy and healthy. Don't worry - it might seem like a lot at first, but really soon it will become complete routine and you won't have to think too much about your buns diet! Let me know what you thought about this post below and Bun appetit friends! ☺️
Lots of love, Tamara, Peanut, Butter & all the Plants xoxo