7 Feeding Tips For a Happy and Healthy Rabbit
Much like people, rabbits require variety in their diet to keep their immune systems strong and taste buds happy. A handful of pellets just doesn't cut it when it comes to meeting these sweet creatures' needs. A rabbit's food intake directly impacts their well-being, determining things like ease of digestion, skin and coat condition, oral hygiene, and overall quality of life, so Andy is here to help you get it right.
1. Your Herbivore Needs Hay
A steady supply of all-natural hay is the foundation of any balanced rabbit diet and should make up a majority of your pet's daily food intake. Because rabbits eat such a large volume of hay each day, understanding the differences between varieties and cuttings is essential to providing your bunny with the best crop.
Alfalfa vs. Timothy
The most common forages marketed to rabbit owners are alfalfa and Timothy hays. Though similar in appearance, they serve very different purposes. Alfalfa is a legume hay high in protein, fat, and calcium. Due to its surplus of calories and nutrients, alfalfa is most suitable for rabbits who are pregnant, nursing, or less than six months old. Although adult rabbits may enjoy alfalfa as an occasional treat, an excess of calcium can cause urinary stones and other GI issues if fed too often. It can also lead to weight gain in adult rabbits.
Adult rabbits benefit more from Timothy hay, which is high in fiber and relatively low in protein. In addition to maintaining a healthy digestive system, Timothy hay is great for naturally wearing down your bunny's ever-growing teeth, so be sure that your fur baby has unlimited access to fresh, high-quality hay at all times.
The nutritional value of Timothy hay depends on the plant's maturity during the time of cutting. Because Timothy is a grass hay, it is cut multiple times throughout the harvesting season.
1st Cut Timothy Hay
Andy's first cutting occurs at an early growth stage, delivering hay with a coarse texture, thick stems, and an abundance of Timothy seed heads (a super tasty treat for most bunnies!). High in fiber and low in protein and fat, the first cut is a solid choice for bunnies who tend to overindulge and have a little extra fluff. Additionally, its rough texture and thicker stems is best for keeping your rabbit's chompers in check.
2nd Cut Timothy Hay
Andy's second cutting is harvested later in the season and is generally softer and leafier than the first. With thinner stems, shorter seed heads, and broader leaves, the second cutting has higher protein and fat counts, making it an excellent choice for most adult rabbits.Still wondering which type of hay to feed your rabbit? Take our quiz!
Organic Timothy Hay
We currently offer USDA certified organic 1st cutting, and it's quickly become a favorite of many of our furry friends. You may be wondering why we don't offer organic second cutting, and the answer is simple: our crop didn't meet our expectations. Organic can be trickier to grow and we prefer to wait until the crop is exactly right until we offer to you and your small pet. Check back in the summer or join our email list if you're interested in Organic 2nd Cut!
Did you know that we offer the only USDA certified organic Timothy hay on the market for small pets? There are other hay businesses that claim to have 'organically grown' hay, but there's actually a big difference in being certified by the USDA. Learn more about why that matters.
Pro tip: If you're unsure which to feed, why not try all of our hay with our 1.5 pound sample size boxes? Rabbits have personal preferences when it comes to food, just like us. While many display a fondness for Andy's first cutting, your bunny may favor the second. Either way, Andy's dedication to delivering only the best from our family-owned fields means your rabbit will receive the quality forage they need to flourish.
2. Veggies: Pack a Punch with Fresh Produce
Rabbits require a bounty of fresh produce each day in addition to unlimited access to fresh hay. Dark leafy greens offer necessary vitamins and add an exciting assortment of tastes and textures to your bunny's meals. Diversity is essential to a wholesome diet, so serve two or three veggies each day and switch things up throughout the week. Be mindful, however, that you should introduce new foods gradually. Rabbits are sensitive and need time to adjust to changes in their menu. If the addition of any food causes diarrhea or other problems lasting more than 48 hours, remove it from their diet.
While fresh, high-fiber foods keep your bunny's digestive system healthy, be careful not to overdo it. The amount you feed should depend on your pet's size. Bunnies weighing less than five pounds should consume no more than one cup of veggies per day, while larger breeds can have double that. Also, be wary of unwashed or moldy foods and avoid pesticides. If you wouldn't eat it, your bunny shouldn't either.
What vegetables can rabbits eat:
- Romaine lettuce
- Fresh herbs (including basil, cilantro & mint)
- Bell peppers
- Brussel sprouts
Vegetables to feed rabbits once or twice a week:
Some veggies, such as kale, spinach, collard greens, broccoli, and carrots offer less sustainable nutrients and should be limited to once a week.
Foods not to feed rabbits:
Many foods need to be avoided entirely to keep your rabbit in good health. These include:
- Iceberg lettuce
3. Providing Your Bunny with Pellets
Rabbit pellets are not mandatory but can be effective supplements. A well-crafted pellet is dense in vitamins and serves to add variety to your pet's diet. Pellets should be high in fiber, made using Timothy hay, and appear quite plain. Products containing colorful pieces, seeds, or dried fruit encourage pickiness and are not usually the healthiest option.
Also note, too many pellets can cause a surplus of carbohydrates and calcium, resulting in weight gain, digestion problems, and even fatal diseases. A safe guide is to serve no more than 1/8 -1/4 cup a day for every five pounds your rabbit weighs.
For young and pregnant rabbits, alfalfa pellets will provide the right amount of fat, protein and nutrients that are required for growing bunnies. We worked with Heinold Feeds to get a custom, high-end formula created just for your fur baby.
4. Tasty Treats Your Rabbit Can Eat
Treats are a great way to lift your bunny's mood and reward good behavior. Opt for rabbit-friendly fruits and flowers and avoid items high in added sugar and soluble carbohydrates. If fed just once a week, a tablespoon or two of foods like strawberries, pineapple, watermelon, apples, roses, dandelions, and marigolds make excellent snacks for your furry friend. Fruits higher in sugar, like bananas, should be given less frequently and in smaller amounts. You should also avoid treats with added sugars, or any human treats that aren't rabbit-approved.
What fruits can rabbits eat:
5. A Hydrated Rabbit is a Healthy Rabbit
Water helps bunnies regulate their temperature, absorb nutrients, and prevents dehydration, so continuous access to at least one water supply is imperative. If you choose to purchase a crock for your rabbit's cage, be sure it's heavy enough that your bunny can't tip it. Likewise, if you use a water bottle, make sure your bunny understands how to drink from the nozzle. Rabbits should not go more than a few hours without a drink, so refresh your pet's water frequently.
6. Nutrients & Night Droppings
Your rabbit's vitamin and nutrient levels are likely sufficient if you feed a variety of hay, veggies, and pellets. Vitamin supplements are typically unnecessary and can cause hazardous imbalances if supplied without cause. However, if you notice changes in your rabbit's well-being or sense something is not right, consult your vet right away.
You may note that your rabbit excretes droppings throughout the day, which appear darker, greener, and softer than regular waste. These are called "night droppings" or "cecotropes" and should not be confused with diarrhea. Night droppings contain vital nutrients that were not absorbed during digestion. Consequently, rabbits will ingest the droppings, allowing their bodies a second chance to extract any necessary nutrients. You can actually learn quite a bit about your rabbit's health from their droppings, get the scoop on rabbit poop here.
7. Finders Keepers: Bunnies Love to Forage
Even though our bunnies certainly benefit from the balanced nutrition we provide, rabbits evolved to spend their day foraging for food. Without the mental and physical activity scavenging promotes, bunnies are prone to boredom with hours of unoccupied time. Not only does foraging keep your bunny entertained, but it also forces them to eat more slowly, reducing the risk of obesity and other related issues. So make mealtimes better and ditch the food bowl. Instead, hide and scatter your bunny's food and watch as they fulfill their natural instincts.
With a helping hand from Andy and a little planning from you, there’s no doubt your bunny will get the fuel they need to thrive and the sustenance to play all day long.