General Rabbit Care Diet

Rabbit Food Pyramid  //   All About Hay  //   Fresh Greens  //   The Place of Pellets  //   Treats  //   Rabbit Nutrition  //  

Rabbit Food Pyramid

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All About Hay

Bunnies love and need fresh hay! Be sure to provide an unlimited supply for them to nibble at all times. Hay fiber is the best defense against intestinal blockages and teeth issues. SDHRS offers freshly packed boxes of hay at reasonable prices. For just $15 a box, you get about 7-8 lbs. of nicely mixed hays (timothy, orchard, oat or three-way (grain) and sometimes a bit of alfalfa). You can purchase our hay at these locations: Hay Sale Outlets Plan ahead. Don't let your hay supply run out before purchasing more!

Timothy Hay

Timothy hay is the most-recommended hay for rabbits. It looks like a dried blades of grass, fairly wide and its color is a soft green to grey/brown green. Timothy hay also has "solid cattails" which distinguishes it from Orchard grass which has "broken cattails." Much of the Timothy is imported from Northern states (Oregon or Washington). Timothy hay is included in all of our mixed boxed hay.

Orchard Grass Hay

Orchard grass hay is very similar in appearance to Timothy but the "cattails" have small segments missing from them every 1/32 of an inch. Also the cattails tend to be pale brown, whereas Timothy cattails are green to light yellow. Orchard Grass makes a large part of the hay boxes we pack for the community.

Oat Hay

Oat hay consists of large hollow cylindrical stalks and flat blades that are golden yellow to light green with oats on the end. The coloration and the presence of oats distinguishes this hay from others. Oat hay can vary widely in appearance and oat count, depending on the harvest season. New harvests are generally oat laden, whereas later harvest such as Dec-Feb can be very light, with minimal oats. Many people confuse Oat hay with Straw. The similarity is in the coloration. Straw is not a food source, but is typically used for bedding, mostly in the horse and farming communities. Oat hay is an excellent source of fiber. Bunnies tend to enjoy mostly the oats, but will sporadically munch on the hay stalks.If bun's diet is high in oat hay, the pellets she produces will be larger, lighter in color, and will look like sawdust if crushed. Many bunnies would benefit from eating more oat hay, an excellent preventative for GI Stasis. SDHRS boxed hay may contain oat hay or other fiber rich types to provide variety.

Bermuda Hay

Bermuda grass hay is a good all around food source with a moderate amount of calories. Bermuda grass contains the same nutritional content as Timothy or Orchard grass, so these can be fed interchangeably. The thing about Bermuda grass is that rabbits don't care for it very much. They don't find it as appealing as Orchard or Timothy hays.

Alfalfa Hay

Alfalfa hay is distinguished by stalks, usually brittle and flat green to brown leaves. Very high in calcium, can cause "sludge" in bunny's urine. High calories. Watch for gummy droppings, weight gain, sludge, and cecal pellets not being eaten. These are usually problems of the older (2+ yr. bunny). Hay can vary from dark lime green to yellow/green/brown depending on the season. There is almost always some alfalfa in SDHRS boxed hay. Alfalfa is easy to come by in San Diego County. Many horse people feed alfalfa, but a strict alfalfa diet for bunnies can lead to some of the problems listed above. SDHRS recommends a mixture of hay varieties and "not" a diet high in alfalfa hay.

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Fresh Greens

San Diego House Rabbit Society recommends, in their general dietary guidelines, a small amount of fresh greens, daily. This is to supplement your rabbit's primary diet of hay.

General guidelines are to give about 1 cup of greens for each 4 lbs. of body weight, per day. Select four to six types of greens to give at each feeding. This gives your rabbit a diet varied in vitamins and minerals. If you're not sure that your rabbit has been given greens in the past, and/or your rabbit is under 4 months old, give greens slowly at first. Start with one green item at a time, checking to ensure it does not cause digestive upset and soft stools. Eliminate anything not tolerated by your rabbit. You'll want to tailor these guidelines (with your vet's assistance) to meet your rabbit's specific dietary requirements based on his health or sensitivity to certain foods.

Fruits and carrots are considered treat foods. These should be given very sparingly, at most only 2 or 3 times per week and in only very small quantities (2 inch chunk or 1 inch slice). Fruits can include blueberries, apple, pear, strawberries (esp. their tops). Sweeter fruits such as grapes and bananas should be given few and far between; they are very sweet and will lead to obesity.

Dried fruits have concentrated sugars so should be given in only very tiny pieces and only sparingly. We really don't recommend them on a regular basis. If you give dried papayas or cranberries, for example, they should get only 2 small pieces a couple times per week - at most. Again, only if your rabbit is very healthy and not overweight.

Bunnies have a sweet tooth and if left to their own devices will devour sugary foods to the exclusion of healthful ones. It's up to you to make sure your rabbit's diet is healthy. After all, they don't have the option of shopping for themselves, so they depend on you to feed them foods that help them to live long and healthy lives.

Choose from these greens:

Alfalfa,Clover & Radish Sprouts
Basil (sweet, lemon, or purple)
Beet Greens (tops)
Bok Choy
Broccoli (eliminate if your rabbit has a tendency to get gassy)
Brussels sprouts (eliminate if your rabbit has a tendency to get gassy)
Carrot & carrot tops (tops can be given with greens, carrot should be given as a treat)
Celery (cut into small pieces to eliminate long strings)
Cilantro
Clover
Collard greens
Dandelion greens and flowers (available in produce aisle)
Endive (the curly kind)
Escarole
Kale
Mint
Mustard greens
Parsley
Pea pods (the flat edible kind)
Peppermint leaves
Radicchio
Radish tops
Radiccio
Raspberry leaves
Red or Green Leaf lettuce
Romaine lettuce (no iceberg lettuce)
Spinach
Watercress
Wheat grass

Fruits:

Blueberries
Melon
Orange (be sure to remove the peel as it can harbor pesticides)
Papaya
Peach
Pear
Pineapple
Plums
Raspberries
Strawberries
Watermelon

Absolutely NO chocolate (poisonous!), cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, yogurt drops, or other "human treats." There is research to suggest these items may contribute to fatal cases of enterotoxaemia, a toxic overgrowth of "bad" bacteria in the intestinal tract.

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The Place of Pellets

Rabbit pellets, known for their ease of feeding and rapid weight gain, were originally developed for the rabbit "livestock" market, where rabbits are raised for their meat or fur and not intended to live out their potential lifespan of 8 to 12 years.

For house rabbits, however, diets high in pellets can contribute to obesity, chronic soft stools and overproduction of cecotropes. For the house rabbit who is expected to live 10 years or longer, and may not get enough exercise, a diet that is primarily high in fiber and low in calories is preferred to maintain a healthy weight. And, don't forget plenty of fresh water every day, in a crock or crock & water bottle.

Other problems that can occur with a pelleted diet, is that the pellets most commonly available through pet supply stores are not Photo: Alison Giese ones that promote good health. Often, these pellets are too high in calcium and protein, contain too much sugar (many contain molasses as a binder), and some manufacturers have even added several dangerous additives to their pellets such as corn, seeds, and dried fruits that clearly cause obesity in house rabbits. Rabbits should get a "plain" pellet that is high in fiber, low in protein and calcium, and does not contain any added seeds or dried fruits.

At the San Diego House Rabbit Society, we typically recommend feeding a limited amount of pellets. And, we recommend sticking to pellets that are high in fiber and low in protein, such as Oxbow's Bunny Basics T or Zupreem Nature's Promise (both made from timothy hay) for a maintenance diet, or Purina Fibre3 (high-fiber alfalfa pellets) for young, growing bunnies or older bunnies who need to keep on weight.

We concur with Dr. Susan Brown (see her article on Rabbit Nutrition) that a typical diet should consist of 1/8 cup pellets per 4 pounds of weight. Young rabbits, still developing muscle and bone, do need to eat pellets but keeping them high-quality will help them to add normal weight without becoming obese. Good options for youngsters are Oxbow 15/23, American Pet Diner alfalfa, or Purina Fibre3. Once bunny reaches about 8 months old, they can be transitioned to a Timothy-based pellet that helps to maintain a healthy weight.

Recommended quantities are:

2-4 lb rabbit: ⅛ cup per day
5 -7 lb rabbit: ¼ cup per day
8-10 lb rabbit: ½ cup per day
11 - 15 lb rabbit: ¾ cup per day

Many adult rabbits don't even need pellets to maintain a healthy weight. If your rabbit is overweight, then certainly limiting or omitting pellets can help to get bunny back on track. Check with your veterinarian to determine your rabbit's individual pellet needs.

If your veterinarian advises the feeding of pellets to your rabbit, San Diego HRS recommends the following:

Growing youngsters and geriatric bunnies who need to add weight: Purina Fibre3, an alfalfa-based pellet Weight maintenance or weight loss: Oxbow Bunny Basics T or Zupreem, both Timothy-based pellets.

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Good & Bad Treats

Who can resist that funny bunny face when it's begging for treats? Not me, and not you either! We all want to give the occasional reward of a "treat" to our rabbits, especially when they are being so cute. The trick is what you feed them and to not overdo it.

Feeding too many treats leads to obesity and health problems. Sugary treats can cause dental disease and dysbiosis (an intestinal condition where overgrowth of bacteria causes diarrhea and gas).

It's the opinion of San Diego HRS chapter managers that treats should consist of natural foods such as fragrant herbs, hay-based cookies that contain only the smallest amounts of fruit) or chewing treats such as timothy hay cubes or willow balls. We do not condone the feeding of sugary treats (on a regular basis) such as dried papaya, cranberries (unless for urinary tract issues), mango, raisins, etc. Dried fruits have concentrated sugars which can lead to dental decay and obesity. They can also cause diarrhea in a rabbit.

Treats found in most pet stores are not very good either. Many contain dried fruits, nuts, seeds, honey, sugar and yogurt. All can lead to long-term health problems and obesity.

We DO sell treats in the SDHRS Bunny Store. They include the following, which we consider to be a healthier alternative to most commonly found treats: 


Flopper's Garen Organics: Organic Crackers, Kale Chips, Willow Rings, and Herbal Sprinkles
Tigertail Bunny Cookies
Tigertail Pumpkin Crisps
Critter Cookies
Oxbow Organic Barley Biscuits
American Pet Diner SMAKS
Kaytee Timothy Biscuits
Vitakraft Nibble Rings
Kaytee Rainbow Exact (in $1 bags)

Please remember.... a "treat" is just that. Something you give a few times a week, not as part of your rabbit's everyday diet.

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Rabbit Nutrition - Veteranarian Article

Please click here to download the article as a .docx

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