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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 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 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:
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:
For pellets, fresh hay, and other rabbit supplies, visit the HRS Bunny Supply Store from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday (closed for religious holidays). You can also purchase many of these items from our hay sources around the County.