The Best Diet for Rabbits; A Complete Guide
Feeding your rabbit, the best diet is critical for his or her health, behavior and increasing how long your rabbit will live. Rabbits have a complex digestive system that is quite different from our own. The best diet for any rabbit contains lots of fiber from hay and timothy-based pellets, dark leafy greens, and a small assortment of “treat” foods.
- 1 Hay for Rabbits- Critical Nutrition
- 1.1 What is Hay?
- 1.2 Why Hay is Important
- 1.3 Best Hay for Rabbits
- 1.4 Types of Hay
- 1.5 What Cut of Hay is Best for Rabbits?
- 1.6 How Much Hay Do Rabbits Eat?
- 1.7 Hay Requirements for Baby and Young Rabbits
- 1.8 Hay Feeders
- 1.9 Alfalfa Hay Danger
- 1.10 My Rabbit Refuses to Eat Hay
- 1.11 Additional Hay Information
- 2 Pellets for Rabbits
- 3 Vegetables
- 4 How Much Vegetables to Feed a Rabbit
- 5 Fruits for your rabbit
- 6 Treats for rabbits
- 7 Water
- 8 Dental Health & Diet
- 9 Non-Edible “Foods”
- 10 About the Author
Hay for Rabbits- Critical Nutrition
Hay, the most important food for rabbits. It is boring but very important for your rabbit’s overall wellbeing and dental health. To many pet rabbit owners do not understand how critical hay is for their rabbit’s health. It should be their primary food source and make up about 75% of your rabbits’ diet.
What is Hay?
Simply put hay is a grass that is cut, dried, and then stored. Farmers plant a grass, let it grow and then mow or cut it. The hay will then lay in the farm field until the sun fully dries it out. This is where the saying “make hay while the sun shines” comes from. After the drying process, the hay will be raked and then put into round or square bales for storage in a dry location with ample ventilation.
Why Hay is Important
Hay is important for two reasons. The first is that that hay is extremely high in fiber content. Fiber is a critical component for your rabbit’s digestive health. If your rabbit does not get enough fiber it is possible for them to suffer from GI Stasis. This condition is an emergency and kill your rabbit quickly.
If your rabbit stops eating and does not poop for 24 hours, it is most likely GI Stasis and you need to see a veterinarian immediately that specializes in treating rabbits.
The second reason that hay is important is for dental health. Your rabbit’s teeth are designed to eat grass and hay. The front teeth are sharp and act like scissors to cut threw hard material and the rear molars are designed to grind and crush course material into a pulp. If your rabbit’s teeth become crooked or worn the wrong way from not eating enough hay nutritional and health issues can arise.
If your rabbit cannot grind up his or her food with the rear molars, they will not be able to efficiently extract the nutrients and fiber from the hay or grass. This will lead to long term health issues from nutritional deficiency. During your rabbits yearly check up your vet will inspect his or her teeth to make sure they are properly aligned and worn evenly. This is one reason it is important that rabbits go to the vet regularly.
Best Hay for Rabbits
Most rabbit owners and veterinarians agree that 2nd cut Timothy hay is the best option for almost all adult rabbits. You may be surprised to hear that Timothy hay is nutritionally similar a number of other hays. So why is it recommended as being the best hay then? Because it is much coarser than other hays and therefore better for your rabbit’s dental health.
I would caution you from reading to much into the fact that 2nd cut Timothy hay is best though. My opinion is formed from owning house rabbits for over twenty years is that the best hay is the hay that your rabbit will eat the most of. Many rabbits do not like Timothy hay and will only eat a small amount or worse, none. It is much better for your rabbit to eat a large amount of another type of hay than only a small amount of Timothy.
I have a post about the best hay for rabbits that has all my recommendations on it and where to buy it.
Types of Hay
There are many types of hay that are acceptable for rabbits to eat. The only one that you need to use caution with is Alfalfa. I have a paragraph dedicated to this subject down below.
My recommendation is to try and start your rabbit off with a quality 2nd cut timothy hay. If your rabbit is not eating it well then you need to try some other options.
Acceptable types of hay for rabbits includes the following.
- Timothy Hay (2nd cut)
- Orchard Grass Hay
- Oat Hay
- Meadow Grass Hay
- Bermuda Grass Hay
- Brome Hay
Most rabbits will eat Orchard Grass Hay and you can find it almost anywhere. Here is a nutritional chart I made up about the most common types of hay. As you can see the nutritional difference is not that great.
What Cut of Hay is Best for Rabbits?
To further complicate the hay issue there is different cuts of hay. Some hays are cut numerous times a year like timothy hay, therefore we have 1st, 2nd and 3rd cut hay. So, what is the difference?
1st cut hay
If you could not guess this is the first cut of hay for the year. The first cut has somewhat flexible stems and large bloomed heads. All hay has fiber, fat, and protein. The first cut has less fat than all other cuts and is a lean hay that is excellent for rabbits that are overweight. If you have an adult rabbit that is in good health and within the weight standards, then this would not be the best choice in hay for your bunny.
2nd cut hay
2nd cut hay is commonly fed to rabbits and is considered to be the standard for all adult rabbits. A perfect balance of fiber, protein and fat allows rabbits to get the nutrients they need to stay healthy. You may notice that 2nd cut is leafier looking than 1st cut.
3rd cut hay
This cut of hay has more calories in it than 1st and 2nd cut hay, but it is not enough that it needs to be off limits to your rabbit. If your pet rabbit rejects eating hay altogether or does not eat enough you should try feeding 3rd cut hay or try mixing both hays. Another option is to feed Orchard grass hay or another type of approved hay.
3rd cut hay is exceptionally soft in texture and smells amazing. Rabbits love 3rd cut hay, but it does have a disadvantage when it comes to dental health and is higher in calories.
How Much Hay Do Rabbits Eat?
Hay should make up about 80 percent of your rabbits’ overall diet. The average pet rabbit should be eating about a large handful of hay per day. This is about 13 ounces per week or 3 ¼ pounds per month for a 2 to 3 pound rabbit. If you have a larger breed you may find that they consume up to 5 pounds of hay per month.
Keep in mind that rabbits tend to waste some of their hay also. A hay feeder can help minimize waste and keep the hay from being contaminated by urine or poop pellets.
Hay Requirements for Baby and Young Rabbits
Baby and juvenile rabbits have special dietary needs. Since their body is growing rapidly, they need a hay with more calories, fat, and nutrients. The best hay for baby rabbits is Alfalfa Hay, not timothy. In addition to being more calorie dense Alfalfa has high levels of calcium in it to help build strong bones.
You should start phasing Alfalfa out of your rabbits’ diet around four to five months of age. Never feed Alfalfa beyond six months of age. It is best to slowly mix in an approved adult hay like Timothy or Orchard grass into the Alfalfa to get your rabbit to switch over smoothly.
Rabbits are delicate creatures, particularly when talking about their respiratory and digestive tract. Having a hay feeder or rack allows you to keep your rabbits hay off the ground or bottom of the cage. If your rabbit’s hay is laying on the ground it can become contaminated with urine and poop. As you can imagine this is not the best thing for your rabbit’s health.
Another advantage of having a hay feeder is that it will cause your rabbit to eat more hay which a great thing for his or her health. The reason that your rabbit will eat more hay is because the feeder or rack will keep the hay clean and fresh making it more appealing to eat. In addition to that your rabbit will eat more hay because they will find it fun and mentally stimulating having to pull out the strands of hay from the feeder.
My post on the best hay feeders may be helpful to you.
Alfalfa Hay Danger
Here is what you need to know… NEVER feed Alfalfa to rabbits over the age of six months. Adult rabbits cannot handle the high calcium content. If an adult rabbit is allowed to regularly eat Alfalfa the calcium will cause bladder and kidney damage.
You may notice that some rabbit treats contain a small amount of Alfalfa or are Alfalfa based. You do not need to worry about the calcium since treats only make up a small amount of your rabbits’ diet.
My Rabbit Refuses to Eat Hay
Some rabbits may refuse to eat the hay that you give them. There could be a number of reasons why this is happening. Make sure that you are feeding the right amount of pellets and treats/fruit make up only a tiny portion of your rabbits’ diet. If your rabbit is getting to much of the “good stuff” then their appetite will get spoiled.
Another reason may be the type of hay you are feeding your rabbit. If you have been trying to feed Timothy Hay, then I suggest you try Orchard Grass Hay or something similar. Many rabbits prefer a softer hay and will eat better.
One last point is freshness. Hay is good for a year or two stored under proper conditions. Never feed your rabbit hay that has been exposed to moisture, smells off or has any signs of mold or mildew.
Pellets for Rabbits
Pellets should make up about 10 – 15 percent of your rabbits’ total diet. There are some pet rabbit owners that do not feed pellets at all and supplement with extra vegetation. I do not have a problem with this, but I do choose to feed my house rabbits some pellets.
It is important that you choose a high-quality pellet that is Timothy based. There are many “bad” or “junk food” pellets out their than there are good ones. You must be incredibly careful when selecting which pellet you are going to feed. More on that in just a moment though.
Best rabbit pellets
I have a post about the best rabbit pellets and my recommendations. I preferer Oxbow adult rabbit pellets. They of the best quality and have never let me down. Oxbow makes products with rabbits in mind while most other manufacturers do not.
Bad or “Junk Food” Rabbit Pellets
There are so many of these unhealthy and dangerous out there I do not know where to start. Here is an example of a couple kinds of pellets you do NOT want to feed your bun.
You should never feed your rabbit pellets that contain any of the following.
- Disks (These look like the treats that they sell for small mammals)
- Husks, cobs, wheat, or other filler material
Manufacturers love to add this type of junk to their food because rabbits become addicted to it. Many owners do not know any better and think that they are doing the right thing by feeding this type of pellet since their rabbits love it.
Timothy Hay Pellets
When selecting a rabbit pellet, it is important to select one that is Timothy based. This means that the pellet is made from mostly compressed Timothy hay which is great for your rabbit’s health.
Timothy hay pellets are best for adult rabbits because of the high fiber content and low calcium content in Timothy hay. This does not mean that every pellet out there that is made from Timothy hay is good but it where you want to start.
How Much Pellets to Feed a Rabbit
This has been a hotly debated issue of the past 30 years among pet rabbit owners as well as veterinarians that specialize in rabbits. After having many pet rabbits over the past 20 years, I believe that there are several correct answers to the question; “How much pellets to feed a pet rabbit?”
Most pet bunny owners stick with the standard of 1/8 to 1/4 cup of pellets per 5 pounds of body weight. This is perfect for most adult rabbits and what I have done over the years with my buns. If your rabbit is not caged much and runs freely you may want to feed on the high end of a 1/4 Cup.
Alfalfa Pellets for Rabbits
Alfalfa-based pellets are fine for young rabbits under 5 months of age but should never be fed to adult rabbits. The high calcium content will harm for rabbit’s bladder and kidneys.
Best Baby Rabbit Pellets
If you do happen to have a baby rabbit, then you will want to check out my post about the best pellets for baby rabbit. Any rabbit that is under 5 or 6 months of age is considered a baby or juvenile rabbit. Alfalfa based pellets should be fed to rabbits early on then as your rabbit grows it is a good idea to start blending Alfalfa and Timothy pellets as he or she gets older. This will help your rabbit’s digestive system ease into a new diet. It will also keep your rabbit from getting hooked on the Alfalfa pellets.
How to Store Rabbit Pellets
Rabbit pellets should be stored in an airtight container in a cool dry environment. Pellets should not be stored for longer than six to 8 months from the time of purchase to maintain nutritional value. You should only feed adult rabbits high quality pellets that are timothy based.
Check out my post on an amazing container for storing your rabbit’s pellets.
Rabbits love their vegetables but not all vegetables are good for your rabbit. Bugs bunny may love his carrots, but the reality is that rabbits should not be eating carrots regularly. Vegetables are divided into two different categories, leafy greens, and non-leafy greens.
Leafy greens should make up about 75% of the vegetation your rabbit eats and only 25% should be non-leafy vegetables.
Leafy greens, specifically dark leafy greens are the best type of vegetables for your rabbit. You need to use a bit of caution though when selecting your rabbit’s leafy greens since some contain Oxalic acid, a compound that is harmful to rabbits in large quantities.
Here is a list of the best vegetables for your rabbit to eat that contain little to no Oxalic acid.
- Romaine Lettuce (not iceberg)
- Bok Choy
- Red Lettuce
- Green Lettuce
These vegetables are high in Oxalic acid. These types of vegetables should only make up 1/3rd of your rabbit’s daily vegetable ration.
- Swiss Chard
- Mustard Greens
Oxalic acid is harmless to rabbits if it is not consumed in large quantities. Remember to keep vegetables containing this compound to 33% or less of your rabbit’s total vegetable ration. The amount of Oxalic acid can vary greatly in these vegetables depending on where they were grown.
Vegetables that are not leafy greens like carrots should only be fed in moderation. They are basically considered a treat foot. Root vegetables often contain more sugars in them than any other type of vegetable. You should not feed your rabbit any more than about 1 tablespoon of non-leafy vegetables per 2 pounds of body weight per day. Here are a few examples.
- Celery (Careful with celery)
- Brussel sprouts
- Bell peppers
How Much Vegetables to Feed a Rabbit
This really all depends on the weight of your rabbit. I suggest feeding your rabbit about 1 to 1 1/4 cups (packed tight) of leafy greens per 2 pounds of body weight per day. If you do not feed your rabbits pellets, then I suggest increasing the amount of vegetables.
Variety of vegetables is Important
Try to mix up the variety of vegetation that your rabbit eats on a daily or weekly basis. This helps your rabbit from becoming bored with his or her food but also supplies many different micronutrients. Remember to keep in mind though that you need to keep an eye on the amount of vegetables you feed that contain Oxalic Acid.
Toxic & Unhealthy Vegetables
If you do feed your rabbit any type of flower makes sure they have not been treated, painted, or sprayed with any chemicals. Many florists and flower delivery companies do treat their flowers. Here is a partial list of toxic or poisonous vegetables.
- Iceberg Lettuce
Fruits for your rabbit
Fruit is a great way to treat your rabbit to something incredibly special. They love most types of fruit, particularly bananas. I think just about every rabbit I have encountered in the past 20 years will literally go bananas for bananas.
Here are some common fruits that are safe for your rabbit to eat.
- Apple (no seeds, make sure they are removed)
- Plum (No pit, make sure it is removed)
How Much Fruit to Feed
While fruit is a good treat for rabbits it should only be fed in moderation. A good rule of thumb is to feed 1 teaspoon of fruit per 2 pounds of bodyweight. You can treat your rabbit daily, but I prefer to feed fruit about every other day in slightly large qualities.
Treats for rabbits
In addition to fruit (see above) there are several commercially mad rabbit treats. Some of these are great while others are loaded with junk that is harmful to your rabbit.
Best Rabbit Treats
The only commercially made treats that I feed my rabbits are made by oxbow. The nice thing about using treats as a treat rather than fruit is that they do not go bad. I keep them in a cute little jar with a bunny on top of it. Here is some information about the best rabbit treats.
Toxic and Unhealthy Rabbit Treats
A lot of manufacturers like to make their treats look “gourmet” and/or like something humans like to eat. Avoid all treats on this list that contain:
- Yogurt drops
- Dried fruit
Homemade Rabbit Treats
Yes, you can make your own rabbit treats if you would like. I have some rabbit treat recipes here. They are not all that difficult to make
How much Treats to Feed
If you have an active rabbit that gets a lot of exercise, then two a day is fine. If you are also feeding your rabbit fruit as a treat, then I suggest cutting it down to one a day. My rabbits have always maintained their weight very well.
Shocking but rabbits need water! Never flavor their water or add anything to it like a supplement or benebac.
How Much Water Should a Rabbit Drink
Complicated question without a good answer. If the vegetation you are feeding your rabbit is fresh, then your rabbit will probably not drink all that much. Rabbits do not sweat or anything. Some dark lettuces have a lot of water in them while spinach does not.
One thing to keep an eye out for is if they are drinking a lot. If you come to the realization on day and think “oh wow my rabbit is drinking all the time” then you need to see your veterinarian. Over consumption or constant drinking is a symptom of an underlying medical problem.
I believe water bottles are the only responsible water delivery method for rabbits. Bowls allow bacteria growth, poop and pee often contaminate water bowl. Here you can find my recommendation on the best water bottle for rabbits. I also have a water bottle vs Bowl page if you want more info.
Sometimes you do need a water bottle. They can be easier if you are traveling with your rabbit. Sometimes your vet may also recommend a bowl if you rabbit is having a medical issue. If you need a bowl for your rabbit you will find the best ones here.
Why is my Rabbit Drinking a Lot of Water
This may indicate a medical problem and you should contact your veterinarian ASAP. Also see: Why is my rabbit drinking so much?
Tap Water vs Bottled Water vs Distilled Water vs Spring water
Do not ever give your rabbit distilled water or bottled water. The problem is that the water is missing trace minerals. Things like calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, iron, and zinc are not present in water that has been heavily filtered.
So, tap, well or water from a spring is fine. I might say that tap is the best since it has fluoride added to help create strong teeth. There is some very nasty tasting tap water out their though so use your best judgment.
Dental Health & Diet
The most important thing you can do is have your rabbit brush his teeth every day. I am joking. Dental health is particularly important for rabbits. If their teeth become worn to one side or another, they cannot properly digest their food.
The key to good dental health for rabbits is to make sure they are eating plenty of hay and have a hard, quality pellet. Your vet will also check your rabbit’s teeth once a year during his or her checkup.
When rabbits chew hay it keeps their teeth worn evenly. In addition to that rabbit’s’ teeth never stop growing and the cutting of course hay keeps their teeth from over growing.
Odd title, right? What I mean by this is that there are a lot of things rabbits will eat or chew on that you would not.
Is it safe for rabbit to eat or chew on cardboard? I have an entire article dedicated to this subject.
Never give your rabbit any type of treated wood to chew on. Pine is acceptable if it is kiln dried, green pine should never be given to your rabbit. The best wood for your rabbit to chew on is apple wood stick.
Rabbits love to eat some types of flowers but they should never be from a store or florist. Many commercially produced flowers have paint or chemical treatments added to them that could harm your rabbit. Never feed your rabbit flower bulbs as they are toxic to rabbits.
Here you can find information about toxic foods and substances.
About the Author
My name is Vanessa and I love my buns. My current house rabbit is Mr. Bunny, he is a black and white Dutch that just turned 9 years old.
I believe that rabbits are a magnificent animal that make great pets for SOME people. My mission is to share what I have learned about rabbits over the past 20 years to improve the relationship between our pets and us. Please contact me or comment if you have any questions or comments.