What do rabbits eat?
A rabbit’s daily diet should be made up predominantly of hay or grass. But they can eat safe green vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, and spinach, alongside this.
Fruits can be given as a treat. But your rabbits shouldn’t eat too many fruits, due to their high sugar content. Too many sugary treats can damage their teeth and overall health.
Read on to find out more about what do bunnies eat, what types of food you should avoid, and how domestic diets compare to what wild rabbits eat.
What Do Wild Rabbits Eat?
Both wild and domestic rabbits are herbivores. This means they don’t eat any meat. Their diet is plant-based.
Rabbits have adapted to digest a high fiber diet. Wild rabbits get fiber from grass, which makes up the majority of their diet.
Wild rabbits will also forage and eat other leafy greens to get these nutrients. But, the majority of their food will be grass.
Grass has lots of fiber, so is great for their digestive health, and for grinding down their teeth.
Changes in Diet
Wild rabbits are concentrate selectors. This means they seek out the most nutrient-dense plants and food to avoid staying above ground with predators for too long!
Their food choices may also have to change throughout the year, depending on the availability of certain plants.
This means rabbits in different areas of the world will have slightly different diets. They eat the most nutritious plants available to them in their unique habitat.
What Nutrients Do Rabbits Need?
Now we know where wild rabbits get their nutrients from. But it can seem hard to replicate a natural diet from our homes.
Let’s take a look at what nutrients rabbits really need, to see the easiest way to replicate this.
The most important nutrient for a rabbit to consume is fiber. Foods like hay and grass are high in fiber.
Indigestible fiber and digestible starch are both important carbohydrates that rabbits need to eat.
Carbohydrates provide our rabbits with energy. Plus, fiber is important for overall gut and dental health.
Just like carbohydrates, fats are another energy source.
One study found that replacing starch with fats in a rabbit’s diet would increase energy content without minimising that all important fiber.
Low levels of fat in a rabbit’s diet can also promote a healthy, shiny coat. But too much fat in a rabbit’s diet can lead to obesity, among other health problems.
There are lots of minerals that are important to rabbit health.
Calcium helps to promote healthy organ function. Phosphorus is used for energy metabolism in rabbits.
Other minerals that should be found in a healthy rabbit diet include:
Some of the main vitamins that should be present in your rabbit’s diet include vitamins A, D, E, K, and C.
The majority of these nutrients will be provided through hay, grass, and other leafy greens. Let’s move on to see what foods should be making up our rabbits daily meals.
Before we move on to food, we need to discuss the most important thing – water!
It’s important that your rabbit has a constant supply of fresh water.
Water keeps your rabbit healthy and hydrated. So, make sure you don’t forget this!
What Do Rabbits Eat – Staple Foods
The majority of your domestic rabbit’s diet should be made up of hay and grass, similar to the wild rabbit.
Grass is approximately 20 – 40% crude fiber. So, your rabbit should have time each day to graze on freshly growing, or freshly cut grass, if possible.
But, this can be difficult if you own house rabbits.
Avoid feeding your rabbit grass clippings, as these decompose quickly and can cause your rabbit to become sick.
Luckily, you can provide hay either in addition or as a replacement for freshly growing grass. Your rabbit will need a ball of hay as big as his own body each day.
It is really important to make sure that your rabbit has constant access to hay.
Rabbit teeth never stop growing. But constant access to a fibrous diet of hay helps to grind down their teeth and prevent dental disease.
Overgrown teeth caused by an improper diet can lead to infection, and even abscesses.
Commercial rabbit food mixes are available in pet stores. But, they should not be used as a replacement for hay. We will look at commercial diets and pellet food in more detail next.
But, the main point is that constant access to hay is really important. In fact, a study has suggested that removing this access to hay is associated with abnormal behaviors and inactivity.
What About Straw?
Straw and hay can seem very similar. But, straw should not be used as a substitute for hay in your rabbit’s diet.
Both straw and hay are field crops. Hay refers to the whole harvested plant, including the seed heads.
Whereas straw refers to the plant stalk left behind when the seed heads are removed.
Your rabbit might eat straw if it is given. But, it is very low in nutrients, so can lead to deficiencies and cause health problems.
Commercial Rabbit Foods
Many people believe that commercial rabbit foods will supply exactly the right amount of nutrients for your rabbit. But commercial food can vary in quality.
One study tested 15 commercial rabbit diets to find that their labelled crude fiber content was not always an accurate indicator of their fiber content.
A hay-based diet is better suited to your rabbit’s nutritional needs. This is because hay based diets are often higher in fiber than commercial ones.
Another part of the problem with commercial muesli diets in particular is linked to the constant growth of rabbit teeth.
Chewing fibrous foods like hay or grass grinds down your rabbit’s teeth. Commercial mixes won’t be able to do this.
This means rabbits who eat muesli only can be at higher risk of overgrown teeth and dental disease.
We mentioned briefly earlier how rabbits are concentrate selectors. This applies even to domestic rabbits.
They will eat selectively, rather than eating every single thing they can find.
This means, they won’t get all of the nutrients from muesli mixes that they need. Some studies have looked into this.
One found that rabbits favored pieces that were high in starch, but low in calcium and fiber. So it was low in two of the nutrients that are most important to rabbits.
What About Pellets?
Pellets are a better choice than muesli style foods. This is because rabbits can’t select the tastiest bits – it’s all the same. So, they will get a good balance of nutrition.
However, pellets still won’t offer the same grinding ability as chewing hay or grass. So, they cannot be given to your rabbit alone.
Your rabbit will need additional hay and grass to graze on, to avoid overgrown teeth.
There are lots of other safe foods we can give our rabbits alongside hay and grass if you’re worried they’re not getting enough variation.
What Do Rabbits Eat – Leafy Greens
So, we know rabbits need to eat hay and grass. But we can also feed them leafy greens as part of their regular, daily diet.
Leafy green plants are available in the wild, as well as commercially bought.
Here are some leafy greens that you might want to try feeding your rabbit:
You can find most of these in stores, but might even find some in your back yard!
Feeding Leafy Greens
Whenever you introduce a new food to your rabbit, do so gradually. This will help you to see if your rabbit likes the food, and make sure he has no stomach upsets.
Make sure your rabbit has fresh hay to eat and time to graze on fresh grass if possible. But, you can also give your rabbit a handful of leafy greens and veggies each morning and evening.
Let’s take a look at what vegetables are safe next.
What Vegetables Do Rabbits Eat?
There are plenty of vegetables that you can share with your rabbit. But make sure to always check if a new food is safe before giving it to your pet.
Here’s a list of some great vegetables that your rabbit is bound to love:
- Brussel Sprouts
- Cauliflower leaves and stalks
- Salad Peppers
What About Carrots?
Do bunnies eat carrots?
Carrots are often associated with rabbits. Carrots are safe to feed your bunny, but not too much at once.
This vegetable is high in sugar, which can be unhealthy if too much is eaten, especially for their teeth.
Only give your rabbit carrot as an occasional treat. He will benefit much more from leafy greens!
What Fruits Do Rabbits Eat?
You might want to know if fruits are safe to share with your rabbit.
There are some fruits that are safe to share as a treat. But it’s important not to give your rabbit too many fruit treats.
This is because they are often high in sugar content. Filling up on too many sugary snacks can stop your rabbit from eating enough hay and leafy greens. This can be really damaging to their dental health.
Plus, too much sugar is a huge contribution to the problem of obesity in rabbits.
Here are some safe fruits you can offer as an occasional treat.
Safe Fruit Treats
My Rabbit is Eating the Wrong Foods
Are you currently feeding your rabbit a muesli based diet? Or are you worried your rabbit isn’t eating enough hay, grass, and greens?
It’s stressful when it feels like we aren’t doing the most to keep our pets healthy. But, it’s really important not to change your rabbit’s diet all at once.
Changing your rabbit’s food all at once can cause stomach upsets and digestive problems.
Make sure you introduce new foods gradually. This gives your rabbit time to get used to the change.
What Do Rabbits Eat – Summary
So, to recap, our rabbits should eat hay, grass, and leafy greens daily. But they can have the occasional fruity treat!
It’s important to avoid muesli style commercial foods, as rabbits will pick out the sugariest, tastiest bits. They won’t get the nutrition they need, and their teeth won’t be ground down as much as they should.
If you’re thinking about introducing a new food, make sure you find out if it is safe, and then introduce it gradually.
What Does Your Rabbit Eat?
Does your rabbit love any of the foods on this list? Make sure you tell us about your rabbit’s diet in the comments below!
What’s your rabbit’s favorite treat?
References and Resources
- Marques, C. & Mathias M., ‘The Diet of the European Wild Rabbit, Oryctolagus Cuniculus (L.), on Different Coastal Habitats of Central Portugal’, Mammalia (2001)
- Harcourt-Brown, F., ‘Calcium Deficiency, Diet and Dental Disease in Pet Rabbits’, Veterinary Record (1996)
- Martin, G. (et al), ‘Seasonal Changes in the Diet of the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus Cuniculus) from Three Different Mediterranean Habitats in South-Western Australia’, Wildlife Research (2006)
- Meredith, A., ‘The Importance of Diet in Rabbit’, Fur & Feather (2007)
- Meredith, A., ‘Rabbit Nutrition – An Overview’, Vet Times (2011)
- Molina, J. (et al), ‘Preliminary Study: Fiber Content in Pet Rabbit Diets, Crude Fiber Versus Total Dietary Fiber’, Animal Physiology & Animal Nutrition (2015)
- Meredith, A. (et al), ‘Impact of Diet on Incisor Growth and Attrition and the Development of Dental Disease in Pet Rabbits’, JSAP (2015)
- Meredith, A., ‘Is Obesity A Problem in Pet Rabbits?’, Veterinary Records (2012)
- Prebble, J. (et al), ‘The Effect of Four Different Feeding Regimes on Rabbit Behavior’, Applied Animal Behavior Science (2015)
- Mayer, J., ‘Nutrition of Rabbits’, Veterinary Manual
- Halls, A., ‘Nutritional Requirements for Rabbits’ (2010)