As a rabbit owner, it’s important to understand your pet’s dietary needs. Rabbits are herbivores; in the wild, they graze on grass for 6-8 hours a day. So Can a rabbit eat just hay?
Their entire digestive tract is adapted to this diet and eating pattern, so providing a constant supply of grass and/or grass hay is crucial in maintaining a balanced diet.
To ensure your rabbit is getting the proper nutrition, providing them with a diet mimicking their natural grazing habits is essential. This means offering a constant supply of grass and/or grass hay and incorporating fresh vegetables and occasional fruit into their diet. Understanding the dietary needs of your rabbit is crucial in providing them with a healthy and happy life.
Why Feed Hay?
Feeding hay to rabbits is essential for their overall health. Rabbits have unique digestive anatomy that requires a diet high in fiber to prevent dental disease, bloat, and weakness.
Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously, and they must chew on long fibrous material to keep their teeth at the right length. Eating an excessive amount of short-length foodstuffs, such as grain, chaff, and pellets, can encourage them to chew up and down, which can lead to dental disease.
Fiber is also needed to keep the intestinal tract moving. Low-fiber diets can slow or stop peristalsis, which can cause bloat, a condition that can be fatal.
Rabbits are hindgut fermenters, which means they have a large caecum where fiber is digested through fermentation, releasing essential nutrients. Without high levels of fiber in their diet, this process stops, and the rabbit weakens and dies.
Feeding hay provides rabbits with the necessary long fibrous material to chew and keep their teeth healthy, as well as the fiber needed to keep their intestinal tract moving and their caecum fermenting.
What to Feed
To ensure your pet rabbit’s optimal health and well-being, it is vital to provide a balanced and varied diet. Most of your rabbit’s diet should consist of fresh grass and hay, such as Timothy, Oaten, Wheaten, Pasture, Paddock, Meadow, or Ryegrass hays. These should make up around 80% of their overall diet.
While alfalfa (lucerne hay) is high in calcium and can be offered freely to pet rabbits with higher energy needs, it should only be given as a treat for healthy adult animals.
Variety is key, and you can provide this by varying the type of hay and supplementing with fresh leafy greens and vegetables, which should make up around 15% of your rabbit’s diet. It is also possible to offer a small quantity of high-quality rabbit pellets, but these are not essential as long as hay and fresh green vegetables are provided every day.
It is recommended to provide three to five different types of greens and vegetables daily, rotating types and varieties each day or week. These can be offered all at once, but it is best to divide them into multiple daily feeds, if possible, to provide more enrichment, interaction, and avoid rapid intake in a short period of time.
Fruit should only be fed as a treat, if at all. When feeding greens, vegetables, and fruit, be sure to wash them thoroughly, even if you have picked them fresh. If you are feeding wild plants, avoid collecting them from areas frequented by dogs and feral rabbits, at the side of roads, or sprayed with pesticides.
It is important to note that not all foods are suitable for rabbits. Do not feed your rabbit chaff, pony pellet, and grain mixes (so-called rabbit muesli mix), nuts, corn, legumes, beans, peas, bread, cake, and biscuits, sugar, chocolate, breakfast cereals, or lawn clippings.
Additionally, several poisonous plants should be avoided, including nightshade, onion and garlic, hydrangea, chrysanthemum, lilies, marijuana, poppies, unripe potato, leaf, and stem, rhododendron, azaleas, tomato plants (fruit is okay), iris, daffodil, rhubarb, yew, and hyacinth.
The following table summarizes what to feed and what not to feed your rabbit:
|Feed||Do Not Feed|
|Good quality fresh grass and grass hay||Chaff, pony pellet, and grain mixes (so-called rabbit muesli mix)|
|Fresh leafy greens and vegetables (up to about 15% of your rabbit’s diet)||Nuts|
|High-quality rabbit pellets (no more than 5% of your rabbit’s diet)||Corn|
|Legumes (beans, peas)|
|Bread, cake, and biscuits|
Providing your rabbit with a balanced and varied diet is essential to ensure their optimal health and well-being. Following these guidelines and avoiding foods unsuitable for rabbits can help keep your pet rabbit healthy and happy.
How much should I feed?
Feeding your rabbit the correct amount of hay, vegetables, and pellets is essential to their health and well-being. The recommended diet comprises 80% hay, 15% vegetables and greens, and 5% pellets. The following table provides a guideline on how much to feed your rabbit based on their weight:
|Rabbit weight (kgs)||Hay||Pellets (cups)||Greens (cups)||Vegetables (tablespoon)|
Remember to adjust the amount of food depending on your rabbit’s activity level and overall health. Always provide fresh water and consult with a veterinarian if you have any concerns about your rabbit’s diet.