Did you know that, in the wild, 70% of a rabbit’s time above ground is spent searching out or ‘foraging’ for high fibre food, such as grass, hay, herbs or bark?
This foraging behaviour helps to keep rabbits busy, stimulated and exercised. In the pet rabbit this must be reproduced, so the right diet is essential for your rabbit’s health and happiness. The digestive system of the rabbit is designed to digest food that is very high in fibre and low in energy. Once food has passed through the digestive system a soft type of faeces, called the caecotroph, is passed. This is rarely seen by owners. The rabbit eats these pellets so that they pass through the digestive system a second time, making sure that all nutrients have been absorbed.
Good quality hay or grass should make up the majority of your rabbit’s diet to provide a good source of high fibre and low energy. This should be available at all times. Hiding hay, grass and healthy hi-fibre snacks around your rabbit’s home and exercise area provides a great way to promote ‘foraging’ behaviour.
In addition, a dried food can be used; we recommend a complete pellet such as Vetpet Rabbit, which incorporates all of the nutrients into single pellets to avoid selective feeding. Muesli style foods can be very bad for rabbits. Some rabbits can be fussy eaters, with a very sweet tooth, and will therefore pick out the tastier aspects of the muesli style foods, which are higher in sugar and starch, and leave the rest. This is called selective feeding and will lead to an imbalanced diet, lacking in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D. If lots of additional hay and fibre are not provided this behaviour can result in insufficient dietary fibre with potential fatal consequences.
Feeding of pellet food should be restricted, as it can lead to weight gain and does not provide the rabbit with the high fibre that their digestive system needs. A slim, active rabbit can have up to 2 tablespoons of food twice daily, whereas a less active rabbit that carries more body fat will only need 1 tablespoon of dried food, twice daily.
Finally, small pieces of fruit and vegetables can be offered. Lettuce and cabbage are not good choices as these can upset the digestive system. It is better to stick to carrots and pipless apples. Bananas are a good food to encourage your rabbit to eat as they are useful for hiding medication in should your rabbit ever become ill, but take care when feeding bananas, as they can readily cause weight gain.