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What should I feed my rabbit

The House Rabbit Society stresses that rabbits should live indoors, and have at least four hours of quality running/playing time per day. This, in conjunction with a proper diet, will keep your rabbit happy, healthy and affectionate for a long, long time! Here are the most important dietary items. Remember to make any dietary changes gradually, to avoid upsetting the delicate digestive system of your lagomorph friend.

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The single most important item in the rabbit diet is grass HAY, and it should be fed in unlimited quantities to both adults and baby rabbits. This is because a rabbit fed only commercial rabbit pellets does not get enough long fiber to keep the intestines in good working order. The long fibers in the hay push things through the gut and keep the intestinal muscles in good tone. This prevents intestinal impactions, which are actually a symptom of slowed, "lazy" intestine. This is extremely common in poorly fed rabbits, and can be life threatening if left untreated!

Alfalfa or clover hays, although tasty, are too rich in protein and calcium to be fed to adult rabbits every day. Instead, choose *grass* hays such as timothy, oat, coastal, brome, Bahia or wheat. If you can't find good quality hay locally, you may wish to mail order beautiful hay from Oxbow Hay Company at 1-800-249-0366.

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When we say pellets, we mean *pellets*--NOT those horrible seed/nut/pellet/fruit "gourmet" and "treat" mix products which can eventually KILL YOUR RABBIT. A good quality rabbit pellet should have at least 20% crude fiber, no more than 14% protein, no more than 1% fat and no more than 1.0% calcium. Check the label on the rabbit pellets before you buy. Baby rabbits should be fed unlimited quantities. By the age of eight months, gradually taper off and feed no more than 1/4 cup per day for every four pounds of rabbit. More than that may cause obesity, and make your rabbit less likely to eat the hay that is so vital to his health.

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These are as important as hay in maintaining a healthy intestine. Try broccoli, dark leaf lettuces, kale, parsley, carrots (with tops!), endive, escarole, dill, basil, mint, cilantro, culantro, spinach, tomato, celery. Experiment and see which types your rabbit likes best! Rabbits love fresh, fragrant herbs fresh from the garden. If it's leafy and green, and safe for *you* to eat, it's also okay for your bunny.

Baby rabbits may start receiving greens very gradually at the age of about three months. Add one item at a time, and if you see no intestinal upset, add another. Carrots, romaine lettuce and kale are good starters. A five pound adult rabbit should receive at least four heaping cups of fresh, varied (at least three different kinds each day) vegetables per day. Be sure to wash everything thoroughly to remove pesticides. Even organic produce should be washed well to remove potentially harmful bacteria, such as E. coli.

Serve the vegetables wet, as this will help increase your rabbit's intake of liquid. This, too, helps keep the intestinal contents moving well, and the bunny healthy.

Please don't make the mistake of serving less-than-fresh vegetables to your rabbit. A rabbit is even more sensitive to spoiled food than a human is. If the vegetables smell stale or "on the fringe", they could make your bunny sick.

Follow the Emerald Rule of Freshness when feeding your rabbit friend: "Don't Feed it to Your Bunny if You Wouldn't Eat it Yourself."

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These are considered treats, and should be fed in very limited quantities (no more than two tablespoons a day for a five pound rabbit!). Good choices are apple, apricot, banana (rare treat!), cherries, mango, peach, plum, papaya, pineapple, apricot, berries....just about any fruit you would like is okay for your bunny. Just don't overdo, as this can cause intestinal upset and a desire for treats instead of healthy food (hay).

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NEVER feed your rabbit commercial "gourmet" or "treat" mixes filled with dried fruit, nuts and seeds. These may be safe for a bird or hamster--BUT THEY ARE NOT PROPER FOOD FOR A RABBIT! Unlike a human or a rodent (such as a guiniea pig, rat or hamster), a rabbit is a strict herbivore in nature. The high fat and simple carbohydrate content of these "gourmet" products will give your rabbit fatty liver disease, cause potentially fatal imbalance of the natural flora of the rabbit's intestine, and can contribute to severe intestinal disorders.

The sole function of "rabbit gourmet treats" is to lighten your wallet. The manufacturers of these terrible products are not concerned about your rabbit's health and longevity, or their would not market those products! Don't be victimized.

Also do not feed: iceberg lettuce, cookies, crackers, nuts, seeds, salty or sugary snacks, breakfast cereals (including oatmeal) or other starchy snacks. These promote obestity, intestinal disorders and liver damage. Don't do it!

A rabbit is a lagomorph, not a rodent. His/her digestive tract is physiologically more similar to that of a horse than to any other animal. Lots of hay and high-fiber foods will keep your rabbit healthy for a long time.

Love Your Bunny: Feed Her Properly.

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For More Information
For more information, and for referral to a veterinarian who is an expert in rabbit medicine, you may call or e-mail one of Rabbit Rescue's volunteers or visit the home page of the House Rabbit Society. A link to veterinary referrals in all 50 states, Canada and Europe is listed on the first page. Please DO NOT allow a vet--however wonderful s/he is with dogs and cats--to treat your rabbit if s/he is not well-versed in the specifics of rabbit medicine. It could be fatal to your rabbit!

The House Rabbit Handbook by Marinell Harriman is an excellent source of information on rabbit care. It is available for less than $10 at most major bookstores. If your bookstore does not carry it, please ask them to order it for you: ISBN 0-940920-12-3.

If you're online, you may wish to join EtherBun, a free listserve devoted to the health, care, behavior and biology of companion rabbits. For more information on EtherBun, visit

by Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

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