Providing proper nutrition is one of the most important ways to keep your bunny healthy and happy. Rabbits are herbivores, and they require a special diet that is rich in vitamins and high in fiber. In order to promote intestinal motility and minimize intestinal disease, a rabbit’s diet needs to contain at least 15 to 16 percent crude fiber.
The most crucial aspect of a bunny’s diet is to have unlimited access to grass hay. Timothy, brome, oat and wheat hay are the best choices. Alfalfa hay is very rich in calcium and protein and can be safely offered to rabbits less than 8 months of age. However, once your bunny reaches 8 months, alfalfa hay should be offered in very small amounts or not at all.
In addition to hay, rabbits need commercial rabbit pellets for additional nutrients. For rabbits under 8 months of age, plain alfalfa pellets should be offered at all times. Rabbits over 8 months of age should be fed around 1/4 cup of fresh commercial rabbit pellet for each 5 pounds of body weight twice day. This means that a 10-pound bunny would be fed 1/2 cup of pellets in the morning and 1/2 cup in the evening. Grass hay should be available at all times.
When selecting pellets, make sure they are fresh and specifically made for rabbits. Check the mill date on the label and buy pellets less than 3 months old. Avoid buying in bulk to prevent feeding older, less fresh pellets. Also avoid pellet mixes with added nuts and grains. They can cause obesity in your bunny.
Fresh, green leafy vegetables are also important to your rabbit’s nutrition. Offer your bunny a minimum of 1 cup of vegetables per 5 pounds of body weight daily. Examples of nutritious vegetables include alfalfa sprouts, basil, parsley, beet greens, broccoli leaves, Brussels sprouts, carrots and carrot tops, cilantro, collard greens, endive, green peppers, parley, romaine lettuce, kale, raspberry leaves, wheat grass, pea pods (peas excluded), squash, radicchio and dandelion leaves.
As with all animals, it is important to introduce any new food gradually to avoid gastrointestinal upset. If you offer fruit, limit it to no more than 2 tablespoons, and keep it to the high fiber fruits like apples, pears, plums, melons, raspberries, papaya, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and pineapple. Avoid bananas and grapes due to their high sugar content.
In general, fruits, grains, cereals and breads should be given only in limited amounts. Excess can lead to fatal diarrhea. Fresh water should be provided daily in a clean water bottle or a heavy porcelain crock. Change the water daily and wash and disinfect the bowl weekly.
Though you may not realize it, ingesting feces is a normal and important part of a rabbit’s diet. Rabbits produce cecotropes, also called night feces. This special feces is loaded with vitamins and other nutrients. Cecotropes are different than normal feces in that they look somewhat like small blackberries. They are ingested after the rabbit eliminates the feces from the anus.