Rabbits can be great pets. Aside from being amazingly cuddly and
docile creatures, rabbits can learn tricks, be potty trained and can
even walk on a leash.
But before you get a pet rabbit, be aware that they require a varied
diet of vegetables and other foods, and aren’t going to stay healthy
with a bowl full of pellets to munch.
Rabbits in the Wild
In their natural setting, cottontail rabbits, which are cousins to
most domestic rabbits, live on broad-leaved weeds, clover, grass, garden
vegetables and fallen fruit. In the winter, their diet changes to items
available during that time, including bark, twigs of bushy plants and
even vines of poison ivy.
These items can be suitable for your rabbit, though it might not be too smart for you to be giving your rabbit poison ivy vines.
Most pet stores offer pellets in a variety of forms. These bags
contain pretty much everything a rabbit needs to survive, but not
necessarily what it needs to thrive. An all-pellet diet is a sure way to
have a cranky, unfriendly and even sickly bunny.
Still, pellets are an important part of your rabbit’s diet, just supplement it with greens, hay, fruits and treats.
When buying pelletized food, make sure it’s 18 percent fiber and look for packages labeled “nutritionally complete.”
You can buy food with extra treats in it, such as seeds and dried
fruits, but often what happens is the rabbit shovels through the pellets
to get “the good stuff,” creates a mess and wastes much of the food.
Instead, offer such “treat items” in a separate area and save yourself
all that clean up time and wasted money.
Finally, purchase only a small amount of pellets at a time — maybe
enough to feed your rabbit in one month — because they spoil rather
Vegetables should make up a significant portion of your pet’s diet
(and a significant portion of the money you dedicate to your bunny).
Only feed your rabbit vegetables from this list, provided by the House Rabbit Society.
- Alfalfa, radish & clover sprouts
- Beet greens (tops)*
- Bok choy
- Broccoli (mostly leaves/stems)*
- Brussels sprouts
- Carrot & carrot tops*
- Collard greens*
- Dandelion greens and flowers (no pesticides)*
- Green peppers
- Kale ^*
- Mustard greens*
- Pea pods (the flat edible kind)*
- Peppermint leaves
- Radish tops
- Raspberry leaves
- Romaine lettuce (no iceberg or light colored leaf)*
- Spinach ^*
- Wheat grass
wash items before giving them to a rabbit. Aside from cleaning off any
chemicals, it will also provide a little extra water for your bunny.
Additionally, feed your rabbit just one green at a time and monitor
its stool. If it appears to be suffering diarrhea don’t offer any more
of that vegetable. By the way, Iceberg lettuce is especially troublesome
for rabbits, and is sure to cause diarrhea.
* A variety of these veggies are necessary in order to obtain the
necessary nutrients, with one each day that contains Vitamin A.
^ Feed these items sparingly.
Another important food source for rabbits is hay which provides your rabbit with its roughage.
Be aware there are many types of hay. The best for a rabbit is
Timothy hay. Alfalfa hay is also acceptable, but should be a distant
second choice for your rabbit because most pellet products are primarily
Hay should be provided in a bin which your rabbit eats from at its leisure.
Be aware that straw, which looks a lot like hay to the untrained
rabbit owner, holds no nutritional value for a bunny, though it does
make perfect bedding.
In limited quantities, fruits are an excellent addition to a rabbit’s diet.
Only feed your rabbit fruits from this list, provided by the House Rabbit Society.
- Apple (remove stem and seeds)
- Orange (without the peel)
Be aware, however, that rabbits won’t gobble fruit the way they eat greens. Don’t buy a lot of any one thing.
Manufacturers offer a wide variety of treats, including “yogurt
chips,” honey-covered seed balls and other items. Rabbits definitely
love them all, but offer those treats in limited amounts.
Don’t feed a rabbit any sort of human treat — such as chocolate or “bread” items.
While your rabbit gets a lot of its necessary water from the greens
it eats, you want to provide it with an additional source of water,
through a bottle, fountain or bowl. Domestic rabbits eat a lot of dry
items, such as hay and pellets, and need additional water to help these
items through their system.
If you have a secure area in your yard, or don’t mind hanging on to
its leash for a hour or so, let your rabbit graze. This will let your
bunny pick its food as it sees fit. You’ll also notice a few less weeds
in that area.
However, don’t let a rabbit graze in an area that has been chemically
treated with pesticides or herbicides. That could sicken or kill your
Your Rabbit’s Age
According to the House Rabbit Society, your bunny’s diet should
change from its “baby” months through when it’s a senior citizen.
Consult this site for some ideas for rabbits of a specific age.
Don’t let food, particularly fruits and vegetables sit in your
rabbits cage for more than a day. Your rabbit’s uneaten food could
attract pests, including bees, wasps, ants and mice.
Hay should be changed at least weekly and immediately discarded if it gets wet.
Book: The Essential Rabbit, Betsy Sikora Siino, Howell Book House, 1998
Book: Wildlife of Pennsylvania and the Northeast, Charles Fergus, Stackpole Books, 2000