Here’s another Hollywood lie: Bugs Bunny did not only eat carrots. In fact, root vegetables are high in sugars and should be given sparingly. There are many misconceptions about rabbit care, says SPCA Singapore. Chief among them is on rabbit diet.
A healthy diet for grown rabbits should consist of 80 percent hay, 15 percent leafy greens and five percent of pellets, inclusive of treats. That translates to unlimited hay and water, two cups of vegetables and a maximum of one tablespoon of pellets and one teaspoon of treats per day.
Rabbits are, by nature, grazers. In the wild, they will eat throughout the day – even if they are full. That means a house rabbit with more than enough food is headed for obesity, especially if their only activity is to eat.
Like people, rabbits will also develop an unhealthy habit of overeating if they are often provided with a large amount of feed, says whyrabbits.com.
This may lead to obesity, tooth decay, heart problems, gastrointestinal stasis, imbalance of gut bacteria, urinary tract problems.
Rabbits in the wild graze on a variety of plants, including dry and fresh grasses and leafy vegetables and herbs. They have also been known to nibble on bark, twigs, sprouts, fruits and seeds. This same diet should be reflected for house bunnies.
Grass hay is rich in vitamins A and D, and packed with calcium, protein and other nutrients. Hay comes in myriad types: Timothy, brome, oat (or wheat or barley) straw and orchard grass. It is recommended to mix them up if you can. A diet fortified with hay will ensure your rabbits have healthy teeth and bowels. Alfalfa hay is a legume and therefore too high in calories for adult and growing rabbits. Keep them for those under seven months.
The House Rabbit Society recommends you start your rabbits on hay for at least two weeks before introducing them to other leafy greens, root vegetables and flowers such as cauliflower and broccoli. The grass hay will prime its gastrointestinal tract motility and flora so they can digest new foods easily.
Like Peter Rabbit ransacking Farmer McGregor’s garden, rabbits do like to chomp on fresh garden vegetables from time to time. The rule of thumb for leafy vegetables is one cup per kilo of rabbit body weight per day.
Some good daily options include xiao baicai, chye sim, chinese parsley, chinese celery, mustard green, parsley, carrot tops, romaine lettuce, green lettuce, nai bai and wheat grass. To add variety to their meals, include these as an occasional treat (not more than 15 percent of their diet): Broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, cilantro, celery, spinach, sweet potato leaves, kai lan, and fennel. Be sure to give the veggies a good scrub or soak them for 30 minutes to remove all traces of pesticides.
Vegetables you should absolutely avoid, says Bunny Wonderland Singapore, include red vegetables, iceberg lettuce, cabbage, bean sprout, corn, onions, raisins, prunes, any kind of nuts and beans as they could mess up your rabbits’ sensitive guts.
If you’re looking to give your pet a sweet treat, drop that bag of sugar bombs for some fresh or dried fruits. However, as dried fruits tend to be higher in sugars, do exercise control. Limit treats to no more than one tablespoon per day, cautions Bunny Wonderland Singapore. Fruits can also be used training as rabbits are known to have a sweet tooth!
Some fruits you may give your rabbits include apple (core and seeds removed), cherry (pit removed), pear, peach, plum (no pit), kiwi, papaya, mango, any kinds of berries, pineapple (peeled), melons (peel and seeds included), starfruit, apricot, currants, and nectarine. Rabbits also go bananas for banana; peel and give no more than a 5mm slice per 2.25kg of rabbit weight.
You may also spice up your rabbits’ meals with some fresh herbs like basil, oregano, dill or cilantro.
Last Bits Of Advice
Pellets should be given as a complement rather than the main course. They should be fresh – don’t buy more than six weeks’ worth or they will go bad – and be high (at least 18 percent) in fibre. Reduce the number of pellets for your rabbit as it grows older.
Alfalfa pellets are okay for younger rabbits but switch to timothy pellets as they mature. If you reduce the number of pellets, remember to replace the lost minerals with more leafy greens.
Of course, rabbits need plenty of water. Choose a sturdy wide-based ceramic bowl so it does not get flipped over. Water bottles are not recommended unless your rabbit has long fur and tends to get its chin wet, suggests Bunny Wonderland Singapore.