What Is the Best Diet for a Rabbit?

Learn what you should feed your pet rabbit in this Howcast video featuring bunny lover Amy Sedaris and rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter.

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Rabbits make wonderful pets. If you're thinking of getting one, check out these videos: Actress Amy Sedaris, who is a loving mom to her own pet bunny, helps rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter, Ed.D., LVT answer all your questions about how to take care of a pet rabbit. It's not always easy, but it's worth the work.

 
 

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Speaker 1: So, we're talking about rabbit diet today. A rabbit diet is actually really, really simple, because the main part of a rabbit's diet should be fiber, preferably grass. Now, having rabbits eat grass in most rural or suburban areas can be a little dangerous because of possible parasites. One that we worry about a lot is raccoon roundworm, if you're in an area, as we are, the New York area, we have raccoons all over the place. And as they go through your yard, or look through your garbage, they are defecating, and they have a roundworm called Baylisascaris procyonis, and if the rabbit picks that up from the ground, and grooms it off his feet, it's lethal. There's no cure and there's no treatment. So we encourage people to keep their rabbits indoors, and to feed them grass hay that is clean and this is an example. There are many companies who will ship you grass hay, and this is an example of a really lovely, nice fresh green hay. Speaker 2: Like timothy hay? Or mountain grass? Speaker 1: This is timothy hay. Speaker 2: And you want to make sure that it can breathe, right? You never want to keep it in a closed... Speaker 1: That's right, and this should be the main part of a rabbit's diet. If you use hay, as you see it here, if you use hay in the rabbit's litter box it's great, because the rabbit will sit there, as a wild rabbit does in your back yard, and he'll eat and poop in the litter box, and he'll increase his intake of hay just by being there. We actually have a hay pyramid here, a rabbit food pyramid, you can see that the whole bottom of the food pyramid is hay, and then on top of hay we have a section for leafy greens, and on top of that a section for rabbit pellets. And rabbit pellets, nowadays you can usually get a high fiber pellet pretty easily from different companies. You should measure the rabbit pellets, this is a set of scoops that you can buy in just about any home goods store, and we feed about a quarter of a cup of rabbit pellets per five pounds of body weight, per day. So this rabbit is not yet five pounds, so I'm going to scoop out a quarter of a cup, there's your quarter of a cup, and then I shake out a little bit, just because he's not a five pound rabbit, and I put that in his dish. Speaker 2: Once a day? Speaker 1: Once a day. That will be his pellet serving for the day. And he never needs to go hungry, because when he finishes his pellets he has hay, he has hay available all the time. So, the real juicy question is the one about treats. Speaker 2: Treats, and also how much leafy greens? And can they eat any kind of leafy green? When you say, leafy greens, like sometimes if your iceberg lettuce isn't good, kale you don't keep your eye on... Speaker 1: Yeah, most people don't feed iceberg lettuce, mainly because it doesn't have any nutritional value. So the dark green leafy vegetables that we use most often are things like romaine lettuce, any of the green leaf lettuces, dandelion greens, parsley, cilantro, oregano, dill, basil. Speaker 2: And you should check, there's probably online a list of things that you can't have. Speaker 1: There are. Actually you can do an online search for safe rabbit vegetables. Some people avoid the cruciferous vegetable family, and those are the vegetables that smell strong when you cook them, like broccoli, cauliflower, those vegetables. Actually a lot of people feel that the cruciferous vegetable will predispose a rabbit to gas, so I've been doing an experiment over the past few years, giving small quantities of broccoli, because my rabbits love broccoli, and nobody has gas. So, sometimes you don't know how much of this received wisdom is from somebody's thoughts, or if it's from actual experience, so you might want to just try small quantities of any food you're giving your rabbit. And then watch your rabbit's reaction, like if you want to test out broccoli, kale, whatever, give a small quantity and see if your rabbit's feeling well the next day, and then you'll know, you can experiment a little bit yourself. Speaker 2: And with treats, you don't want to give them a lot of sugar, right? Speaker 1: Yeah. Speaker 2: So people think they like carrots, but really it's just a tiny, tiny taste of the carrot. Female 1 Yeah, I have a friend who's in weight watchers, and she told me that of all the vegetables on your list, the one vegetable that they're not allowed to eat unlimited quantities of is carrots, because carrots are so high in sugar. So we tell people that with rabbits too. People have this cartoon image of rabbit's from Bugs Bunny or whatever, that they want carrots, carrots, carrots, and it's actually not a good vegetable for them because of it's high sugar content. Raisins are nice treats for rabbits, but you want to make sure that you really limit the quantity of treats, because a raisin is really a grape, shriveled down, right, so you're going to get the same amount of sugar in a single raisin that you get in a much bigger grape, and the raisin is so small the rabbit can easily over-ingest that kind of sugar. Let's see if this rabbit will take this from Amy's mouth, they don't know each other well enough for this kind of intimacy quite yet Speaker 2: Wow, I can't believe it. Speaker 1: Amy does this with her own rabbit and it's hilarious, Dusty will come right up to her face and take it right out of her mouth. Speaker 2: I know you want it. Speaker 1: He wants you to scratch his nose, he's making himself clear. Speaker 2: Yeah, maybe she doesn't want it right now. Speaker 1: Well, this is an interesting experiment too, because I don't feed raisins as a treat, I feed papaya tablets as a treat. Speaker 2: Oh, I give real papaya. Speaker 1: I give real papaya too. One of the best habits you can get into is using your treats as an indicator of how your bunny feels. Because once you determine what treats your bunny loves, for example raisins, or papaya tablets that you can buy in health food stores, just plain papaya tablets. Once you figure out what your bunny loves, then when you offer one of those treats, if the bunny doesn't take it, he's probably not feeling well. So it's a good early warning system. The fact that this bunny isn't taking raisins is not necessarily meaningful, because I don't think I've ever fed her raisins before. I tend to use as treats things that are less sweet, myself. I use herbs like basil and parsley. Speaker 2: Boring, they want this. Speaker 1: Not boring for them they love it. Speaker 2: I know. But you don't want to give too many treats. It's more about, like you said, the hay, leafy greens, maybe a little bit in the morning, a salad at night. Speaker 1: And the real problem we see is that rabbits are so cute when they're taking treats that people can't resist just handing them out, handing them out, handing them out, and before they know it, their rabbit's obese. And that's a health problem, so you want to be really careful, if you're going to give your rabbits treats, give them in really, really small quantities. Speaker 2: Or make a treat like we showed in one of the videos, make your own treat just with hay and a little cardboard, and they'll think that this is a treat. Speaker 1: And when rabbits come into the clinic, and the owner says things like, my rabbit doesn't like hay, first question I ask is, what else are you feeding him? Because if the rabbit is hungry enough, and is not getting a lot of treats, he will eat hay just fine. If you're overloading him with sugar, or treats that should be given in smaller quantities, then the rabbit's not going to eat hay. It's like asking a child to eat broccoli when you've been feeding him Snickers all morning, not going to happen.

Expert

  • Mary E. Cotter

    Mary E. Cotter, M.A., Ed.D., LVT is the founder of the NY-based Rabbit Rescue & Rehab. She serves as chapter manager of the NYC House Rabbit Society and is vice president of the International House Rabbit Society. Involved with rabbit rescue since 1982, she speaks and writes frequently on rabbit-related topics, addressing owners, veterinary professionals and shelter workers. Mary is an adjunct assistant professor in the veterinary technology department of LaGuardia Community College (City University of New York) and co-manages a 7,000-member Internet mailing list focused on rabbit health, care and behavior.