Rabbit feeding did not come naturally to me at all.
When I later discovered that this is how everybody feels when they get their first cute bunny friend this made me feel a bit better (and hopefully it will you too).
And that's because:
Rabbits just don’t come naturally to us humans. This is simply because, relatively speaking rabbits have not been domesticated for very long in our history. We find we naturally know how to feed cats and dogs - they are predators like us. But rabbit's diets often seem exotic to us, being prey animals.
This is pretty bad because getting rabbit feeding wrong can also have disastrous consequences. Bunnies can often be fragile, particularly when feeding them badly can be deadly, or if not then cause discomfort.
That’s why we’ve written this basic guide to feeding rabbits, broken down into 6 important sections. This rabbit feeding guide assumes that your rabbit is over 3 months old and is not senior (over 8 years generally), and that it does not have any specific dietary requirements diagnosed by a vet. ra
For the general rabbit owner though this should be everything you need to feed your bunny and keep him happy and healthy. We hope you enjoy!
1. Hay Should make up at least 80% of your Bunny’s Diet
Honestly this is true:
Hay should be the most important part of your bunny’s diet.
Yes, I know what you're thinking:
Wow, that sounds like a lot of Hay…
To understand why this is you need to understand a bit about how rabbit’s digestive systems work.
Healthy rabbit’s tummies have constant movement called “peristalsis”. This forces your bunny’s food through his system. If this natural movement stops it can be a very bad, this is called GI stasis.
Eating a lot of fibrous hay will ensure your bunny's tummy is constantly moving. This greatly lowers the risk of potentially fatal blockages occurring.
Constantly munching on hay will also naturally wear your rabbit's teeth down. Rabbit's teeth are always growing and serious problems can occur if they are not chewing enough each day.
Not to mention that they will want to chew your things less! We learnt this from Daisy chewing a wall in our rented home...
All these reasons together mean that hay should be the most important part of your rabbit's diet making up 80% at least.
Different Kinds of Hay
Not all kinds of hay are created equal. Some are more nutritious, some are more fibrous.
In order to ensure you make your bunny as healthy as she can be it is important to understand the four main different types:
1. Timothy Hay
This is a "grass hay" which should make up the majority of your bunny's hay intake. Basically this will replace all of that nice fresh grass your rabbit would be eating in the wild.
3. Orchard Grass Hay
Orchard grass is another of the grass hays. It can be used as a substitute for timothy for a little variety. Another common grass hay is Bermuda grass (aka. Bromme).
2. Oat Hay
Oat hay has a higher nutritional content than the grass hays to the left. It should only be used to provide a little variety since it is lower in fiber and higher in nutrition (protein) than the grass hays.
4. Alfalfa Hay
Alfalfa is much higher in protein than the other hays. For this reason it should generally be avoided unless your rabbit has specific dietary requirements diagnosed by a vet.
Overall we would recommend to mainly feed grass hays. Your rabbit doesn't really need anything else.
So how much Hay is 80% of their Diet? How do I know?
Feeding hay is actually much more simple than feeding other foods, so don’t worry.
The simple rule is that your bunny should have access to unlimited hay all day, every day.
What we do in practice is simply give Daisy a lot (what looks like way too much). When she finishes it we then just add more. Start with the size of your rabbit in hay (once you take it out of the bag and it fluffs up).
But my Bunny doesn’t like Hay…
You might be thinking “but I know Snuggles the bun doesn’t eat that much hay, isn’t this a waste?” – this is a common concern and one which I used to share.
Simply put, if your bunny doesn’t eat that starter portion I described above at least it means you overfeeding him with other foods. He simply doesn’t think he needs to eat.
So to get the maximum health benefits of hay we need to understand the other rules below. It is particularly common to overfeed pellets, as we will see below.
2. Pellets – How and When to Feed Them
In case you aren't aware rabbit feeding pellets are small round pea sized balls, commonly thought by most to be the only thing rabbits need to eat.
They are typically made from compressed grass and hay, mixed with other chemicals to keep them together. For example, here's the ingredients list of "Burgess Excel Nuggets":
Grass, Oat Bran, Wheat, Soya Bean Hulls, Lucerne, Peas, Yeast, Molasses, Mint, Soya Oil, Calcium Carbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Ligno-Cellulose, Fructo-oligosaccharides 0.25%, Salt, Vitamins and Minerals, Contains Natural Antioxidants
I think of them as a bit like a rabbit version of a "ready meal" (or "tv dinner")... Pellets were actually originally developed in order for farmers to feed up rabbits for market (horrible for owners of pet rabbits like us, but true). They simply weren’t developed with your rabbit’s health in mind.
We’re definitely not saying they’re dangerous for your rabbit - far from it. It’s just important to have this fact in mind as you read the below points.
How Many Pellets Should I Feed my Rabbit?
Our first tip for pellets is that however much you are feeding your bunny best friend, it’s probably too much.
Pellets are very high in nutrients and can stop your rabbit thinking he needs to eat the amount of hay he needs (this was described above). Overfeeding pellets is very common, don’t worry you’re not a bad person – some vets have even advised in the past that bunnies should be fed unlimited pellets.
To illustrate that you’re not alone – here is a video of our bunny Daisy going crazy for pellets before they are even put into her cage safe zone:
We made this mistake of overfeeding pellets and it’s ok that you did too. If you want your bunny to be as happy and healthy as possible then all that is important is that we fix this from now on.
By the way - if you want to see more cute pics of rabbits eating see our post here.
Ok, I Get It - So How Many Pellets Should I Feed My Rabbit?
The experts typically agree that you should feed about a heaped eggcup full per KG (about 2 pounds) of your rabbit's body weight per day. The RSPCA gives good advice on this.
For an average rabbit of about 2 Kg (4 lbs) you should therefore be feeding about two eggcup fulls per day. This is about a third of a cup.
It is important to note that this is a suggested maximum. It is possible to feed your rabbit no pellets if you wish. You would then replace the nutrients not in hay with green vegetables (see below).
Our advice for non-expert rabbit owners is to start with the amount above to ensure your rabbit is getting the right other nutrients. As you get more confident with some of the other points made here you can then start gradually reducing your rabbit's pellet intake.
What Type of Pellets Should You Feed Your Rabbit?
There are many different varieties, manufacturers and types of pellets available. This can get pretty confusing, I know. Here are a couple of simple rules to follow when choosing which brand:
- More fiber generally equals better pellet. The more fiber you can get into your rabbits diet, the better. Rabbit pellets greatly vary in fiber content with some as high as 39%, some as low as 17%. If you can't find this nutritional information on the packet - don't buy them.
- Never feed "Muesli" Style Pellets These are typically made from grains and other human foods. These aren't suited to your bunny's fragile tummy. On top of that rabbits can "selectively feed" from the different bits of muesli and leave the parts that are actually any good for them!
- Grass should be listed as the main ingredient Just like for human foods the first item listed in the ingredients is the one which the pellets contain the most of. Make sure grass is listed first since this will ensure they have more fiber and lower protein, just as your rabbit needs.
A good example of what to look for is therefore actually the "Burgess Excel Nuggets" listed above.
3. Improve Rabbit Feeding with a Green, Leafy Salad
If you remember the goal of reducing pellet intake was to reduce nutrient intake. However, your bunny will also lose some vitamins and minerals from this reduction (but don’t worry the plus sides of reducing them far outweigh this).
Just like for humans, the right amount of vitamins and minerals are really important for your rabbit's Health.
Each vitamin you can think of has the same positive effect for rabbits as for humans. For example calcium is known to keep teeth and bones strong - this is exactly the same of your rabbit. However, since they are much smaller than you they need very different amounts of these vitamins and minerals.
We can get these vital vitamins and minerals into your bunny’s diet by feeding them a daily green, leafy salad.
Ideally this should include at least 5 different kinds of vegetables. However, I’m not going to just pretend this is always possible. We all have busy lives. If you just set the aim of increasing your bunny’s intake of these vital vegetables then they will still get the benefit.
When you see how much healthier and happier your bunny friend is with this diet then you can start thinking about increasing their salad’s variety.
What Type of Vegetables Can I Feed?
There are a lot of vegetables which are safe and nutritious for rabbits to eat. There are also a number which you need to be careful of. Here is an easy reference for you. Please refer to the relevant notes below the table's columns (highlighted with a number e.g. ) to find out more.
- Romaine Lettuce (+other leafy lettuces)
- Dandelion Leaves
- Bok Choy
- Coriander (Cilantro)
- Pea Pods
- Water Cress
- Broccoli 
- Cabbage 
- Brussel Sprouts 
- Other cabbage family vegetables 
- Carrots 
 Cabbage family vegetables can cause "bloat" - this can be fatal. Make sure to feed a small amount and ensure you bunny is ok before feeding more. See section 6 below. for more on this.
 Carrots have a very high sugar content and are therefore not ideal as part of a salad. Save these for treats in small amounts.
- Iceberg Lettuce 
- Many house plants
- Any kind of beans
- Any Cereals (e.g. oats, corn)
- Nuts or Seeds
 Iceberg lettuce contains too much water and not enough fiber for your rabbit. It also contains a chemical called Laundanum which is harmful in large doses.
Other foods here should be completely avoided.
How Much Salad is Enough For a Rabbit?
It is very important to think about how much salad to feed your rabbit. We humans tend to think that "more salad = better for you". But we need to realize that this only applies to humans (for rabbits this would be "more hay = better for you"!).
Rabbits are so much smaller than us that it's actually very easy to overfeed vegetables. Too much of some vitamins and minerals can be just as bad as not enough!
An easy guide to follow is that you should be feeding about one cup of vegetables (when packed down) per 2 Lbs (1 Kg) of your rabbits body weight, per day.
When not compressed their daily salad should be a little bit less that half of the size of your bunny.
But Mr. Fluffles Doesn't Like Green Vegetables Very Much...
I've been here... Rabbits are very cautious of new foods. Actually, it's more correct to say that they're very cautious of anything new to begin with! This is simply their prey animal survival instinct kicking in. This is completely normal.
Think about it from your bunny's point of view. She has no idea whether that nice juicy romaine lettuce is deadly or not the first time she tries it!
Persistence is key to feeding rabbits any new vegetables.
The first time you try your rabbit with something new just offer them a small piece. If they leave it try again with the same size piece the next day, until they eat that. By this point they will know it is safe and you can start increasing the amount you feed slowly.
See section 6 below for more advice on this.
4. Rabbits Need Plenty of Fresh Water
Just as for humans lots of fresh, clean water is very important for rabbits. Our advice is pretty simple here – rabbits need access to clean, fresh water all the time.
In reality this really isn’t that much work. It just means replacing their means of getting water about twice a day (depending on how large their container is of course).
Rabbit Drinking Options
There are two options to provide your bun with the water they need - Bowls and drip feeders. Both are inexpensive and really it often comes down to the rabbit’s personal preference.
The main positive of a water bowl is that it is a more natural way for your bunny to drink - like lapping from a lake!
However, one issue we found with them is that your bunny can easily tip the bowl over. This leaves them without a drink if you don't spot it quickly.
These bottles allow water out when your bun licks at the small circle - like a reverse Biro. They can generally hold more water than bowls and are not easily knocked over.
However, this style of drinking is not suited to every bunny. We would recommend trying out a bowl first - especially as they are often less expensive than water bottles.
5. Maybe a Small Amount of Treats?...
Rabbits (if you haven’t noticed already) have an incredibly sweet tooth. It can be really hard to resist their cute antics when they even hear their favorite treats!
The problem with this is that many of these sweet foods would not naturally be eaten by rabbits and can cause health problems.
For example, cereals and nuts are very high in protein and have no place in a rabbit’s diet. I’ve never seen a wild rabbit with a pack of Corn Flakes, have you? (If you live in a city just assume this is true…). Or burgers:
Even fruits (which we think of as healthy, can be bad for rabbits). This is because of their high sugar content. Feed your rabbit too much sugar every day and you could find them gaining weight which comes with a lot of bad health issues.
So Should I Even Feed My Rabbit Treats?
All that said this decision is completely up to you. At the end of the day you are your rabbit’s carer. If you think the happiness they get from their daily treat is worth some potential health risks, then that’s ok!
We think Daisy enjoys treats so much that we just can’t resist her… Training rabbits is actually quite easy when using their favourite treats also.
The health problems are much more likely to come with overfeeding treats. As a responsible rabbit owner, sometimes it is your job to reduce things that are unhealthy (even if your bunny does do a little dance every time they see the treats!).
What Are Some More Healthy Rabbit Treat Options Then?
Just like with many other things we place our own, human based, assumptions on rabbits. This includes thinking that nice sugary fruits and cereals or biscuits are treats. Thinking this is only natural for us because they are our treats!
However, your rabbit can even think that some vegetables (that he does normally get) are treats! It’s all about his expectations. For example, if you don’t normally feed him parsley, try using some of this as a treat (once you’re past the initial rejection phase described in section 3!).
If you do decide to treat your rabbit with sweet foods and fruit just remember one thing – your bunny is much smaller than you! You may think that a whole apple is nothing but this would probably be well over half of your rabbit’s daily required calories! From a health perspective the smaller the portion the better with these kinds of treats.
6. Always Introduce New Foods Slowly
This is probably one of the most important points in this post - so I'm really glad you made it this far ;-).
Rabbits are very fragile animals in many ways. The slightest change in diet can have major impacts on their health. I say this not to scare you but to make you aware of how important my below point is.
Worse still, because rabbits are prey animals they tend to hide their pain. In the wild this would stop them being seen as weak by predators. However in your home this can often mean that you will find it hard to tell if that piece of cabbage causes your bunny discomfort.
This is why you should follow the process below...
So How Should I Introduce New Foods to My Rabbit?
When you introduce new foods it is very important to give them a little of the new food first. Maybe even a few days in a row.
You should then watch your rabbit's behavior compared to how they normal act.
For example, if Mr Fluffles doesn't usually sit in the corner fluffed up after eating this can be a warning sign that he is in some discomfort. This would tell you that you should be careful about feeding this new food.
If you are unsure whether your rabbit had a bad reaction then just try the same thing again. If he has the same reaction (e.g. fluffed up in a ball just after eating) then you know that you shouldn't feed this food again.
Again, I realise this process sounds incredibly simple, and it is. However, this does not mean that it is not vital to follow.
There you have it - Bunnyopia's 6 most important steps for Rabbit Feeding. If you have learnt even one thing from the above we would be very happy with the time we spent on this guide!
Please let us know what you think by leaving a comment below. Let us know what you learnt, or what you still want to know about rabbit feeding and we will try to help as much as we can.