Conjure up an image of a cartoon rabbit and you will probably picture it chomping on a carrot. But despite the close association, the root veg should not be at the top of the shopping list when it comes to your bunny’s diet – and lettuce, which is dangerous to rabbits, shouldn’t even feature at all! As part of Rabbit Awareness Week – an annual campaign to raise the profile of rabbit welfare – Lucy Ross, Head of Training at Pets Corner, discusses what constitutes a safe and healthy diet for rabbits so you can keep your pet in tip top condition.
“We are all familiar with Bugs Bunny, who would regularly whip out a carrot to munch on, but carrots are not the best thing to be feeding rabbits on a day-to-day basis.
“The bulk of a rabbit’s diet should be made up of hay with 10% of what they eat comprising of vegetables. For example, curly kale is among some of the veggies rabbits can enjoy on a daily basis.
“But iceberg lettuce – a popular staple among humans that can often make it into the pet food pile is dangerous and should never be fed to rabbits.”
A healthy diet for a pet rabbit should mimic what his cousins in the wild forage for – grass, plants and vegetables.
Good quality hay is an excellent alternative to grass and the foundation of a healthy diet for pet rabbits. As well as strengthening teeth and jaws, it provides fibre to maintain a healthy gut and nibbling on hay keeps bunnies busy, reducing boredom and helping prevent behavioural problems.
“Alongside hay, which should make up 80% of your pet’s diet, we recommend adding one and a half mugs of fresh, raw fruit and veg per rabbit every day with complete nuggets and mix making up the remaining 10%.”
Lucy has put together the following feeding guide for rabbit owners:
- Feed often – most days: bell peppers (remove seeds), raspberry leaves, watercress, coriander, courgette, curly kale
- Feed frequently – two to four times a week: parsley, blueberries, cabbage, cauliflower leaves, broccoli, tomato (not stems or leaves), mangetout, Brussels sprouts
- Feed occasionally – once a week: apple (remove seeds), mint, carrots, pak choi, blackberries, cucumber peelings, dandelion leaves, celery
- Never feed: avocado, coconut, garlic, iceberg lettuce, hot peppers, chillies, potatoes, tomato leaves and stems, onions
- Fresh water – always ensure your rabbit has plenty of fresh, clean water
The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund – a national charity supported by Pets Corner – advocates the hay and veggie diet. However, it advises commercial foods should not be cut out as they contain important nutrients that can be deficient in a totally hay/veggie diet.
“Take care to introduce any new foods gradually. An abrupt change to a rabbit’s diet can trigger digestive upsets, which could prove fatal to some.”