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    Rabbit Feeding and Nutrition

    What you feed your rabbit plays a part in determining whether you have a top show prospect, hearty litters, and a happy, healthy pet. Rabbits that don't get a balanced diet will grow slowly, their coat will be dull and lifeless, and they'll be less able to fight disease.

    A rabbit's primary food should be pellets - commercially made bite-sized bits of ground hay and other ingredients, vitamins and minerals tailored specifically for the rabbit's digestive system.

    Each rabbit's nutrition depends on its life stage and intended purpose. Most rabbits thrive nicely on a diet containing 16 percent protein, such as Manna Pro's Select Series Pro Formula. Nursing mothers, however, need extra protein - about 18 percent - as do newly weaned kits, or baby rabbits. Select Series Gro Formula provides the ideal diet for the doe and her litter.

    What to Feed a Rabbit?

    A rabbit's diet should consist of rabbit pellets, hay and certain types of fresh dark-green leafy vegetables.

    Pellets

    If you choose to make rabbit pellets a part of your rabbit’s diet, it is best to use them as a supplement to the dark green, leafy vegetables, not as a substitute. These pellets should only be given in small quantities (1/8 -1/4 cup per five pounds of body weight per day, spread out over two daily feedings). Also, make sure to purchase Timothy-based pellets. Many brands of rabbit feed contain seeds, corn and other foods that are too high in calories to be the basis for a healthy rabbit’s diet.

    Rabbit pellets are specially formulated to provide the balanced nutrition your rabbit needs. However, always be sure to feed only fresh pellets. Old, rancid pellets can contain harmful molds or other toxins that may make your rabbit sick or even cause death. Check to see that the pellets are not dry, crumbly or have a foul smell. Those may be indicators that the pellets should be discarded.

    Hay

    Rabbits need hay. Specifically, Timothy grass hay or long stem hay is best. Hay is an important fiber source for rabbits, and it also aids in proper digestion. Rabbits should have access to a constant supply of this hay which aids their digestive systems and provides the necessary fiber to help prevent rabbit health problems such as hair balls, diarrhea and obesity. Alfalfa hay, on the other hand, should only be given to adult rabbits in very limited quantities, if at all, because it is high in protein, calcium and calories.

    Providing hay for your rabbits also helps keep rabbits occupied and prevents boredom because rabbits enjoy chewing. Make sure the hay is not moldy or musty and is of a high quality.

    Hay should not replace pellets, however, as the pellets contain nutrients and vitamins not found in hay.

    Vegetables

    In addition to hay, the basic diet of an adult rabbit should consist of leafy, dark-green vegetables such as romaine and leaf lettuces (not iceberg lettuce), parsley, cilantro, collard greens, arugula, escarole, endive, dandelion greens and others. Variety is important to a rabbit's diet, so feed your rabbit three different vegetables at a time. When introducing new veggies to a rabbit’s diet, try just one at a time and keep quantities limited.

    Some rabbit owners may choose to feed their rabbits fresh vegetables along with pellets. This is fine, but if your rabbit is used to only pellets, the addition of vegetables should be made slowly. Several vegetables such as carrots, endive, romaine lettuce, broccoli, and parsley are good sources of vitamins and minerals. Greens and spinach are okay to feed a rabbit but should be fed more sparingly.

    Rabbit Treats

    Rabbit treats should be given sparingly and should be formulated to aid in digestion. If you notice your rabbit's droppings have become sticky or soft after giving treats, reduce the amount of treats being given. Avoid treats that are high in soluble carbohydrates, including grains and products that contain sugar. This also includes bread and meat. Tractor Supply Co. carries a variety of rabbit treats.

    What NOT to Feed a Rabbit

    With such sensitive digestive systems, there are a number of foods that you should avoid feeding to rabbits. These include:

    • Iceberg lettuce
    • Tomatoes
    • Cabbage
    • Corn
    • Beans
    • Peas
    • Potatoes
    • Beets
    • Onions
    • Rhubarb
    • Bamboo
    • Seeds and grains

    Do not feed your rabbit chocolate, candy, anything moldy or most human foods. If you are not sure about a certain food, ask your rabbit’s veterinarian or visit your local Tractor Supply Co. store.

    Fruits and Treats

    While hay and vegetables are the basis of a healthy diet for a rabbit, they also enjoy rabbit treats. Cartoons and other fictional portrayals of rabbits would lead us to believe that carrots are the basis of a healthy rabbit diet. Many rabbits enjoy carrots, but they are a starchy vegetable and should only be given sparingly as a treat. Other treats your rabbit might enjoy are apples (without stems or seeds), blueberries, papaya, strawberries, pears, peaches, plums or melon. Extra-sugary fruits like bananas, grapes and raisins are good too but should be given on a more limited basis.

    Night Droppings

    Rabbits excrete a special type of droppings several times a day referred to as “cecotropes,” or “night droppings.” These cecotropes contain vital nutrients that were not well absorbed in the large intestine. The rabbit re-digests the cecotropes allowing them to absorb the nutrients. This is normal and important to your rabbit’s health. The cecotropes are usually darker, and softer than normal waste droppings, however, they should not be confused with diarrhea.

    How Much To Feed a Rabbit

    Feed your rabbit enough each day to allow him to browse until the next feeding. Unless they're being limited for some reason to keep their condition at a given level, you typically would let them have free choice access to feed so they can have all they want. If they look like they're gaining too much weight, simply cut them back.

    Whether your rabbit is a house pet, 4-H project, or star of the show table, a nutritious diet will keep him healthy and the both of you happy.

    Water for Rabbits

    Perhaps the most important ingredient of a rabbit's diet is water. Without it, a rabbit won't be able to regulate his body temperature in hot weather; in winter, he'll stop eating, leading to weight loss and possible starvation.

    Keep a supply of fresh water by installing in his cage an automatic waterer, bottle or heavy crock that the rabbit cannot tip over.

    Rabbits should always have an ample supply of fresh water available. Be sure to change your rabbit’s water at least once each day. Water can be kept in a sipper bottle or bowl. If you use a sipper bottle, watch new rabbits to make sure they know how to use the bottles. Clean bottles daily so the tubes don’t get clogged.