Correct diet is essential for rabbit health. A low fibre, high carbohydrate diet (such as rabbit muesli) can lead to dental disease, conjunctivitis, obesity, intestinal upsets such as diarrhoea, and furballs. Water should be available 24hrs a day and water bottles or bowls should be cleaned daily to prevent the build-up of bacteria and contamination.
The most important part of a rabbit’s diet is fibre, provided by good quality hay and/or fresh grass. This is their natural food source so should make up the bulk of the diet and be available at all times. The essential fibre in hay keeps the teeth and digestive system in good health, while nibbling throughout the day will keep your rabbit occupied and prevent boredom. Hay racks or nets can minimise mess and soiling. Good quality meadow hay should be sweet smelling and not dusty. Dried grass products that retain the green colour and are highly palatable are also now available.
Rabbit mix or muesli is useful to provide additional nutrients, but should only make up a very small portion of the diet. Many rabbits will only eat certain components of mixed feeds, risking deficiencies of protein, calcium and phosphorus. High quality dry pellets, where all nutrients are present in each individual pellet, are much safer. Overfeeding dry foods to adult rabbits is a common cause of diseases such as obesity, heart and liver problems, chronic diarrhoea, dental and kidney disease.
Many rabbits enjoy fresh vegetables, fruit and greens, which can be fed in small amounts daily. Wild plants are also greatly enjoyed. If your rabbit is not used to getting fresh foods, slowly introduce green leafy vegetables, adding a new type of vegetable every 2-3 days. If the addition of any item causes diarrhoea it should not be fed.
Fresh foods should not make up more than 20% of the rabbit’s diet. Safe foods include cabbage, watercress, kale, cauliflower leaves, carrots, parsley, spinach, radishes, celery, bramble, raspberry leaves, dandelions, chickweed, plantain, groundsel and clover.
Do not feed your rabbit chocolate, biscuits or other sugary treats, or fatty, salty foods like potato crisps. Be careful with feeding treats in general as they can lead to obesity and digestive upsets. Safe treats your rabbit may like include strawberries, pineapple chunks, apples, pears, melon, banana, raspberries, peaches and dried fruits. Fruits are high in sugar so should only be fed occasionally.
For good tooth wear you may provide your rabbit with twigs or tree branches. They often enjoy gnawing and stripping the bark. Generally, branches from any fruit trees are safe. Examples are apple, pear, plum, hawthorn, whitethorn and wild rose. Always make sure the tree has not been sprayed with chemicals.