Choosing the Right Rabbit Food for Your Bunny
A pet rabbits diet is usually made up of three parts: hay, dry food and various fresh foods (a.k.a. greens). Getting the right balance of these food groups is very important to keep your rabbit healthy. A bad diet can result in overgrown/misaligned teeth, obesity and digestion problems. This article mainly covers choosing and feeding dry food with a brief mention of the importance of hay, for a guide to safe/unsafe vegetables see Edible Plants for Rabbits.
Hay should make up a large part of your rabbits diet as it is high in fibre, which is important for keeping the gut working properly. The chewing action your rabbit uses whilst eating hay also helps to wear down the teeth, which in a rabbit grow continually, and prevent them overgrowing. As well as fibre, hay is also a source of vitamins and minerals. Your rabbit should always have hay available. A pile of hay, roughly the same size as your rabbit, each day is a good guide although some rabbits will eat more or less than this amount. If you rabbit does not eat much hay you can encourage it by placing the hay in areas he/she likes to doze such as the litter tray and bed. Adding hay to toys, such as stuffing it in cardboard tubes, can also encourage you rabbit to nibble.
Pictured: 50g of Supreme Science Selective.
If you rabbit is not keen on eating hay then it will be particularly important to choose a dry food as high as possible in fibre. Dry foods come in a variety of different types/brands and choosing the right one for your bunny can be confusing. There are two main types, pellets and mixes, these can easily be identified by appearance but you will have carefully read the label to identify whether they are complete (contain all the nutritional needs) or complimentary (don't contain all the nutritional needs). Rabbit Mixes contain a variety of different looking ingredients like cereals, flaked peas and coloured biscuit like lumps. Rabbit Pellets, as pictured right, have the ingredients mixed together within the pellets. Many owners feel that pellets look boring but rabbits are more interested in taste than looks and the majority seem quite pleased with the flavour. Mixes have the draw back that they allow a rabbit to select their favourite bits and leave the rest. If you rabbit selectively feeds from a mix then they may miss out on important nutrition. A complete pellet is generally the best type of food for a rabbit.
The chart below shows the nutritional analysis of some of the main brands of rabbit food available as you can see they vary quite a lot in both fibre and protein content. An adult rabbit should have a food with a fibre content of at least 18-20% and a protein content of around 12-14%. Young rabbits need a higher protein level of around 16% as they are still developing.
|Proper Food 4 Pets™||Natural Rabbit HIFI||27.40%||14.25%||7.60%|
|Allen & Page||Natural Rabbit Pellets||23%||12%||3.25%|
|Burgess||Supa Rabbit Excel||16%||12%||4%||0.9%|
|Supa Rabbit Excel Junior||16%||16%||4.5%||0.9%|
|Supa Rabbit Excel Lite||18%||12%||2.5%||0.9%|
|Oxbow||Bunny Basics T (Adult Rabbits)||25-28%||14%||0.35-0.8%|
|Bunny Basics 15/23 (Young Rabbits)||22-25%||15%||0.5-0.8%|
Changing Your Rabbits Diet
Any change to a rabbits diet need to be done gradually. If you changing one sort of dry food for another you should gradually mix the new feed into the old over a period of around 7-14 days. For example, start of with a mix of 10% of the new food and 90% of the old, and increase the new and decrease the old each day. During this time you need to watch out for changes to your rabbits poo. If they become soft or runny you are changing the food to rapidly.
Quantity of Rabbit Food to Feed
The quantity of dry food your rabbit requires depends on several factors including where it is kept, how old it is, how much exercise it gets and how big it is. A medium sized adult rabbit, getting plenty of exercise, generally requires no more than 50 grams of dry food a day, as well as plenty of hay and a selection of 'greens'. This is about half to three quarters of a standard size mug. A rabbit that eats a large quantity of hay and 'greens' may eat less.
A rabbit kept outside during the winter may need an increase in pellets to maintain a healthy body weight as they expend more energy in keeping warm.
If your rabbit does not take much exercise then you may need to reduce the amount of pellets and let them top up on hay to prevent them becoming over weight. Encouraging them to take more exercise with plenty of space and toys is also of benefit.
The best way to tell whether you are over feeding is to monitor your rabbits weight by regularly recording it. Once a rabbit has reached adulthood its weight should remain reasonably consistent. Knowing your rabbits normal weight will help you quickly spot possible problems. A healthy adult rabbit that is gaining weight may need its diet altered to prevent it becoming over weight. This should be done by reducing the amount dry food and topping up with hay and 'greens'. A rabbit that loses weight may have teeth or other medical problems and needs to be checked by a vet.
Diets for Young, Adult and Older Rabbits
At different time's in your rabbits life he or she will have different dietary needs. A young rabbit is growing and will need a higher protein level, generally baby rabbits can be allowed food ad lib. An elderly rabbit may need more dry food to maintain a healthy body weight.
If you find your rabbit is producing a large amount of soft poo rather than the usual 'currents' then you may be feeding too many pellets or a pellet that is to low in fibre. Try reducing the amount of pellets and topping up the diet with more hay. Checking the nutritional information on the back of the bag, fibre should be at least 18-20%.
If you are worried about your rabbit's health or diet discuss it with a rabbit savvy vet. They will be able to advise you what is best for your particular rabbit.