The why, how and
hay-now of rabbit nutrition
5 easy-as rabbit diet tips to keep your bunny happy and healthy
It takes more than a fresh patch of grass to keep your rabbit in tip-top shape. A large percentage of rabbit health problems are caused by inadequate nutrition and poor diet. Dental, gut, skin, eye, urinary and behavioural issues can quickly flare up if your bunny isn’t fed properly. Here are a few tips every rabbit owner should know about keeping rabbits healthy and avoiding a trip to the vet.
- First (and second and third), it’s all about the fibre
Fibre is such a critical aspect of rabbit nutrition we could write an entire book on the topic. But we’ll save you hours of reading and give you the abridged version – rabbits need a heck of a lot of fibre in their diet. And it’s important to understand the how and why of fibre in their diet too.
Rabbits are often regarded as ‘fibrevores’. Along with guinea pigs and chinchillas they have a unique way of processing fibre in their diet. It’s why rabbits and their fibrevore friends have primarily on a diet of grass, hay, weeds and even twigs. These type of foods are high in cellulose, which often means the nutritional value of the food is locked away. Rabbits have a unique digestive system that enables them to digest cellulose and access nutrients.
This system allows them to separate food into digestible and indigestible fibre during the digestion process. Digestible fibre is dense in nutrients, and once it is ingested and chewed, it is sent to a part of the stomach known as the cecum. Here, good bacteria works to break down the materials before it is re-ingested and the essential nutrients easily extracted.
“…if a rabbit is provided with a diet that is as close to what it would eat in the wild, mother nature (and a very cleverly designed digestive process) should take care of things.”
Indigestible fibre doesn’t contain useable nutrients but is still an essential part of the rabbit’s digestive process. Larger particles of indigestible fibre move through the digestive system easily, helping to stimulate appetite, help with teeth health (through gnawing) and are excreted as the hard droppings we all know too well.
This may sound complicated but, if a rabbit is provided with a diet that is as close to what it would eat in the wild, mother nature (and a very cleverly designed digestive process) should take care of things.
- Make it fun
Encourage your rabbit to eat more fibre by making it fun. Rabbits love to play, and you can easily keep them entertained and get some good nutrition into them by making feeding fun. Put hay feed into a cardboard tube or a brown paper bag and let them play with their food! Bunnies will benefit from a good quality source of fibre, and the chewing and biting is a great natural behaviour to keep their mental wellbeing in check.
- Keep them foraging
Foraging is a natural behaviour for rabbits. As much as 70% of a rabbit’s day is spent foraging on grass and other plants and herbs. Again, keeping your rabbit in good condition means giving them a diet and lifestyle as close to what it would be in the wild.
Adding a product like Meadow Medley to your rabbit’s diet is a great way to provide them with an essential source of fibre and allow them to act out their natural behaviour of foraging. Meadow Medley is commonly used by rabbit owners as a treat or on top of hay feed. It is made up of delicious Timothy Hay grass and a range of herbs and wildflowers. Watch how much your rabbit enjoys nibbling and foraging through the selection.
- Get the right hay
Rabbits love hay, and a happy rabbit is one that can access fresh grass and hay every day. Not only does hay provide an essential source of fibre, but it also helps with dental health. A rabbit’s teeth grow continuously and without something to chew on these teeth will grow so long they will become painful.
Rabbits eat a large quantity of grass each day (an amount equal to their body size), but this is not always possible for pet rabbits. Hay feed is essentially dried grass and is the perfect solution as a rabbit feed as it provides the same health and nutrients as grass.
For a good all-round source a product like Timothy Hay provides the essential fibre needed by your rabbit while encouraging natural foraging behaviour.
- Get the right balance
The food pyramid shown here is an excellent visual explanation of how to maintain the perfect balance for your rabbit’s diet. Aside from water, the most important element of their diet is hay.
In the wild, around 90% of a rabbit’s diet consists of high-quality feeding hay or fresh grass, so it’s important to make sure your rabbit gets the right amount to avoid serious health problems.
Smaller amounts of fresh greens and treats will help keep your rabbit in good health physically and emotionally. Rabbit nuggets should consist of a very small part of the diet.
We all want the best for our pet rabbits, but sometimes we can unwittingly contribute to poor health by feeding them the wrong type of food. Understanding how they would live if it were in the wild goes a long way to keeping your rabbit in prime health.