By nature, rabbits are pure herbivores. Their digestive tract is geared towards fiber-rich food and quickly gets out of balance if fed the wrong food. But a diet rich in raw fiber is also enormously important for dental health: Rabbit teeth grow throughout their lives and must be worn down regularly through species-appropriate eating and gnawing. In the wild, rabbits feed primarily on grasses, wild herbs and leaves of shrubs or trees, preferring tender, young shoots. They eat many small amounts throughout the day.
When feeding, use the food from nature as a guide!
Also in pet keeping you should orientate yourself for the nutrition of your rabbits on the preferences of wild rabbits. Present your animals with a rich selection of fresh greens that you can also easily gather in nature. It is best if your animals have a sufficient amount of it available around the clock. Add good hay and some water – and you’re done.
Depending on where you live, it may not be as easy as it sounds at first. Because you should not pick the green fodder neither at strongly frequented places nor at the next dog meadow. And in winter “self-sufficiency” is even more difficult or even impossible. Nevertheless, you should not fall back mainly on dry food mixtures from the specialized trade, which are often advertised as “complete food”.
Which green food for rabbits?
Rule of thumb for rabbit food: Prefer fresh, leafy greens. The more greens you can pick in nature, the better. Fresh greens contain higher fiber content and more phytochemicals than supermarket greens.
Of course, you should be careful not to pick poisonous plants. But you don’t have to worry too much about getting the wrong herb. Rabbits are able to detect plant poisons with their sense of taste and smell. Otherwise, it would make no sense for plants to produce poisons because they want to keep predators at bay. Therefore, the rabbits avoid certain plants after a harmless test bite. Sometimes they even eat them deliberately in order to use the plant poisons they contain to alleviate possible illnesses.
Which dry food for rabbits?
It’s best to avoid dry food when feeding rabbits. Even grain-free dry foods and premium rabbit foods from the pet store have little to do with species-appropriate nutrition – especially if they contain pellets (elongated pellets) or extrudates (grains broken down with heat and pressure, usually in the form of green or colored lumps and rings). The latter, in particular, are usually made from highly ground waste products and are detrimental to your rabbit’s delicate digestive tract due to their low fiber content.
But even high-quality dried herbs or vegetables and even hay are not suitable as the main food. This is because even if sufficient drinking water is available, rabbits usually do not compensate for the increased fluid requirements caused by the dry food. They get problems with the kidneys and urinary tract more quickly. Any dry food should therefore only ever be given in small quantities as a supplementary diet.
What do rabbits eat in winter?
Even in winter you should feed your rabbit with greens from nature. You can also put whole heads of cabbage or lettuce in the enclosure. Make sure that even in winter, leafy vegetables make up at least 70 percent of the daily fresh food. Solid vegetables can be added in small amounts.
Supplement the green food from nature with leafy vegetables!
If there are not enough fresh meadow plants available in your area or due to the season, you can supplement your rabbit’s diet with leafy greens.
What leafy greens can rabbits eat? (non-exhaustive list)
Leaves of kohlrabi, radish, or cauliflower
Spinach and other leafy greens
various types of lettuce (especially bitter lettuces such as endive, chicory, radicchio or sugarloaf)
If you buy lettuce and cabbages from the supermarket, it's best to remove the outer leaves before feeding to reduce any potential contaminants.
Be sure to slowly acclimate your rabbit to the different types of cabbage by first offering them by the strip and then by the leaf. This way, they will tolerate the high-fiber vegetable well. It is a good alternative to fresh greens from nature, especially in winter.
What vegetables can rabbits eat?
(List not exhaustive)
Celery and celeriac
White turnip (autumn turnip)
What kind of fruit can rabbits eat?
Fruit should only be offered to your rabbit in small quantities as a treat because of the relatively high sugar content, but also because of the sometimes considerable amounts of fruit acid. It is best to choose seasonal fruits such as apples or pears.
Choose healthy treats for your dog’s sweet tooth!
Unfortunately, most of the treats offered in specialty stores are not doing your rabbit any good. In particular, snacks that contain grains and sugar, such as green rollies, oatmeal pillows, breadsticks, or yogurt drops, can be extremely detrimental to your rabbit’s health.
If you still want to occasionally treat your rabbit to something special, pea flakes, foxtail millet or sunflower seeds, for example, are suitable treats in addition to fruit. Many rabbits also like to gnaw on branches of fruit trees for a change. These should be as untreated as possible.
How often should rabbits be fed?
As mentioned above, rabbits eat small amounts of food throughout the day. Therefore, you must make sure that fresh food (and of course fresh water!) is always available to them.
At least twice a day you should present them with a variety of fresh food. And always so large quantities that something remains. It is best to check the hayracks at the same time and refill them if necessary. Sort out old and dirty food.
What should rabbits not eat?
Onions, leeks or chives:
Onion plants not only cause flatulence, but some are even poisonous.
Most components of the plant and tuber are difficult to digest or toxic.
Beans, lentils & Co:
Legumes can cause diarrhea or flatulence.
Cereal and sugary feed mixes and nibbles, dried bread:
The rabbit's digestive tract is not designed for these nutrients, so they cannot be utilized, but at best make you fat. Therefore, please do not feed dried bread. It is better to offer twigs for brushing the teeth.
Note: The above list is not exhaustive!
Water: Better from a bowl or a bottle?
Even though rabbits tend to drink little by nature and with proper feeding, fresh water should always be available – and preferably from a stable bowl.
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