A perfect rabbit diet should have proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and water. However, the exact composition of the various nutritional components will depend on the following:
- Age: Varies in young (babies and growing youngsters), adults and elderly. For instance, growing bunnies need more protein, calories, and calcium that mature adults.
- Size: Dwarf and giant rabbits have different nutritional needs. For example, dwarfs and small breeds weighing below two pounds need more calorie-dense but lower fiber diets.
- Breed: Some, such as long-haired like Angora and Jersy Wooley, have a different nutritional requirement slightly (require higher proteins).
- Purpose: Diets for companion, show, or meat bunnies vary. Those for meat eat nutrient-rich fattening diets to add weight quickly.
Ensure you follow each group’s feeding guidelines since proper diet will ensure your pet is happy, healthy, and has vibrant litter as well as perfect for the show.
On the other hand, if they don’t get the right diet, their coat will be very dull, they will be emaciated or obese, will have a shorter lifespan, and they unable to fight against the disease.
Foods and calorie requirement
A recommended rabbit diet should have the following components
|Hay||80+%||Unlimited grassy hay like timothy for adults|
Add some good alfalfa hay for nursing, pregnant or skinny bunnies
Feed only alfalfa hay to baby or youngsters and babies below seven months.
|Fresh foods or veggies||10-15%||75% should be leafy greens. Give them 2 cups of 3-5 vegetable mix per four pounds of body weight. Include only one type high in oxalic acid or calcium.|
Feed fruits and non-leafy veggies should treats in small amounts, i.e., 1 0z. (2 tablespoons) per 4-pound rabbit.
|Pellets||5-10%||For adults, give ¼-1/2 a cup of high fiber, hay-based premium quality pellets without fruits, cereals, nuts, or muesli diets per rabbit weighing 5-7 pounds.|
For growing youngsters, buy pellets for young rabbits. Depending on their age, they can have unlimited or limited amounts.
|Treats||0-5%||They include commercial rabbit treats, homemade, fruits, and non-leafy veggies.|
Feed them no more than two tablespoons of all of the treats per four-pound rabbit per day, occasionally.
On calorie requirement, bunnies need 2100-2200 kcal/kg for maintenance, while growing or reproducing rabbits need an additional quantity of 300-500 kcal/kg.
Sometimes, due to the high energy demands, lactating and pregnant bunnies may use their body tissues (fats and protein) as energy since they may not be able to voluntarily eat the high fiber foods to meet their energy needs. This high demand means you give them foods slightly lower in fiber, higher in proteins as well as fats.
Critical components of the domestic bunny diet.
House rabbits cannot fend for themselves like their wild counterparts. Therefore, it is your responsibility as their parent to groom, feed, and house them. Key components of their diet include:
1. Proteins for rabbits
These pets are strict herbivores, and they require plant-sourced proteins, especially from veggies, hay, and other plant material and not from animals or grains.
How well rabbits can digest proteins depends on their age as weaning happens. As feed intake goes higher, protein digestibility becomes not essential. They will get their protein from cecotropes and feed.
In rabbits, proteins form part body tissues (cartilage, skin, keratin, muscles, and cells), all enzymes, some hormones, and DNA. Also, it helps in cell functioning, cellular repair, new tissue growth or repair, and a source of energy.
Amino acids are protein’s building blocks. There are many amino acids with 20 considered necessary. Of the 20, there are ten essential amino acids that animals don’t make in their bodies and must get them in their diets.
These essential amino acids are arginine, histidine isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine
b). How much protein do bunnies need?
Protein requirements will vary depending on age, size, breed, and conditions such as pregnancy and lactation. On average, their diet should have the following percentages on a dry matter basis.
|Growing youngsters||15 – 16%|
|Lactating does||17 -21%|
|Large breeds like checkered giants, and Flemish giants||17-20%|
|Long-haired breeds like Jersey Wooley and angora||17-20%|
c). Are high protein diets good?
While protein has many benefits, an excessive amount will reduce gut motility, strain your bunny’s liver and kidney, increase urine production, and affect cecum pH and microflora balance.
d). Protein deficiency symptoms
Deficiency in protein affect micronutrients absorption, cause poor weight gain and tissue regeneration, change fur texture and thickness, and affect metabolite excretion.
Expect concentrated urine, paralysis, muscle degeneration, and death in case of methionine deficiency while lower growth rate and weight loss may occur if your bunnies don’t have enough lysine.
e). Foods high in protein
If you need foods high in protein, opt for alfalfa hay with brands such as Viking Farmer Alfalfa Hay for Rabbits & Small Pets an excellent buy. However, note that this leguminous hay is high in calories, fats, and calcium too.
Also, grassy hay, veggies, weeds, grass, and non-leafy veggies have some protein amounts but in slightly lower quantities than alfalfa.
2. Do rabbits need carbohydrates?
Yes. Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy (calories) for rabbits. Carbs comprise of digestible starch and indigestible fibers (roughages) found in hay, veggies, fruits, and so on. Since it is essential, we will look at roughage afterward.
Usually, the familiar sources of carbohydrates include starchy food like grains, seeds, and tubers. However, rabbits should not eat them because they are low in fiber and overload their complex cecum microflora balance. This overload can lead to enteritis, diarrhea, stomach upsets, and soft stool, among others. Furthermore, excess carbs inhibit the release of motilin that stimulates the smooth GI muscle.
Rabbits have a high feed intake, about 65 – 80 g/kg body weight, and this feeds transits their digestive tract rapidly. i.e., within about 19 hours. Therefore, low nutrient and energy forages like hay and veggies will satisfy their nutritional and calorie needs without making them obese.
Rabbit digestible carbohydrates based on nitrogen‐free extract (NFE) percentage
|Digestible Carbs (NFE, %)|
|Gestation, lactating and growing||45-50%|
Furthermore, diets low in calories will increase the production and ingestion of cecotropes.
The primary source carbs are hay, pellets, and greens (veggies, weeds, and so on). They can also get small amounts from treats, including fruits.
3. Fiber important and requirement
Fiber is vital for your rabbit’s dental and gut health and gut motility. It will also help in appetite stimulation, and caecotrophy (production and consumption of cecotropes). Finally, it aids in intestinal bacterial toxins absorption, and it can be soluble (digestible and indigestible (insoluble) fiber.
Rabbits need digestible fiber such as lignin, beta-glucans, mucilage, oligofructose, and some pectins as well as indigestible one that has mainly cellulose and some pectins and hemicellulose.
However, just before entering cecum, separation of the digestible and indigestible fiber occurs with the former allowed to enter cecum. At the same time, the latter goes to the colon and quickly excreted as part of feces.
a). Soluble fiber
After entering cecum, soluble fiber fermentation by hindgut bacteria forms more bacteria cells as well as volatile or short-chain fatty acids like propionate, acetate, and butyrate, account for 40% of your rabbit’s calorie requirement.
Also, these short-chain fatty acids serve as an energy source to these bacteria and intestinal cells as well as lowers risks of GI disease or colon cancers. During caecotrophy, these bacteria become a source of vitamin B and proteins for your furry friend.
b). Indigestible fiber
Indigestible fiber can only be broken down but not fermented. Therefore it when it goes to the colon, it helps in preventing constipation, promoting gut motility, and improves satiety (feeling full). Furthermore, it helps in reducing hairball and reduces instances of enteritis.
c). How much fiber do rabbits need?
Rabbit fiber requirement varies depending on whether they are domestic, commercial, growing, or lactating, and it is as follows:
|Crude fiber on dry matter basis|
|Pet adult maintenance||18-25%|
|Growing and pregnant||14-16%|
By sticking to the recommended food rabbit ration, you can meet these fiber requirements.
Signs that your bunny may not be getting enough fiber include GI stasis symptoms, soft stool, weight gain (if they eat high-calorie low fiber foods), and overgrown teeth.
4. Vitamins for rabbits
A rabbit requires vitamins in small quantities, i.e., both the water-soluble vitamins B and C as well as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. A deficiency may result in some symptoms. At the same time, an excess of some may cause toxicity. Vitamins boost immunity (ability to resist disease) and keep these pets healthy.
While some commercial diets add vitamin B and K, bunnies can get them through cecotrophy, i.e., bacteria make them during soluble fiber fermentation.
On the other hand, their diets need to have vitamins A, D, and E with D and E requirements easily met by eating, while for vitamin A, you need to ensure their diets have foods rich in these vitamins.
Finally, feed storage and preparation degrade vitamins A and E.
a). Vitamin A
This vitamin is stored in the liver and helps in reproduction, growth, and development of body tissues, maintaining cell membrane integrity, and fighting infections. It also helps in immunity responses as well as aids in vision and sight or vision.
Rabbits need 6,000 IU/kg to 10,000 IU/kg, with 16,000 IU/kg being the maximum safe levels (NRC).
Grass, fresh greens, especially those with dark green leaves like spinach, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, among others.
Blindness, paralysis, poor coordination, retarded growth, drooping ears (helps in cartilage formation), and hydrocephalus (fluid in the brain) in offspring of does without enough vitamin A.
In the case of an excess amount, hydrocephalus, smaller and weaker litter, high mortality of kits, and fetal resorption. May occur if you supplement vitamin A while they have diets high in vitamin A like alfalfa and leafy dark green veggies.
b). Vitamin B complex
Rabbits can get them through cecotrophy (hindgut bacteria synthesis them). There is no need for supplementing them if your bunny participates in cecotrophy. Some roles they play include:
- Vitamin B1 or thiamine – Enzyme cofactor involved in carbs and fats metabolism and deficiency may cause reduced appetite and muscle paralysis.
- Vitamin B2 or riboflavin – Helps in glucose oxidation in cells. A deficiency will cause retarded growth and poor feed conversion.
- Vitamin B3 or niacin – cofactor of glucose oxidation in cells and deficiency would cause loss of appetite, emancipation, and diarrhea. A lack is rare because niacin can be synthesis by tryptophan amino acid.
- Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid – fastens wound healing and essential in energy metabolism. No deficiency noted so far in bunnies.
- Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine – participates in amino acid metabolism. Abundant in forages and synthesized in their hindgut.
- Vitamin B7 or biotin – Has a role in the metabolism of fatty acids. Deficiencies will cause dermatitis and hair loss.
- Vitamin B9 or folic/folate acid: Plays role in nucleic acid synthesis and interconversion of amino acid. A lack will result in anemia.
- Vitamin B12 or Cobalamin – participates in the production of nucleic acid and a deficiency will present anemia symptoms
- Choline – Since bunnies synthesize choline, induced deficiency shows muscular dystrophy, retarded growth, anemia, and death.
c). Vitamin C or ascorbic acid
It plays a role in oxygen-related biochemical reactions. Don’t supplement it as bunnies can make it in their liver. However, you may do so in case of hot weather, some sickness, weaning, and stress that hampers its synthesis.
e). Vitamin D
It plays a role in calcium absorption, and rabbits often suffer from toxicity and not a deficiency of vitamin D. These pets obtain it from diet and sun (UV light).
Recommended levels are 1000 to 1500 IU/kg with levels of 2300- 3000 IU/kg, causing toxicity whose symptoms include impaired movement, anorexia, and calcification of soft body tissue.
On the other hand, deficiencies will cause weak immunity, dental disease, and heart issues.
f). Vitamin E
Rabbits require vitamin E. A deficiency causes muscular dystrophy characterized by uncoordinated movement and hind leg paralysis, neonatal and fetal deaths, sudden deaths, and low fertility,
i). Vitamin K
It helps in blood clotting, while vitamin K2 stops coagulative tendencies and atherosclerosis progression via reducing total cholesterol. They need 1-2ppm in their feed, and supplementation is unnecessary except for pregnant or those with subclinical coccidiosis.
Deficiencies are uncommon because bunnies can synthesis it in the hindgut. Deficiency signs include placental hemorrhage and abortion in does and even in minor cuts, bleeding is prolonged.
5. Mineral and bunnies like calcium and phosphorus
Minerals are inorganic substances that these pets need. Bunnies need some minerals in more significant amounts (macro-minerals while others in small quantities (micro-minerals).
a). Calcium and phosphorus
Calcium forms a significant portion of bones and teeth (ensure a supply since their teeth keep on growing) with critical roles being heart function, muscle contraction, keeping electrolyte equilibrium in blood, and so on.
Phosphorus helps in energy metabolism, is part of their skeletal structure, among other roles.
Idea calcium to phosphorus in their diet should be 2:1 for growing but can be a little lower for adult maintenance with a medium-size bunny about 2.5kg, requiring 510mg per day or 0.6%–1%. However, pregnant, growing, and nursing bunnies need a little higher amount for bone formation.
Rabbits are efficient calcium absorber with the amount absorbed proportionally to the amount in the diet. The kidney excretes any excess amount, and it is what appears as the chalky white substance.
Excess calcium may cause kidney stones, and amounts above 15g/kg of feed will calcify soft tissues as well as alter phosphorus and zinc absorption.
On the other hand, phosphorus more than 9g/kg of feed reduces feed intake and fertility.
Finally, legume hay like alfalfa is high in calcium than grassy hay while wheat brand, grain by-products, and wheat middling a good source of phosphorus.
Magnesium serves as a cofactor for several enzyme reactions, is a vital part of bones, and aids in impulse transmission. The acceptable amount is 0.3 to 3 g/kg, and deficiencies are unlikely, but if they occur, rabbits resort to fur chewing.
c). Potassium, sodium, and chloride
Help regulate blood and body fluid pH (acid-base) as well as the following functions
- Potassium – Rabbits need about 6.5 to 10 g/kg of feed, it serves and an enzyme cofactor. Deficiencies are rare will cause muscle weakness, paralysis, and respiratory distress.
- Sodium – requirement is similar to potassium
- Chloride – Recommended levels are 1.7 to 3.2 g/kg, and the addition of lysine hydrochloride to the food makes a deficiency impossible.
Necessary for the synthesis of cysteine and homocysteine amino acids in a bunny’s hindgut and is present in thiamine and biotin.
A sulfur deficiency will lead to cecum microbial growth and consequently reduced fiber digestion and feed efficiency. If the insufficiency is acute, expect hypersalivation, weight and appetite loss, dullness, and death.
e). Other micro minerals
Besides the above, the following are essential minerals required in tiny amounts:
- Copper – Helps iron absorption, energy metabolism, and formation of collagen and hair. Hair graying (for bunnies with a black coat), anemia, retarded growth, and abnormal bones will occur in case of a deficiency.
- Iron – Helps in the synthesis of hemoglobin that transports oxygen. A deficiency will cause anemia.
- Chromium – Activates enzymes involved in energy production
- Cobalt – Since it is part of the vitamin B12 structure, a rabbit’s cecum needs it for B12 synthesis.
- Fluorine – Aids in good bone and teeth formation
- Manganese – Helps in bone and cartilage formation, blood clotting, and serves as an amino acid coenzyme. A malformed skeletal system characterized by low bone density, brittle bones, crooked legs, and so on will occur in case of a deficiency.
- Iodine – A deficiency leads to goiter since it helps in thyroxine hormone synthesis.
- Zinc – Enzyme cofactor and participates in cell division. Skin, bone, and hair defects are symptoms of a deficiency.
- Molybdenum – Part of teeth enamel and has many other functions
- Selenium – A deficiency, together with vitamin E, will cause Kashin-Beck disease while supplementation at 0.1ppm will reduce the instance of atherosclerotic plaque and increase kits fetal and birth weights.
6. Fats and oils
Fats, oil, phospholipids, fatty acids, and cholesterol are all lipids, which are substances that don’t dissolve in water but dissolve in organic solvents. Ensure your rabbits get alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid type) and linoleic acid (omega-6 type) in their diet since their bodies cannot synthesis it.
Like carbs, fats serve primarily as a source of energy, which on the same weight basis, has about 2.25 times calories as carbohydrates. Furthermore, fats help increase palatability, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K in the digestive tract.
On the other hand, vegetable oils will help make your bunny’s coat shiny, something good for show rabbits, especially when given 2-5% fats. Rabbit fat requirement is as follows:
Fats and oil digestion happens with the help of lipase enzyme that breaks down dietary fatty acids, and glycerol.
Do not add fats to your rabbit’s diet as they can get it from their foods, especially vegetables. Rabbits need 1-3% fats in their diets, but it can go up to 5% for lactating does with kittens able to ingest higher levels of lips in milk.
Familiar sources include grains, nuts, pellets, oils (vegetables). Rabbits shouldn’t eat nuts or grains. Additionally, excessive fats in the rabbit’s diet may result in the following:
- Aorta atherosclerosis and hepatic lipidosis
- Obesity being highly calorific
- While substituting fats with carbs will increase the diet’s energy content, it may hurt GI.
7. Do rabbits drink water, and how much?
Rabbits drink water even in the wild. It accounts for about 50% of their body weight, and each needs 10ml per 100g of their body weight. Therefore, depending on their size, expect them to drink between 100-600 ml of water. Otherwise, they may suffer from dehydration.
However, environmental factors, diet (moisture content), and nursing (those breastfeeding need more water). Also, using water bowls may encourage them to drink more than nipple drinkers.
Water helps in the food movement in their gut, flushing excess calcium, forms part of blood, among others. Lack of water will lead to GI stasis (their bod will draw water from their gut, making food hard and hard to move) and an increased risk of urinary crystals since it helps in flushing them.
Therefore, bunnies should have access to an unlimited amount of fresh, clean water. You can use rabbit water bottles, bowls, or an automated waterer. During winter seasons, invest in heated water bottles or crocks.
For a water bottle, the best to buy Choco Nose H128 No Drip, bowl MidWest Homes for Pets Snap’y Fit Stainless, and heated Farm Innovators Heated Water Bottle for Rabbits. There are many other good brands.