Choosing the best diet for your rabbit companion
10:29 PM, Wednesday, May 04
If you have a rabbit then you know by now they have a ‘sweet tooth.’ Like children, rabbits will gravitate toward any food that’s sweet, and with their cute little faces begging for a treat, it’s easy to give in and reward their antics with a yogurt drop or piece of banana.

Rabbits cannot make healthy food choices for themselves so it’s up to you to make sure they get a diet that will help them live their expected lifespan of 10 to 12 years. In the wild, rabbits pick and choose, browsing through leaves, shoots, grasses and barks, to make the best diet choices. In a domesticated environment, they depend solely on us to provide them with food; we need to make smart choices on their behalf.

The best diet for a rabbit is a simple one. Unlimited fresh grass hays, a limited portion of high-quality plain rabbit pellets (no dried fruits, seeds or nuts) and a good portion of greens every day. This provides them with a well-rounded diet that should keep them at a good weight and ward off chronic problems of the digestive tract. Depending on your rabbit’s age and (normal) weight, a pelleted food can provide essential daily minerals and vitamins. However, if your rabbit is obese you will have to cut way back on pellets or eliminate them entirely. House Rabbit Society recommends, in general, the following guidelines on feeding pellets. Limit the quantity of pellets you give your rabbit; a young bunny, under 8 months of age, can eat an unlimited amount of alfalfa-based pellets as they grow into their normal weight and size. Once they reach this point, switch them over to a measured portion of timothy- based pellets to maintain a healthy weight. An adult rabbit at its full size (this will depend upon breed) can get the following daily amounts: 3 to 5lbs – 1/8 cup, 5 to 8 lbs – 1/4 cup, 8 to 12 lbs – 1/2 cup and over 12 lbs – 3/4 cup. These guidelines are meant to be just that; general guidelines. You should always work with your vet to determine your rabbit’s individual needs based on his age, current weight, and any chronic health issues.

So, what about that cute begging trick that little Hopper uses on you? You want to reward him with a treat but what is best? Treats should always be given in very small portions and infrequently throughout the week. Make sure that treats are not a regular part of your rabbit’s diet, but what they are intended to be; a special treat. Sticking to fresh items a sprig of mint, cilantro, or other herb is best. A small bit of fresh fruit is another option. Give a piece of apple, pear, or a cranberry (try the fresh ones when they come in season) or a blueberry. Steer clear of fruits with concentrated sweetness; dried fruits and those such as grapes or banana. You don’t want to have your rabbits get used to these very sweet items and eat them to the exclusion of healthy foods.

Another healthier choice is a hay-based cookie; a little, tiny, bunny cookie hand-made with nutritious ingredients. My bunnies’ favorites are Tigertail Treats and Critter Cookies. You can find these healthier alternatives at the HRS Bunny Store, a great location to purchase supplies, pellets and healthy treats for your bunny friend.

To be honest, if you’re browsing the Internet looking for diet advice you’re going to find a lot of conflicting information. But think of it like this. The House Rabbit Society’s goal is for your rabbit to live to the full capacity of his life – 10 to 12 years. For the past 25 years we’ve been studying rabbits closely, and have personally cared for nearly 30,000 rabbits. We’ve developed our feeding guidelines based on information we’ve learned from our vets, from nutritionists, and from the rabbits themselves. We’ve tinkered with diets to decrease obesity, and to help put on weight in older or ill rabbits. We don’t take this lightly and work very hard to make the best recommendations possible when we get diet questions from the public.

You can learn more about healthy diets for house rabbits on HRS websites www.sandiegorabbits.org and www.rabbit.org. Be sure you share what you’ve learned with your vet so he or she can work with you to tailor the best diet for your bunny.

~ Judith Pierce,

San Diego House Rabbit Society

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