If you’re a new rabbit parent, or if your thinking about getting a bunny, you might have some questions about what kind of food you need to get. Television over the past few decades often shows carrots or lettuce as a typical rabbit diet. Or you might think a bowl full of dry food pellets is appropriate like it is for a cat or dog. This is not the case for rabbits.
For a healthy and balanced diet, rabbits should be given unlimited amounts of grass-based hay (such as timothy hay). They should also receive 1-3 cups of fresh leafy greens every day, and ¼-½ cup of fortified pellets. Treats (such as carrots, apples, and bananas) should only be given in small amounts.
Our little fluffy friends have very sensitive digestive systems. Digestive illnesses are common in rabbits and can be fatal if they’re not dealt with quickly. You’ll want to make sure you’re careful about the food you give your rabbit so they can flourish and live a healthy life.
If you want to know exactly which products and brands I recommend for rabbits, check out my recommendations page. I do a lot of research to find the best brand out there and only recommend products that I also use with my own rabbits.
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Unlimited Grass Hay
It is incredibly important that your rabbit has is a constant supply of grass-based hay. Grass hay just means that the type of hay in question is made from a process of drying certain types of grass. The fiber and protein content of these grass hays make them ideal for regulating a rabbit’s digestive system. It makes sure your rabbit is absorbing nutrients and everything is running smoothly.
This should make up the bulk of your rabbit’s diet, and it’s important that you never let your rabbit run out of hay. This staple in your rabbit’s diet and should make up approximately 80% of your rabbit’s daily food intake. Hay helps the rabbit’s gut remain balanced and maintains good dental health. It also helps to prevent hairball blockages in the gut and encourages curiosity and foraging. So it’s even good for your rabbit’s mental health.
What is grass hay and what kind should you get? Most of your rabbit’s hay should be timothy hay. Timothy hay is the most fiber-dense type of hay and it is the coarsest. This makes it excellent for a rabbit’s digestive health and for their teeth. But there are other types of grass hay that you can mix in with your Timothy hay to offer your rabbit some variety.
These are some good types of grass hay to look out for:
You can get hay at pet stores, online, or even from a local farmer. I like to get hay for my rabbits from an online store called Small Pet Select. I trust them to always send me fresh hay that my rabbits love. This store also has a few different varieties of hay that are difficult to find in pet stores.
Fiber is essential in a rabbit’s diet
Hay is very high in fiber, which is absolutely essential to a rabbit’s diet. Because of the rabbit’s foraging ancestors, their long digestive tract is set up to break down fibrous vegetation. The long fiber strands of hay work much better than the ground-up fiber in commercial rabbit pellets for keeping the rabbits gut moving.
One of the most common and dangerous conditions for a rabbit is known as GI stasis. This happens when your rabbits digestion slows down or stops completely. Having a supply of hay always available helps to keep your rabbit’s digestion moving so these dangerous blockages are much less likely to threaten your rabbit’s health.
Healthy rabbit teeth
Hay is also very good for your rabbit’s teeth. Rabbit teeth are like fingernails and always keep growing. So rabbits need to eat foods that help wear down their teeth. Hay is the best food for for this since the long hard strands are abrasive enough to make a difference. Make sure to provide your rabbit with some wooden chew toys too, to help keep their teeth stay healthy and trimmed.
What about Alfalfa Hay?
If you have already been to the pet store and had a look through the hay aisle, you may have noticed that alfalfa hay is commonly sold. Alfalfa is a legume hay, and is not grass at all. This hay has higher protein and calcium content that makes it not ideal for an average adult rabbit. If it’s given to a rabbit over a long period of time, alfalfa hay can contribute to the formation of bladder sludge and bladder stones.
There are a couple exceptions to this. Youngs rabbit (less than 6 months) should be given alfalfa hay. The nutritional value of the alfalfa hay helps baby bunnies to grow and gain strength. For the same reason, adult or elderly rabbits that are underweight can be helped by mixing in some alfalfa hay alongside their grass hays.
Fresh Leafy Greens
Fresh greens provide your rabbit with the nutrients they need to thrive. Plus, rabbits absolutely love their vegetables. It’s great for their mental enrichment to give them additional flavors and textures, so try introducing some new types of veggies sometimes, to find out what your rabbit’s favorites are.
About 10% of your rabbit’s daily food should be made of of these fresh leafy greens. The amount you need to give will depend on the size of your rabbit, so use the guideline of providing at most 2.5 cups of greens every day for a 5 pound rabbit.
|Weight of the rabbit||Maximum amount of leafy greens|
|2 lbs||1 cup|
|3 lbs||1.5 cups|
|4 lbs||2 cups|
|5 lbs||2.5 cups|
|6 lbs||3 cups|
|7 lbs||3.5 cups|
|8 lbs||4 cups|
|9 lbs||4.5 cups|
|10 lbs||5 cups|
Generally it’s a good idea to provide your rabbit with three different types of leafy greens per day. Most types of leafy greens are okay to give your rabbit. However, there are some types of greens that have a higher oxalic acid concentration. These are still okay to give your rabbit, but you want to be sure to give less of these types than other types of greens.
One leafy green exception that you should NOT give your rabbit is iceberg lettuce (leafy lettuces, such as romaine, are okay). This is mostly because iceberg lettuce has very little nutritional value and your rabbit can fill up on it instead of hay or foods that are much better for your rabbit’s health. But it also has trace amounts of lactucarium, a chemical that is bad for rabbit digestion. If given consistently over time, it can cause significant gastrointestinal problems for a rabbit.
Can rabbits eat…?
|basil||yes||mustard greens*||a little|
|beet greens*||a little||napa cabbage||yes|
|broccoli leaves||yes||parsley*||a little|
|chard*||a little||radish greens*||a little|
|collard greens||yes||raspberry leaves||yes|
|cucumber leaves||yes||rhubarb leaves||no|
|dandelion greens||yes||romaine lettuce||yes|
|fig leaves||yes||spinach*||a little|
|frisee lettuce||yes||spring greens||yes|
|green leafy lettuce||yes||sprouts*||a little|
* These greens have a higher concentration of oxalic acid and should be given in smaller quantities than other leafy greens.
Dry food rabbit pellets should make up a much smaller percentage of your rabbit’s diet than you may have been led to believe. Strictly speaking, pellets are not even a necessary part of your rabbit’s diet, but they can be an easy way to provide extra nutritional value and usually your rabbit will love them. They should only make up about 5% of your rabbit’s daily diet.
Again, rabbits have pretty drastic size differences so the amount of pellets you give them will depend on the size of your rabbit. Try to stick to the guideline of a maximum of ¼ of a cup a day for a 4 pound rabbit.
|Weight of rabbit||Amount of pellets daily|
|2 lbs||2 Tbsp|
|3 lbs||3 Tbsp|
|4 lbs||¼ cup|
|5 lbs||1 Tbsp + ¼ cup|
|6 lbs||2 Tbsp + ¼ cup|
|7 lbs||3 Tbsp + ¼ cup|
|8 lbs||½ cup|
|9 lbs||1 Tbsp + ½ cup|
|10 lbs||2 Tbsp + ½ cup|
Don’t worry if your rabbit gobbles up all the pellets right away or finishes them before the end of the day. It’s okay for them to have an empty bowl. Remember, your rabbit still has their unlimited hay available for munching. You want to encourage your rabbit to eat more hay than pellets, so you shouldn’t replenish them until the next day.
How to know what pellets to purchase
Like hay, there are a lot of different types of pellets on the market. There are a couple of points to keep in mind when choosing what kind to get your rabbit. If you prefer to skip doing your own research, I recommend getting Oxbow pellets for your rabbits. They are a very high quality and reliable brand that I’ve trusted for years. My rabbit’s favorite is the Garden Select variety (check it out!).
You want to make sure you are getting a brand that is just the boring pellets. Anything with colorful, fruity pieces is going to be way too high in sugar content and is not good for your rabbit’s health. Most rabbits will still love to gobble of those plain boring-looking pellets.
Second, you want to take a look at the ingredients and make sure the first item on the list is timothy hay or timothy grass. Like with hay, alfalfa pellets are okay for young rabbits (less than 6 months) or underweight rabbits, but by the time your rabbit is reaching adulthood you want to make sure to transition over to a timothy blend.
Some other nutritional facts to look for when purchasing your rabbit’s pellets:
|Fiber content||18% or higher|
|Fat content||3% or less|
Rabbits should have unlimited access to fresh water. You should replenish their water bowl or water bottle with fresh water on a daily basis, and check to make sure there is no dirt or mold building up. When refreshing your rabbit’s water, tap water works just fine, but you can also use purified water if that’s what you prefer. If the water is safe for humans to drink, then it’s also safe for rabbits.
Rabbits drink a surprisingly large amount of water. They should drink about as much water as a small dog would drink in a day. That comes out to around 1-2 cups of water per day. But, of course, the amount of water a rabbit drinks will vary depending on a number of factors. Larger rabbits will drink more water, as well as rabbits that are pregnant. Rabbits are also likely to drink more in the hotter months of the year or if they are very active rabbits.
If it looks like your rabbit isn’t drinking that much water, it’s important to remember that rabbit foods, especially fresh leafy greens, have a significant amount of water in them. So if you’re worried that your rabbit doesn’t seem to be drinking as much water as you expect, it could be because of the water they are getting from the rest of their diet.
Water bowl vs. water bottle
As a general rule water bowls offer rabbits a more natural way of drinking and encourage better hydration. It’s usually best to get a heavy ceramic dog bowl to make sure your rabbit doesn’t try to flip it over and make a mess.
Your rabbit might like making a mess, and the open water bowl could be tainted with bedding, food, toys, or even rabbit poop. Some rabbits also have the tendency to flip over their food and water bowls, leaving them with a wet enclosure and no water. For these situations, a water bottle might the better option.
You could also experiment with providing your rabbits with a fountain style water container. These will keep the water constantly moving so the rabbits won’t be picky about stale water. They can be great for encouraging rabbits to stay better hydrated. If there is a cord or plug for the fountain you got (if it’s not battery activated), then make sure to cover the wire so your rabbit doesn’t chew on it.
Rabbit’s drink a lot of water, so whether you get a bowl or a bottle, you want to make sure you get a large enough container. Use a water bottle or bowl that will hold at least 16oz, but a little bigger is even better.
Rabbits have a sweet tooth. Pretty much every rabbit I have ever met loves eating sweet fruits and vegetables. Giving your rabbit a piece of fresh fruit or vegetable can be a great way to get them to love you forever. Fresh or dried fruits and vegetables (with NO added sugar) are the best types of treats to give your rabbit. A small amount of oats or extra pellets are also okay to give as treats to your rabbit.
But be careful! Too much sugar can wreak havoc on a rabbit’s digestion, so you should only give rabbits these treats in moderation. In general, you want to try to give less than 2 tablespoon a day for a 6 pound rabbit.
|Weight of rabbit||Amount of treats daily|
|2 lbs||2 tsp|
|3 lbs||1 Tbsp|
|4 lbs||1 Tbsp + 1 tsp|
|5 lbs||1 Tbsp + 2 tsp|
|6 lbs||2 Tbsp|
|7 lbs||2 Tbsp + 1 tsp|
|8 lbs||2 Tbsp + 2 tsp|
|9 lbs||3 Tbsp|
|10 lbs||3 Tbsp + 1 tsp|
Treats can also be a good way of knowing if your rabbit is sick. If you know your rabbit’s favorite food and they always come running out to get their daily treat, you’ll know there is something wrong when they refuse to eat it. It’s a big sign that it’s time to get your rabbit to a vet.
I know it’s difficult to resist their adorable pleading faces, but it really is better for their health in the long run to limit the amount of treats you give them. Here is a list of fruits and vegetables that rabbits can eat as treats, (dried versions are also okay):
Can rabbits eat…?
|grapefruit peel||yes||sweet potatoes||no|
How to know what treats to purchase
There are a lot of treats marketed towards rabbits that are actually very bad for their health. Small pieces of fresh fruit are actually the best option that you can even get at you local grocery store if you want to avoid the pet mixes. If you’re worried about picking the wrong kind of treat, you can check out my recommendations.
Here are a couple things to consider when picking out a bag of rabbit treats:
- Never get yogurt treats. The sugar content of these treats is generally way too high. Also, rabbits are natural vegans and anything dairy is out of the question.
- Check the ingredients list. You want to make sure each of the ingredients is safe for your rabbit to eat. Opting for a simple mix is often better than mixes that have a lot of different ingredients.
- Dried fruit is a great option. You could get a bag of dried banana chips, strawberries, or raisins. Your rabbit is likely to love these treats and they won’t spoil quickly if you get them dried. If you’re not sure what kind to try, my favorite online store, Small Pet Select, has many different kinds so you can see what your rabbit likes best. (and don’t forget to take 15% off your purchase with the code BUNNYLADY)
- Consider getting a hay based treat that is flavored with apple or other enticing flavors. These kinds of treats are actually healthy for rabbits, with just a little added sugar in the flavor. They are also good treats for your rabbit’s teeth since they are generally harder to chew. Even though these may seem like boring treats on the outside, the little amount of flavoring is likely to make your rabbit very happy. Try Oxbow’s Simple Rewards rabbit treats (my bunnies really like the bell pepper flavor!)
How to introduce new foods to your rabbit’s diet
As you read through this guide and find ways to improve how you care for your rabbit, you may decide it’s time to make some healthy changes to your rabbit’s diet. This is absolutely admirable, and I’m so glad you’re taking the time to ensure the best health of your rabbit. But you need to take it slow when making any drastic changes to your rabbit’s diet.
Rabbits have very sensitive digestive systems, so a sudden change in their diet can disrupt the system causing blockages or excessive gas in their intestinal tract. Even if the change you are making is good and healthy, it still has the potential to cause significant digestive distress.
To avoid any digestive illness, you’ll want to start by giving your rabbit only small amounts of a new food that you are introducing. For example, if you want to see if they like cilantro, try giving your rabbit just one stalk for the first few days. During this time keep an eye on your rabbit’s eating and pooping habits to make sure their appetite hasn’t changed and their poops are not deformed. If everything looks good, you can start to introduce more of the new food. Some rabbit’s stomachs are more sensitive than others, so it’s better to be cautious with their diet.
Switching to a new type of hay or pellets
When you want to switch to a healthier type of pellets or need to make the switch from alfalfa hay to timothy hay, you’ll need to slowly transition your rabbits to the new food over the course of three to four weeks.
When you change the staples of your rabbit’s diet, you need to give them a transition period so their digestion will get used to the changes. You’ll start by mixing in a small amount of the new pellets. Then slowly increase the amount of the new pellets and decrease the amount of the old pellets until you’ve completely fazed the old food out.
- Week 1: ¼ new food, ¾ old food
- Week 2: half and half ½
- Week 3: ¾ new food, ¼ old food
- Week 4: all new food
Monitoring your rabbits health
Keeping an eye on your rabbit’s appetite can tell you a lot about their health. Rabbits have a sensitive digestive system, so most illnesses will end up having an effect on your rabbits eating habits, even if the illness doesn’t seem like it should be related to the gut. Even just being a little stressed out can cause a rabbit’s gut to slow down and have some gastrointestinal problems.
A change in appetite is a very clear sign that your rabbit is not feeling well and needs to be taken to a rabbit-savvy veterinarian. Some basic signs to look out for:
- When your rabbit refuses a loved treat.
- If your rabbit won’t eat any hay, or will only eat a little.
- If your rabbit is trying to eat food but keeps dropping it from their mouth.
- Refusing to eat their fresh greens.
- Any change from their normal eating behavior.
You’ll also want to monitor your rabbit’s health from the other end of the digestive tract. Rabbit poop can tell you a lot about their health. Rabbit poop should be a consistent size, and they should be spherical, looking similar to cocoa puffs. Rabbits also produce cecotropes, which look like clusters of little moist poops. Usually rabbits will eat these directly out of their butt, but you may see them on occasion.
If you notice any of the following, you rabbit might be ill and it’s worth getting a check-up with your rabbit-savvy veterinarian:
- Deformed poops
- Poops that are smaller than normal
- Squishy or soft poops
- Fewer poop than usual
- No poop at all (this is an emergency situation)
House plants, garden plants, and flowers
Other plants and flowers that we have in and around our houses can be enticing treats for our rabbits. You may find your rabbit munching down on your beautiful orchids. While that would be an unfortunate day for your orchids, you’ll want to be even more careful with any plants you have that are poisonous to rabbits.
While there are many houseplants and flowers that are edible for rabbits, there are many more that would do your rabbit harm. If you let your rabbit outside for exercise, you should also make sure any poisonous garden plants are kept outside of your rabbits reach.
Feeding your rabbit greens from your garden or grass and clover from your lawn is a great idea. Using greens from your own garden is a great way to give a variety of greens to your rabbit and you’ll be able to save money on all those greens your rabbit keeps munching up. Just make sure you are extremely careful that any pesticides or fertilizers you use won’t harm your rabbit.
Can rabbits eat…?
|aloe vera||no||iris leaves||no|
|elephant’s ear||no||oak leaves||no|
|goosegrass||a little||shephard’s purse||yes|
Adjustments to diet for young rabbits
Young rabbits are still growing and they will need more calcium and protein than their adult counterparts. This is why alfalfa hay is recommended for young rabbits, even though it’s not ideal for their adult counterparts. Learn more about how to make sure your young rabbit has a healthy diet.
Up until about six months old, young rabbits should have access to unlimited alfalfa hay, AND they should have unlimited access to pellets. As your rabbit reaches 6-7 months old, you should start to transition them to timothy hay and begin to reduce the amount of pellets they receive. But until the rabbit reaches 1 year old, they should still receive about double the amount of pellets their adult counterparts receive.
Adjustments to diet for elderly rabbits
Elderly rabbits with a good weight, appetite, and activity level should be given the same diet as a healthy adult rabbit. As long as they are acting normal, you shouldn’t worry about changing their diet.
If a senior rabbit starts to lose weight, you may need to give them unlimited access to pellets so they can avoid being underweight. If their health is good, it may be beneficial to switch them to alfalfa based hay or pellets also. Consult with your veterinarian to see what they recommend based on your rabbit’s specific needs and health history.
I cared for a rabbit who lived to be 13 years old! You can read about my experience and advice for caring for elderly rabbits including what to do about their diet and other possible health problems that result from old age.
Helping obese rabbits return to a healthy weight
Obesity is a very dangerous condition for rabbits and can lead to a number of diseases, including fatty liver disease, and heart problems. Most of the time rabbits become obese because of a diet that is high in sugar or they are given too many pellets. So to help your rabbit return to their healthy, ideal weight you’ll need to correct their diet.
You don’t want to make any sudden and drastic changes, so instead you’ll need to take it one step at a time:
- First you will want to eliminate all sugary treats from the rabbit’s diet. However much your rabbit begs for more treats, you’ll have to hold off until they’re not at a dangerous weight.
- Reduce the amount of pellets you give the rabbit and increase the amount of hay. Make sure the pellets you use are a healthy brand, and not full of colorful sugary pieces. Your rabbit should still have access to unlimited grass-based hay and fresh daily leafy green vegetables.
- Encourage your rabbit to exercise more. Give them more time out to play and give them new toys to encourage them.
- Continue over the course of a few months until your rabbit returns to a healthy weight. You may choose to completely eliminate the pellets during this time.
If you believe your rabbit’s weight problem is not caused by a high-sugar diet or a lack of exercise, consult your veterinarian to see if there is an underlying condition causing the weight gain.
Rabbits need to chew to keep their teeth nice and trim, but not all types of wood are safe for rabbits. Untreated willow, apple, and aspen wood are some of the more common safe options for your rabbit.
What do wild rabbits eat?
Wild rabbits are foragers and will usually eat what they can get. In the spring and summer months, wild rabbits will eat grass, wildflowers, garden vegetables, and weeds. But when it gets colder and sparser, wild rabbits will resort to eating twigs, bark, and any remaining plants they can find as they forage.
- Ackerman, Sandi. “The Perils of Bunny Obesity.” House Rabbit Society. Jan. 15, 2012.
- Brown, Susan DVM. “Small Animal Nutrition.” House Rabbit Society. Jun. 10, 2012. rabbit.org/small-animal-nutrition.
- Clauss, Marcus PD Dr. med. vet., MSc, Dip. ECVN. “Clinical Technique: Feeding Hay to Rabbits and Rodents.” Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine. ScienceDirect. Jan. 2012. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1557506311002229.
- Fisher, Cindy.”Plants Poisonous to Rabbits.” Sacramento House Rabbit Society. www.allearssac.org/badplants.html.
- “Natural Nutrition I: The Importance of Fiber.” House Rabbit Society. Jul. 10, 2011. rabbit.org/natural-nutrition-part-i-the-importance-of-fiber.
- “Rabbit Food.” House Rabbit Society. rabbit.org/faq-diet.
- Ramnaraine, Amy. “The Importance of Hay.” House Rabbit Society. Mar. 8, 2017. rabbit.org/the-importance-of-hay.
- “What Can Rabbit Eat?” RSPCA. www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/rabbits/diet/myths.