A Healthy Diet For Young Rabbits


young rabbit diet

Many people bring home a rabbit when they are still just a young bunny. But most of the information you find about rabbit care and health is directed toward adult rabbits. You may find very helpful information about how to keep an adult rabbit on a healthy diet, but what about your new baby bunny?

Young rabbits are growing bunnies! They have special dietary needs that differ from their adult counterparts. The amount that you feed your rabbit and even the type of food that they need is different for a young bunny. Then, of course, there is a transition period. As your rabbit grows up, they’ll need to be safely transitioned from a young rabbit diet to an adult rabbit diet.


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Baby bunnies (under 8 weeks old)

Baby rabbits should not be separated from their mother until they are older than 2 months. This helps to ensure that the baby rabbits have developed a fully functioning immune system by digesting their mother’s milk and cecal droppings. There are many states in the U.S. that even ban the sale of rabbits under 2 months because of the danger it poses to the newborn rabbit.

Baby rabbit diet

Baby bunnies, also called kittens, should not be weaned off of their mother’s milk until they are about 8 weeks, or 2 months, of age. These tiny bunnies need the high concentration of fat and protein that is found in rabbit milk so that they can grow up big and strong. The babies also depend on the antibodies they receive from their mother’s milk to protect them from infection and disease, since they don’t have a fully functioning immune system of their own yet.

baby rabbits feeding
When they are babies, rabbits need to have access to their mother’s milk. They should not be fully weaned until they are 8 weeks old.

Once the kittens are about 3 or 4 weeks old, they will start exploring a little bit around the nest area. At this point it will be okay to start introducing solid foods into their diet. You can provide some alfalfa hay and alfalfa pellets for the babies to munch on, but their main food source will still be the milk from their mother. 

As the babies reach 7-8 weeks old, the amount of dry pellets and hay should be increased so they have some to munch on all the time. However, they should still have access to their mother during this time so they can drink milk. They’ll also be able to eat some of her cecal droppings to improve their immunity and digestion. The baby rabbits will also start to produce their own cecotropes as their digestive systems begin working properly. You should also make sure your rabbits have access to fresh water as they are weaned off of their mother’s milk.

AgeDiet
0-3 WeeksMother’s milk
3-7 WeeksMother’s milk and some access to alfalfa hay and alfalfa pellets
7-8 WeeksMother’s milk and constant access to alfalfa hay and alfalfa pellets

Abandoned or orphaned baby bunnies

If you have orphaned or abandoned rabbits that cannot drink their mother’s milk, do not replace it with cow’s milk. There are no direct replacements you can buy for rabbit milk, so the best alternatives you can use are kitten formula or goat’s milk. Milk replacer for puppies is also an option if you can’t find one of the former. 

In these cases, you will have to attempt to syringe feed the baby bunnies until they are able to drink for themselves. You will need to syringe feed your babies 2 times per day.

Sadly, if a rabbit is orphaned there are high chances that they will not survive. Baby rabbits have a very delicate digestion, and it’s just too easy for something to go wrong. The House Rabbit Society offers some advice to care for an orphaned or abandoned domestic rabbits:

AgeAmount to Feed
Newborn2.5 mL twice a day
1 Week Old6-7 mL twice a day
2 Weeks Old12-13 mL twice a day
3-6 Weeks Old15 mL twice a day
healthy young rabbit diet
Young rabbits should have access to alfalfa hay and pellets. They should also be introduced to leafy greens and have a small amount on a daily basis.

Young rabbits (2-6 months)

Once a young rabbit reaches 2 months old, they should be separated from their mother and have a diet of all solid food. However, they will still have a diet that differs from adult rabbits. These bunnies are still growing a lot! They need more protein and calcium in their diets to make sure they grow up to be healthy rabbits.

Hay

Unlike adult rabbits, who should receive mostly timothy hay, young rabbits should have a supply of alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay has a much higher amount of protein and calcium, which makes it ideal for a growing bunny. You’ll want to make sure your rabbit has an unlimited amount of alfalfa hay, so they’ll always have something to munch on.

Hay should be a large portion of your rabbit’s diet because it promotes good digestion and healthy teeth. It’s not going to make up as large a percentage of the diet as it does for adult rabbits, but you still want to make sure your young bunny is munching on hay every day.

Luckily, alfalfa hay tends to be yummier for rabbits, making it more likely they will munch on it. Alfalfa hay is slightly sweeter and softer than adult rabbit timothy hay, so usually young rabbits will be happy to nibble on it.

rabbit eating from a hanging hay rack
Some rabbits prefer to eat hay from higher levels. Try purchasing or creating a hanging hay rack or a raised hay trough that can be attached to the side of the rabbit enclosure.

Pellets

Pellets are very important to a young rabbit’s diet. This rabbit food has higher levels of proteins, nutrients, and calcium than hay, and it’s made to help rabbits put on weight. Young rabbits should be given an alfalfa-based pellet blend because it will promote healthy growth for young rabbits.

You want to make sure to give your young rabbit a healthy brand of pellets. Stay away from any blend that has lots of colorful pieces, or dried pieces of fruits, vegetables of seeds. These have added sugar, and usually include pieces that are bad for a rabbit’s digestive system.

Instead, opt for a bag of just plain, brown pellets. Check the ingredients to make sure that Alfalfa hay (or alfalfa grass) is the number one ingredient on the list.

I recommend Oxbow’s pellets for young rabbits. Oxbow is a well known and respected brand in the rabbit community. They have fortified pellets made with a healthy list of ingredients and all the necessary vitamins and nutrients to help your rabbit grow up healthy.

How much dry food should you give your young rabbit?

Most guides for a young rabbit diet will encourage you to give your rabbit unlimited supply of pellets. However, I offer this advice with some caution because you want to make sure your rabbit is also eating their hay.

Most rabbits will prefer pellets to hay. Therefore, when they have unlimited pellets available, they may end up completely ignoring their pile of hay. Watch your rabbit to see what their behavior is. If giving them unlimited pellets means they don’t touch their hay at all, then you will need to limit their pellets a little bit. 

If your young rabbit is ignoring their hay and eating only pellets, then limit the pellets to about ¼ cup per day for every 2 pounds that a rabbit weighs. This is not at exact measurement, and you may need to adjust the amount for your rabbit. Watch your rabbit to make sure they are still energetic and happy, and be sure they are maintaining a healthy body weight as they grow.

Leafy greens

When a rabbit is about 3 months old, you can start to introduce some leafy greens into their diet.

Take it slow and only introduce one type of leafy green vegetable at a time. This will help to ensure that nothing is causing an imbalance in your rabbit’s digestion. 

The first time you give your rabbit a new leafy green you want to give them only a small amount to introduce the new food. Only give them 2-3 sprigs of parsley, for example. Over the next couple of days, you can increase the amount that you give your rabbit as their digestion gets used to the new food.

After you’ve given one type of green for a week, you can introduce another kind. Even as your rabbit grows to be an adult, you’ll want to introduce new foods slowly.

rabbit eat greens
Try to give your rabbit their food at the same time every day to get them used to a daily routine.

How much leafy greens should you give your young rabbit?

You don’t want to give your young bunny too many leafy greens at this stage in their life. Their digestion is more sensitive right now and can more easily become unbalanced. Therefore, you want to very gradually increase the amount of green you give your rabbit until you give them about 1 cup per day for a 5 pound rabbit.

You can start to diversify the leafy greens that your rabbit eats. Giving your rabbit three varieties of greens per day is an ideal goal to have. But you still want your rabbit’s main foods to be their pellets and hay.

Treats

It’s best to avoid giving young rabbits any sweet treats for the time being. Their digestion is still developing at this time and can easily be unbalanced by the introduction of highly sugary foods. 

These sweet foods that you should avoid giving young rabbits, are foods that are typically considered healthy for humans. Fruits like berries, bananas and apples have a high sugar content for rabbits, and vegetables like carrots, tomatoes and bell peppers do too. This means you should not give your rabbit too many fruits and vegetables during this stage in their lives. Sweet human foods, like candy and cookies, should never be given to rabbits.

Rabbit bowl vs. a rabbit water bottle
Water bowls are usually the better option for a pet rabbit. Sometimes a rabbit will be a sloppy drinker or try to flip over the bowl. In those cases a water bottle is a good option.

Water

By this time, your young rabbit should be weaned off of their mother’s milk and should be fully independent. This means they should have constant access to fresh water so they can stay healthy and hydrated.

It’s best if you can give your rabbit their water in a dish instead of a bottle since this is a more natural way to drink. However, there are some occasions where you will want to provide them with a bottle instead.

  • If your rabbit is a messy drinker. If having a bowl means your rabbit ends up getting soaked with water because they are a sloppy drinker, then you’ll want to give them a bottle for the time being. Try to reintroduce a bowl after a couple months and see if they’re a little bit neater.
  • If your rabbit flips over their bowls. You don’t want your rabbit to flip over their water bowl and have no more water until you notice the mess. You can try giving your rabbit a heavier, ceramic bowl, but you also may have to give them a water bottle instead.
rabbit food
You may need to adjust your rabbit’s diet as they get older, but they will still need access to all the basics: hay, leafy greens, water, and some pellets.

Transitioning to an adult diet (6 months – 1 year)

After rabbits reach 6 months old, they will need to be slowly transitioned to a healthy adult diet. During this time, the young rabbits are still growing, so they’ll need more food than adult rabbits, however adjustments should be made to the diet over time and not all at once.

As with a young rabbit diet, you don’t want to make any drastic changes to a rabbit’s transitional diet in a short period of time. You want to make sure that you give your rabbit’s digestion time to adjust to their healthy adult diet.

rabbit hay toy
You can get fun toys for your rabbit where you can hide treats in a pile of hay. This will encourage your rabbit to munch on hay until they can get to the yummy treat.

Hay

Timothy is much healthier for an adult rabbit diet than alfalfa hay. When your rabbit reaches 6 months old, you’ll want to start to transition them to a timothy-based diet and slowly phase out the alfalfa hay.

To do this, you’ll first want to add in small handfuls of the timothy hay to the alfalfa hay your rabbit already gets. Over the next number of months, you’ll want to increase the percentage of timothy hay you give your rabbit and decrease the amount of alfalfa hay they get.

Unfortunately, this transition can be difficult for many rabbits. Alfalfa hay is usually much tastier and easier to eat than timothy hay. Many young rabbits will protest the change. What can you do to encourage your picky rabbit to eat their hay?

  • Mix in other types of hay. Timothy hay is best for rabbits, but there are other kinds that are also good for a rabbit’s digestion. Add in handfuls of other grass-based hays, such as orchard hay, oat hay, or meadow hay to make the transition more appetizing to your young rabbit.
  • Look for fresh brands of hay. Fresh hay tastes better than old, browned hay. I like to get my hay from an online store called Small Pet Select. They have impressed me with the quality of their hay and I never hesitate to recommend them. Check out their timothy hay for your growing bunny (and get 15% off your first order by using the code BUNNYLADY at checkout)
  • Place the hay near the litter box. Rabbits like to munch and poop at the same time, so placing the new timothy hay near the litter box can encourage them to nibble on it.
  • Hide treats in hay. You can hide dried herbs or pieces of dried fruit in the hay pile. You could even make toys with toilet paper tubes where you hide a treat in the middle and cover it with hay.

Pellets

Just like with hay, you’ll want to transition your rabbit from alfalfa-based rabbit food pellets to timothy-based rabbit food pellets. Your rabbit is still growing during this time, but not as rapidly as they do during the first 6 months. They won’t require as much excess protein and calcium that the alfalfa pellets give them.

As with the alfalfa pellets, you’ll want to make sure the timothy mixture you give your rabbit does not have any extra colorful pieces in it. Excess sugar is bad for a rabbit’s health and digestion, so the sweet fruits and vegetables should only be given as treats.

I again recommend the Oxbow brand. They have Garden Select Pellets for adult rabbits, making it easy to transition from the young rabbit pellets.

When transitioning your rabbit to a new food, you want to take it slow. Don’t replace all of your rabbit alfalfa pellets with timothy pellets all at once, since this could be a shock to their digestion. Instead over the course of 3-4 months, you’ll want to slowly decrease the percentage of the alfalfa pellets you give your rabbit and increase the amount of timothy pellets.

  • Month 1: 75% alfalfa pellets + 25% timothy pellets
  • Month 2: 50% alfalfa pellets + 50% timothy pellets
  • Month 3: 25% alfalfa pellets + 75% timothy pellets
  • Month 4: All timothy pellets

You will also need to decrease the amount of pellets you give your rabbit during this period of time. They are still growing bunnies, so you’ll want to give them more pellets than an adult rabbit, but you’ll want to limit the amount you give them.

During this transitional stage of your rabbit’s life, you’ll want to give them about ¼ cup of pellets for every 3 pounds that they weigh. Once your rabbit reaches their adult weight, you’ll want to reduce the amount even further to about ¼ cup for every 5 pounds that your rabbit weighs.

Leafy Greens

You can also start to increase the amount of fresh leafy greens you give your rabbit on a daily basis. As their digestion is able to handle more variety, you can double the amount that you give your rabbit. 

How much leafy green vegetables should a rabbit have daily?

Weight of the rabbitMaximum amount of leafy greens
2 lbs1 cup
3 lbs1.5 cups
4 lbs2 cups
5 lbs2.5 cups
6 lbs3 cups
7 lbs3.5 cups
8 lbs4 cups
9 lbs4.5 cups
10 lbs5 cups

You still want to be sure to introduce new leafy greens gradually, but your rabbit can have a lot of different varieties. Try to give them a lot of choices to find out what they like best. For some ideas try these: 

  • Arugula
  • Basil
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli leaves
  • Butter lettuce
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot Tops
  • Cilantro
  • Collard greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Dill
  • Frisee lettuce
  • Leafy lettuce
  • Kale
  • Lemongrass
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Peppermint
  • Radicchio
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Spinach
  • Spring greens
  • Thyme
  • Turnip greens
  • Watercress
  • Wheatgrass
  • Yu choy
spoon feeding a rabbit
If your rabbit is overly enthusiastic about treats and tends you bite your finger, use a spoon to help them improve their aim.

Treats

Once your rabbit reaches 6 months old, you can start to introduce some yummy treats for them. You do not want to give your rabbit too many treats. That can mess with their balanced diet and cause problems with their digestion. Keep the treats you give your young rabbit to 1 tablespoon or less per day.

As with all other foods, you want to introduce treats to your rabbit slowly. The first time you give a new type of fruit or vegetable to your rabbit, only give them a very small piece to make sure their digestion can handle it. Over the next couple of days, you can increase the amount of that treat you give your rabbit a little bit, but continue to limit the total amount of sweet foods you give your rabbit.

What kinds of treats are safe for rabbits?

Bags of mixed treats marketed toward rabbits in pet stores are often not good for rabbits. They usually contain a lot of added sugars or seeds and nuts that rabbits shouldn’t be eating. So you want to be careful about the types of treats you give your rabbit.

Some treats that are safe for rabbits:

  • Fresh or dried fruits and vegetables (make sure there is no added sugar)
  • Baked hay treats. Oxbow has a variety of flavors of baked hay treats. These are especially good because they are hay-based, making them healthy for your rabbit.
  • Dried herbs. The only place where I’ve seen herb blends being sold is Small Pet Select. They have a number of herbal blends that also have mild medicinal properties to keep your rabbit healthy. (don’t forget to take 15% off your order with the code BUNNYLADY)
  • DIY treats. You can try making your own treats using your rabbit’s pellets and some fresh fruit and vegetables.

How to tell if your young rabbit has a healthy diet

All rabbits grow at different rates, so the specific guidelines given are not always accurate for your specific rabbit’s situation. During this growing phase, you will need to keep an eye on your rabbit to make sure they are healthy and no adjustments need to be made to their diet.

How to know your rabbit is healthy:

  • Energy levels. Most young rabbits are energetic little balls of fluff. They’ll be zooming around, and they’ll be very curious about the world around them.
  • Healthy appetite. Young growing rabbits with lots of energy should also be eating quite a bit. Make sure they are eating both their pellets and their hay for a balanced diet.
  • Healthy pooping. Young rabbit poop should be round ‘cocoa puff’ looking droppings. They should not be squishy or deformed. Rabbit’s also poop little, soft clusters called cecotropes that rabbits should reingest. If you notice a lot of these around uneaten, it may mean your rabbit is not eating enough hay.
  • Body weight. While you are petting your rabbit, check to make sure they have a healthy amount of fat as they grow. You should be able to feel their spine, ribs and hips, but these bones should not feel sharp to the touch.

Sources:

  1. “Rabbit Food.” House Rabbit Society, https://rabbit.org/faq-diet.

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Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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