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Feeding Rabbits

Last Updated: 11/1/10

Hay and Water
Pellets, Fruits, and Vegetables
Grains, Salt and Mineral Wheels, and Treats
Rabbit Feces
Papaya Tablets

Here is a nice link on feeding rabbits: The Carrot Café.

Hay and Water

Two things should always be present before your rabbit: fresh water and grass (timothy) hay (alfalfa hay is more of a treat). Water should be cool in the summer and at least liquid in the winter. Timothy hay can be bought in large bales for just a few dollars. I used to prefer to buy smaller bags of hay (for example, Haycobs) even though they cost more because the large bales tend to lose their nutrition and bunny appeal. After the bales were a month old or so, my rabbits would not eat it, and it would go to waste. If you have lots of buns, then by all means, get the bales. My buns preferfed Haycobs over fresh bales too for some reason (flavor enhancers?). In early 1999, my buns stopped eating Haycob brand timothy hay so I switched hays, and they ate the new brand. If your bun stops enjoying one brand, try another. They may be bored with it, or it may be stale or bad. My buck, Jimmy, developed bacterial enteritis (see here for information) when he stopped eating his hay.

In the fall of 2000, I discovered a source for high quality rabbit pellets, multiple kinds of fresh hay, and rabbit treats. Oxbow Hay is amazing so check them out and get some hay for your buns that smells so great that you might want to eat some! I found the shipping to be very high as time went by so that I found that the Oxbow products are sold with much less shipping for those of us on the East Coast of the USA from petfooddirect.com I buy 10 pounds at a time now (11/1/05). With three rabbits and two guinea pigs, it is all gone within a few months at most.

Update 3/9/10: I order almost all of my cat and rabbit foods from Pet Food Direct:

Drs. Foster and Smith now carries Oxbow pellets foods! They do not have the hays yet. Here are links to the alfalfa-based pellets for young buns and the timothy-based Oxbow pellets for mature buns. Note that the two photos below both show the timothy-based product (they did it by mistake) but the links go to the alfalfa and timothy pellets respectively. Update February 2010: Drs. Foster and Smith deleted their affiliate program which means the links below will go nowhere. I am leaving them on for now to show the photos which still work.

Pellets, Fruits, and Vegetables

The basis of most rabbit diets is a good rabbit pellet. Then comes fruits and vegetables. There are too many to list. If you visit the sites on the rabbit links page, there will be extensive lists. Do not feed iceburg lettuce or large amounts of other lettuces. Favorite bunny foods include carrot, broccoli, apple, pear, cucumber, squash, zucchini, and small amounts of kale, grapes, cauliflower, spinach, collard greens, green beans, parsley, and other fruits and vegetables. As treats, I occasionally give them cantaloupe, honeydew melon, strawberries, wine berries, black berries, etc. The key is to give lots of variety and not too much of one thing (especially fruits and leafy vegetables). Also, in rural areas free of grass treatments, grass, dandelion greens, clover, and many other lawn plants cannot be beat. Again, only give these in small amounts and avoid a few poisonous plants. Also, avoid giving too many greens to young rabbits. Many say not to give any greens if under six months old but my vet and I disagree. After all, feral and wild bunnies would eat nothing but greens after two months.

Rabbit Pellets:

I have found that most rabbit pellets sold in pet stores are stale and unpalatable to my rabbits. They are also all made from alfalfa which is higher in fat and lower in fiber than timothy hay. Timothy hay pellets promote a more healthy digestive system for rabbits. I did not even know timothy pellets existed until the fall of 2000 when I discovered a source for high quality rabbit pellets (alfalfa and timothy), multiple kinds of fresh hay, and rabbit treats. Oxbow Hay is amazing so check them out and get some pellets for your buns that are healthy and fresh! I found the shipping to be very high as time went by so that I found that the Oxbow products are sold with much less shipping for those of us on the East Coast of the USA from Petfooddirect.com. I do not work for them. In fact, when I asked to join their affiliate program so I could get some money if you buy from them, they rejected my site as not good enough! That was back a few years. I was approved when I reapplied in March of 2010.

PetFoodDirect Logo 88x31

Grains, Salt and Mineral Wheels, and Treats

Then, there are grains that you can give in addition to pellets. I used to give my rabbits about a teaspoon a day of Quaker Multigrain cereal. When they stopped selling that, I started with just regular oatmeal sprinkled a dash on their pellets for interest. Oats, barley, alfalfa, etc. can be given. Whole wheat bread and other multigrain breads are also good foods, especially to add variety for a young rabbit who should not have too many "wet" foods. My rabbits like it toasted and warm in winter.

Salt or mineral licks are optional since rabbit pellets contain enough of these. I provide mineral wheels for my rabbits on occasion but they do not seem to use them except for Izzy. There are also treats like seed and nut bars, yogurt drops, etc. These should be given sparingly. For information on feeding rabbits tree branches, see here. Lastly, give your rabbits papaya tablets (see below for more information).

Rabbit Feces

Rabbits excrete two forms of feces (also called dung or poop). The first time food goes through their system, it comes out like little wet balls stuck together. They smell pretty bad. The rabbit is supposed to eat these because they are not fully digested. These cecal pellets (simply called cecals by some) contain Vitamin B12 (and perhaps other vitamins) which the rabbit needs. The rabbit cannot obtain B12 any other way. Most rabbits produce these at night so you may not even know of their existence. If your rabbit is not eating all its wet poop, then he or she may need more hay, less food, or otherwise be sick. Some rabbits just make too much of the wet feces to eat or are too fat to reach their privates. Once the food passes through the system twice, the feces come out as individual dry balls. These are easy to sweep up with a dust pan. If your rabbit is not making these final fecal pellets, then he or she is probably sick, especially if diarrhea is apparent. Unlike the wet cecal pellets, diarrhea is much more liquid, and the rabbit does not eat it.

I have had rabbits who due to illness could not (immobile) or would not eat their cecals. Sometimes they can be offered to disabled or sick rabbits but when I have tried, they did not want them, fresh or not. My rabbit, Isabella as of 11/1/05 has been disabled for over a year. She cannot move and has not eaten any cecals but she is obviously still alive. So while cecals are needed for good health, they are not necessary for survival.

Papaya Tablets

Papaya tablets contain papain which is an enzyme that makes digestion go smother. Eating papaya tablets should prevent wool block which is where the rabbit's wool gets tangled in their digestive tract. All rabbits groom and thus swallow their hair or wool. Unlike cats, they cannot vomit this excess hair. It must go through the system. In wool block, they cannot pass the wool and thus starve.

Papaya tablets are sold at health food stores for people under digestive aids. Try to get the orange ones which have a sugar base and not the white ones which have a silica base. Try one, they taste great. My rabbits always eat their papaya tablet first; it is their number one favorite thing to eat. It is often recommended for Angora rabbits but I give a tablet a day to all my rabbits. All rabbits will swallow their hair. Some people with rabbits recommend giving a tablet every few days or giving a few tablets once a week. It still is not clear which is the better choice. None of my rabbits have ever gotten wool block. You can feed fresh papaya instead but it is often hard to get and/or expensive. Another recommended remedy is pineapple juice once a month. I am sure a bun would not mind any combination of these tasty, but helpful, treats.

In the fall of 2000, I discovered an internet source for papaya tablets made specifically for rabbits (no added sugar) at Oxbow Hay. Not only do they contain papain from papaya but they also contain bromelain which is the active enzyme in fresh pineapple. I have had no luck getting my rabbits to consume pineapple, pineapple juice, or bromelain pills (they contain no sugar and taste like aspirin; yuck!) so these pills are great. They also have no added sugar like human papaya tablets. Because of that sugar, many people are against papaya tablets but these ones from Oxbow have no added sugar (just natural sugars). I have eaten a few, and while not as sweet, they are tasty enough, and my buns eat them. I found the shipping to be very high as time went by from Oxbow so that I found that the Oxbow products are sold with much less shipping for those of us on the East Coast of the USA from Petfooddirect.com. Drs. Foster and Smith now (3/28/07) sells papaya tablets too. Here is a photo (the link no longer works because they ended their affiliate program):

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