The safest way to keep your rabbit healthy and happy is to give it everything it needs (100 percent) but not much more than that. Ideally, your rabbit should clean up its dinner within an hour or so, and then its feeder should remain empty until the following evening. I like to feed in the evening when rabbits are active, but if you want to feed your pet rabbit in the morning, or both morning and evening, is fine, too. Just be as consistent as possible. The amount of food depends on the size of the rabbit. The general rule for adult rabbits is to feed ½ to 1 ounce of pellets per pound of rabbit per day, measured by weight rather than volume because different formulations have different weights. The 5 ounces of feed that I give each 8-pound rabbit very conveniently equals 1 cup in volume for my brand of feed. This amount keeps my rabbits healthy and at their ideal weight. Beyond this general rule, let the rabbits tell you what they need. I offer fewer pellets when I find leftovers in the feeder at the next mealtime. I offer more pellets if the rabbit dives in before the sound of pellets hitting the feeder have subsided.
This, combined with a hands-on determination of condition and periodic weight checks, tells me how much my rabbits need to eat. In winter, the rabbits will need extra energy for maintaining their body heat. Here are some additional detailed guidelines for different types of rabbits:
Adult bucks and adult dry does. Feed them their ration with nothing more than perhaps some grass hay. An added teaspoon of whole oats or pinch of black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS) per day helps keep the rabbits well-conditioned.
Juniors, from weaning to adult. Full-feed young animals, meaning give them as much as they want, with feed available 24/7. Add 1 teaspoon of whole oats or BOSS on top of each junior’s feed. As weight gain tapers off a few weeks before adulthood, begin reducing their feed, until they are receiving their adult rations at adulthood. Most rabbits begin tapering, or self-regulating, on their own.
Pregnant does. Because pregnancy does have increased nutritional needs, I begin increasing the feed slightly once I’ve confirmed the pregnancy at around 12 to 14 days along. After day 21 or so, there may be feed left in the feeder over a 24-hour period, as the appetite tends to drop in the few days left before kindling.
Lactating does. Full-feed, with around 2 tablespoons of BOSS (a tight fistful) on top of their rations. The oil-rich seeds do amazing things for milk production.
The Protein and Ammonia Connection
If you’re having problems with ammonia odors and flies, it might be that you feed your pet rabbit too much protein in their feed. The protein that the rabbit does not use is excreted in the urine as nitrogen. This amounts to a banquet for the bacteria in the rabbit’s environment, which turns it into ammonia. The extra nutrition in the droppings also attracts flies. Solve this problem by feeding 15 or 16 percent protein and providing extra fats in the form of oil seeds or whole oats. This is enough protein for breeding and lactating when supplemented with the extra fats.
The ammonia problem may right itself within a week or two, and along with it the fly problem. You’ll think it’s a miracle!
What protein level should rabbit food have?
Most commercial feeds are produced in two formulations:
• 16 percent protein for bucks and dry does.
• 18 percent protein for pregnant/lactating does and growing youngsters.
Some rabbit pellets contain 14 percent protein. This is more than enough for adult pets that won’t be bred, but it is inadequate for breeding rabbits. I like feeding a 16 percent protein feed to my entire herd and using seeds and/or oats to titrate the oil levels. Some rabbit breeders prefer the 18 percent rations for lactating does and growing juniors.
What did rabbits eat before there were rabbit pellets?
The advent of readily available pelleted rabbit food after World War II made life much easier for rabbit farmers. Before that, they had to understand the general dietary needs of their rabbits and then assemble the most balanced diet they could using forages such as hays, alfalfa, and whole grains, along with fresh green forages and root crops such as carrots and beets, plus other supplements including salt, protein cakes, and high-protein forages such as soybeans. The Protein and Ammonia Connection If you’re having problems with ammonia odors and flies, it might be that your rabbits are getting too much protein in their feed. The protein that the rabbit does not use is excreted in the urine as nitrogen. This amounts to a banquet for the bacteria in the rabbit’s environment, which turns it into ammonia. The extra nutrition in the droppings also attracts flies.
Solve this problem by feeding 15 or 16 percent protein and providing extra fats in the form of oil seeds or whole oats. This is enough protein for a breeding and lactating when supplemented with the extra fats. The ammonia problem may right itself within a week or two, and along with it the fly problem. You’ll think it’s a miracle! (continued) 109 Chapter Five | Feeding Rabbits To feed your rabbits without pellets, you need to do your research and then feed all the essential nutrients as much as possible, plus find the hours per day that foraging and feeding without pellets requires. Fortunately, the rabbit’s habit of cecotrophy gives it two chances to absorb nutrients from its food, plus a significant amount of additional protein, vitamins, and nutrients derived from the digested bacteria in the cecotropes.
What can you feed your pet rabbit if you run out of rabbit feed?
One alternative is to feed old-fashioned oats and shredded wheat or dried (not moldy) whole wheat bread along with hay and water. Whole oats and/or black oil sunflower seeds can be included. Alfalfa (lucerne) hay is very nourishing and can be fed alone with water for a few days in the absence of commercial pelleted feed. If necessary, feed your pet rabbit only grass hay and water for a few days won’t harm the rabbit. Remember, they eat lots of cecotropes every day, which boosts their nutritional levels. A few organic veggies can help tide your rabbits over if they are already used to such treats. In situations where your rabbit is primarily used to pelleted feed, it will appreciate dark green leafy greens such as a few spinach leaves, carrot tops, or sprigs of parsley, along with some old fashioned oatmeal or bird seeds. Go light on sugary veggies or fruits, such as carrots, apples, or bananas, because the changes could easily trigger a case of diarrhea or other problems, especially in a rabbit not accustomed to such fare.
Feeding Extra Treats
Here is a short list of plant materials that are safe to feed rabbits in small to moderate quantities. Many such lists are available online; none are complete or authoritative.
In all cases, organic produce is preferable, what to feed your pet rabbit :
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Banana peppers, bell and jalapeño peppers and leaves
- Beans (in moderation), and leaves and vines
- Broccoli, whole plant (in moderation)
- Carrots (a few) and carrot greens
- Celery (cut into 1″ pieces due to the strings)
- Dark green leafy lettuce, such as romaine
- Shelled peas (a few), including pods, leaves, and vines
- Snow peas and snap peas, including leaves and vines
- Summer and winter squashes (chunks of flesh and rind but no seeds)
- Tomatoes (fruit only, not the vines)
Rabbits love sweet treats, but even a little too much sugar can trigger potentially fatal diarrhea, so stick to these limited quantities.
- Apple (small slice)
- Banana (small slice)
- Blackberry (1 or 2)
- Blueberry (1 or 2)
- Melon (small chunk)
- Orange (small slice)
- Raisin (just 1 or 2)
- Raspberry (1 or 2)
Branches and Leaves
- Citrus (in moderation)
- Douglas fir (branches and needles)
- Locust (dry wood or twigs only; no seeds or leaves)
- Willow (in moderation)
Lastly, your bunny needs to stay hydrated, so make sure they should have an unlimited supply of freshwater, and try to change it daily. The water container should be cleaned with water and soap at least three times a week. Water bottles are not easy to clean and can be difficult for your rabbit to use, so bowls are better.