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Rabbit Care 101: Diet and Feeding Tips

Rabbit Care 101: Diet and Feeding Tips

Rabbits are herbivores, so the majority of their diet should be composed of grass hay, which is rich in Vitamins A & D as well as calcium, protein and other nutrients. Eating hay promotes health and should be available at all times. In addition, pelleted rabbit food and a variety of dark green leafy vegetables are an important part of your rabbit's complete and balanced diet. Treats, including fruit, should make up a small portion of your pet's diet.

Fresh, filtered, chlorine-free water must be constantly available, especially during warmer weather, as rabbits are susceptible to heat stroke. Depending on the size of your rabbit, water intake should be about 10 ounces daily. Rinse your rabbit's water bottle out daily and clean with hot water and a bottle brush weekly.

Making Changes in Your Rabbit's Diet

As with any change in your rabbit's diet, you'll want to introduce new foods slowly and in small amounts. Rabbits are susceptible to mucoid enteritis and gastrointestinal stasis, and abrupt changes in the content of their diet can put your pet at an increased risk of developing these serious conditions.

Best Foods for Your Rabbit

Hay: Rabbits require this kind of fiber for proper digestion; therefore, hay must be available at all times. Chewing on hay also helps to wear down your rabbit's teeth, which grow continuously. Always purchase fresh, high-quality, clean hay that is dry, sweet-smelling and free of mold. There are different types of grass hay mixtures to choose from, depending on your rabbit's age and specific needs. Timothy hay is a great high-quality choice for adult rabbits, while a high-quality alfalfa blend is ideal for rabbits under seven months of age. Bermuda grass, brome grass, orchard grass and oat hay are additional options for your adult rabbit.

Pellets: Commercial rabbit food is specially formulated to provide balanced nutrition with the ideal dosage of essential nutrients, including much-needed fiber. Choose pelleted food that is fresh and has been veterinarian-tested and approved and follow the feeding instructions on the packaging as a guide. Consult your veterinarian if you have a baby rabbit or a senior rabbit, as they have unique needs.

Vegetables: Provide your rabbit with a variety of dark green leafy vegetables and herbs—such as kale, turnip greens, arugula, carrot tops, romaine lettuce, parsley, collard greens, bok choy and basil. Many vegetables are ideal for your rabbit, however, some should only be provided occasionally and some should be avoided. Ask your veterinarian to help you determine which vegetables you should feed your rabbit. Wash all produce thoroughly to remove dirt and traces of harmful pesticides. In addition, it's important to discard produce that has not been eaten within several hours.

Fruits: Aim to feed fewer fruits than vegetables, due to the higher sugar content. Small, bite-sized portions (minus the seeds or pits) served occasionally will delight your rabbit. Choose from apples, pears, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, bananas, kiwis, apricots, papayas, plums, raspberries and peaches. Again, thoroughly wash all fruits before serving them to your rabbit, and avoid serving produce cold.

Treats: Treats (including fruit) should not exceed 10 percent of your rabbit's total diet. Bite-sized pieces of fresh vegetables such as bell peppers, pumpkin or zucchini squash can be served as a treat. There are all kinds of healthy, all-natural treats made especially for rabbits to nibble on and enjoy. Many contain fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and other essential nutrients. However, some commercially produced rabbit treats contain artificial sweeteners, sugar or salt, so carefully read labels when selecting healthy options for your pet.

Since your rabbit's teeth grow continuously, you should also provide a variety of fun chews, including sticks, toys, balls, blocks and treats that are made for rabbits and other small animals. These toys and treats are fun for your rabbit to chew on and encourage his natural foraging instincts. They also help to relieve boredom while preventing overgrowth of teeth. Another treat option is a small animal salt lick, which is a rich source of healthy minerals and is a healthy way to satisfy your rabbit's desire for salt.

Cecotropes: Nature has provided rabbits with an unusual method for supplementing their unique nutritional needs. Cecotropes are small, soft pellets that contain nutrients absorbed from plants during the digestive process. They pass from the large intestine, out the anus and are consumed immediately. While this process may look bizarre or even revolting, you must not discourage it. Cecotropes are a necessary part of your rabbit's diet and are not the same as the dry, round fecal pellets that they also produce.

Foods to Avoid

There are a several types of foods that you should avoid giving your rabbit, for various reasons. Some foods can be poisonous, some are too high in fat or sugar, some are a choking hazard, some have no nutritional value and some can cause gas. You can refer to books on rabbit care or reputable websites (such as the ASPCA), but ideally, you should consult an exotic animal veterinarian or a veterinarian that specializes in small animals for nutritional guidelines.

A short list of the foods to avoid feeding your rabbit includes chocolate, iceberg lettuce (due to its low nutritional content), beans, rhubarb, fresh corn, potatoes, dairy products, bread and meat. You should never offer your rabbit any plants, flowers or grass from your yard or garden as they may contain pesticides or other hazards; many houseplants are toxic, so always supervise your little pet when he's out of his habitat.

If you ever notice anything out of the ordinary with your rabbit, take him to your veterinarian right away. Signs of possible illness include weight loss, hair loss, abnormal lumps and diarrhea. Like any other pet, it's important for your rabbit to get annual check-ups. Consult with your veterinarian to ensure that your rabbit is getting the proper nutrition needed for a long, healthy life. With proper care, you can expect your rabbit to live up to 10 years or more, depending on their breed and size.

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