Feeding Your Bunny
Fresh clean water should always be available, and changed at least twice a day!! Always check the water for floating debris.
Please give your bunny a choice between a water bottle and a heavy ceramic water bowl (one heavy enough that it won't get tipped over). Most bunnies actually prefer drinking from a bowl. If you prefer bottled or filtered water to your tap water, please share it with your bunny too. If your bunny uses a water bowl, check it often to make sure it is still drinkable (there may be food, fur, or other foreign matter in the water, or it may have been spilled). If using a water bottle, check it often to make sure water still flows easily and that the bunny can comfortably drink from it - this means it must be mounted at the correct height so the bunny isn't craning his neck or hunching over in order to reach it.
Bunnies like to dump plates and bowls over, sometimes just for fun and sometimes to tell you that it's time to refresh the contents. I found that heavy ceramic bowls or the stainless steel water bowls made for larger dogs work nicely to hold the food in place while keeping the bunnies from tipping them over. Bunnies also like to spill things, which I discovered the hard way because I would often leave drinks on the floor, only to find them intentionally pushed over - this was something all of my males loved to do. If it was water, they'd then drink from the new puddle - if it was anything else, they'd just take pleasure in watching me clean up the mess. Flopsy has just spilled my water (and as you can see, it hasn't even begun to soak into the carpet yet). There's nothing wrong with the water in the water bowls, it's just more fun this way.
You may sometimes find food or poops floating in the water bowl - this is one way your bunnies are telling you they want fresh water (or it could simply be part of the "janitor" game where they get pleasure from creating a mess and watching you clean it up). Either way, they need fresh clean water, so you have to oblige and give them fresh clean water.
Important note on cleaning water bowls: Studies on the re-use of water bottles by people seeking to reduce the amount of recycled plastic or simple convenience showed that almost all re-used water bottles that were never cleaned and dried showed major amounts of bacteria and in some cases the growth of fungal colonies. You should clean your bunnies' water bowl regularly to prevent the growth of bacteria and/or fungal colonies, which can begin when the water bowl is always filled but never cleaned. Warm soapy water is all that is required, on a regular basis. If you can, let it dry and offer a different water bowl for that period of time.
Bacteria live by the rule "they dry, they die".
The proper food will keep your bunnies happy and healthy for a long time. You must provide the following to maintain a proper diet for your bunnies:
Do not let your bunny dictate what foods to give. Bunnies will eat foods that taste really good to them but are really bad for them. They don't understand proper bunny nutrition - that is up to you, in order for your bunnies to live long healthy lives. If you need to change your bunny's diet, introduce new foods gradually and watch for any adverse effects. For example, if you need to switch pellets, offer a mix of the old kind of pellets with the new kind of pellets for a week or two, before just offering the new kind.
Adult rabbits should only be given a limited amount of pellets, but an unlimited amount of hay for the fiber and to help grind down the ever-growing front teeth. When rabbits are fed too much pelleted food, they will fill up on that and not get enough hay and grasses in their diet.
Alfalfa pellets and hay are good for growing bunnies and those that need to gain weight, but most adults and all overweight rabbits should be on a diet of Timothy hay (unlimited) and some pellets (restricted) (consult your veterinarian) only. Some of the best Timothy-based pellets are:
If your bunny gets runny stool, you should take away the greens and fruit and encourage the bunny to eat as much hay as possible - you may also need to restrict pellets in order to accomplish this. If one of the greens is causing a problem, you can try to find out which one it is by re-introducing greens one at a time until the bunny has a problem again.
Note: Always check the ingredients in your rabbit pellets!! You would be surprised what kinds of stuff companies use in making these pellets, and some of the ingredients are actually very bad for your bunny. (Still compiling a list of ingredients to be aware of)
Please also see this page from the ASPCA regarding common fruits and
the dangers they present to bunnies:
Note: one of the easiest ways to thoroughly wash a lot of greens at once is, fill a soup pot with water and some lemon juice, put all the greens in and agitate it with your hands for a few seconds, then put the greens on something where all the excess water can drain. Afterwards, put the greens on a towel to allow further drying so they will last longer in storage (use the greens drawer in your refrigerator, sometimes called the crisper).
Another option is to cut up all of the greens at the outset, when they are dry (prior to cleaning) IF you intend on washing and soaking the greens before giving them to the rabbits anyway - you can do the washing at that time and rinse thoroughly and serve.
Common problems with foods for your bunnies
The problem with a pellet-only diet:
It is important to note that pellets were originally intended for making it easier to feed rabbits that were meant for the dinner plate, and little thought was given to longer-term care. Modern high-quality pellets are better, but rabbits still need much more than just pellets, and the pellets must be properly selected. They are far from an ideal food for a pet rabbit, and should only be fed in limited quantities with healthy adult rabbits:
The problem with calcium:
Please also see the section on calcium in the litterbox for indications of buildup of any kind. After all, everyone knows, everybody poops! A listing of foods that are high in calcium is in the list of foods to feed in small quantities.
Some things you can do to try to influence any calcium build-up that you suspect is to offer some of the following. We offer these suggestions as nothing more than folk-lore home remedies as a precursor to seeing the vet if the condition doesn't improve:
Note: for more information on calcium content in foods, please follow the following links:
The problem with sugar:
This is true for any mammal - sugar can cause the body to retain fats and it lowers the oxygen levels, creating environments for the thriving growth of bacteria and even cancer. If the rabbit has gas, sugar will make matters worse.
The problem with gas:
Have you ever had a really bad stomach ache? Gas causes that with rabbits too, and it is very painful to them. They can have problems passing gas which can lead to severe pain and a life-threatening situation. You can help. First, get to know what your rabbit's stomach feels like when he feels fine, and you'll be able to guage how far from normal he might be. You can also treat the rabbit any time you suspect gas with simethicone (infant anti-gas drops contain this ingredient). Simethicone is not actually a drug, it is a surfactant/defoaming agent - instead of working via chemical reaction, it breaks down the surface tension of gas bubbles embedded in mucus in the GI tract. As surface tension is altered, the gas bubbles are broken or coalesced so that the gas can be eliminated more easily by the body. It does not interact with any medications and is not at all harmful even if used when it wasn't necessary afterall. Besides treating with simethicone, you should also very gently massage the stomach towards the rear end in the hope of gently pushing the gas through the system. Rabbits many times have difficulty passing gas and can run into trouble if not for attentive caretakers. When gas is an issue, a farting bunny is a happy bunny. If both the simethicone and massage have failed, it's time to call the vet. Some of the indicators of a gas episode are:
Common problems with foods for your bunnies
Note: these lists may not be as complete as they need to be, so a strong caveat to the reader - when in doubt, call your vet!!
For underweight or growing rabbits, some recommended alfalfa-based pellets are Blue Seal Show Hutch Deluxe, (this is an alfalfa-based pellet but it is cooked and much lighter than other pellets), Purina Rabbit Chow, and Martin Rabbit Pellets.
The following greens may be given to your rabbits (make sure there are no pesticides and wash thoroughly):
Note on lettuces: Lettuce contains a chemical called lactucarium, which is a depressant and is known to cause diahrrea - see the Wikipedia for detailed information. Also, darker green leaves typically have more nutrients and are less likely to contribute to runny stool.
Foods to feed only in small quantities:
Please also see the problem with pellets and the problem with calcium.
Some tips on keeping and serving greens:
The following fruits may be fed to your rabbit in small quantities (due to their sugar content) as treats (no more than 1-2 tablespoons each day):
Note: although fresh is best, in most cases you can also get frozen or dried versions of these fruits; if dried, please check the ingredients and make sure they are not sweetened with sugar, corn syrup, etc.
Foods to avoid feeding your rabbit:
Foods that are toxic to pets (not just rabbits):
Note: do not allow your rabbit to eat dried leaves from any trees - too many types are very toxic and some can cause cyanide poisoning (this includes specifically apple tree leaves, oak leaves, maple leaves, etc). If you allow your rabbit an outdoor run, please clear the area of leaves as the rabbit may find them very tasty, but they are very dangerous!! (see also this page on cyanide poisoning)
This is Noffy after his surgery to remove a bladder stone. It no longer hurts to pee, so he's camping out next to the wet greens and water bowl and making as many "thank you" puddles as possible. Saving his life required some expensive surgery, but it was all part of my promise to him for a long, happy and healthy life. Stepping in his "thank you" puddles was my way of saying "you're welcome".
This is one example of a salad bar. I like these plates. I like them so much I never use them so they won't be damaged. Now my bunnies and hamsters eat off my finest china (which are actually Japanese dinner plates), and I use plates I sometimes break, because I sometimes break plates I use. Although bowl-tipping is fun, none of my animals have ever tipped the salad bar. Cheap stingy critters.
Morfz Rabbit Reference's section on care, feeding, and tips
From the 2007 Vertinary Conference - Calcium Metabolism In Rabbits: What's New?
Medirabbit's PDF article on feeding rabbits
An article covering the most important parts of the rabbit diet.
Dr. Susan Brown's Article On Small Mammal Feeding
The House Rabbit Society's section on rabbit diets.
A nice graphic of the food pyramid as it applies to rabbit nutrition.
Guide to proper feeding for your rabbit.
Zooh Corner's basic dietary guidelines for a rabbit.
The House Rabbit Society's rabbit care guide.
Leith Petwerks' article on proper bunny nutrition.
What's in your pets' foods and what does it mean to you (and them)?
Technical article on the gastrointestinal tract of the rabbit.
Article on the nutritional requirements of rabbits.
TalkToTheVet's article on proper feeding for rabbits
The MA House Rabbit Society's article on proper diet for your bunny
Leith Petwerks's article on diets for rabbits
Provet healthcare's article on the nutritional requirements of rabbits
A nice interactive food pyramid for rabbits
A shopping list you can print out and take with you when you go shopping
The House Rabbit Society's article on rabbit nutrition (fiber).
The House Rabbit Society's article on rabbit nutrition (pellets).
The House Rabbit Society's article on the importance of fiber
The House Rabbit Society's article on pellets and veggies
A flyer reminding people to use hay in the litterbox.
The San Diego House Rabbit Society's page on the importance of hay in a rabbit's diet
The College Of Agriculture & Natural Resources's article on evaluating hay quality
Todayshorse.com's article on selecting high-quality hay
The Wisconsin House Rabbit Society's page on the importance of hay in a rabbit's diet
The San Diego House Rabbit Society's article on the different types of hay
(not reviewed yet)
Places to get hay:
Sweet Meadow Farm has hay, food and treats for bunnies
Farmer Dave's hay, food, treats and toys for bunnies (ships to USA and Canada)
A flyer reminding people to provide fresh greens to their rabbits.
The Wisconsin House Rabbit Society's page on rabbit treat foods