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This website is devoted to the care and well-being of all rabbits, and focuses on pet rabbits kept as indoor members of the family.

Last site update: Wed Feb 25 01:52:51 EST 2015

Hay

Greens

The problem with calcium

The problem with gas

Tips of keeping greens fresh

Foods to feed in small quantities

Fruits to feed in small quantities

Foods to avoid feeding

Pellets

Fruits

The problem with a pellet-only diet

The problem with sugar

Foods that destroy nutrients

Foods that are toxic

Litterbox Training

Health

Poisonous Plants & Flowers

Poisonous Plants List

Non-Toxic Plant List

General

Care, Feeding, Tips

Calcium Metabolism

Medirabbit's Feeding Page

Feeding

About Nutrition in Small Mammals

HRS FAQ: Diet

Rabbit Food Pyramid (pdf)

CarrotCafé [Rabbit Diet Information]

General Diet Info

WHRS Rabbit Care Guidelines

Non-Pelleted Diets for the Rabbit

Learn to Read the Labels!

How To Feed the Rabbit Gastrointestinal Tract (pdf)

Feeding Rabbits

Rabbit Diet

Rabbit Diet Guide

Non-pelleted Diets For The Rabbit

Feeding Rabbits

Interactive Rabbit Diet

Healthy Foods for the Healthy Rabbit

Natural Nutrition Part I: The Importance of Fiber

Natural Nutrition Part II: Pellets and Veggies

Natural Nutrition Part I: The Importance of Fiber

Natural Nutrition Part II: Pellets and Veggies

Hay

Hay in the Litter Box? (pdf of flyer)

Hay is the Basis of a Healthy Rabbit Diet

Evaluating Hay Quality

Choosing Good, Quality Hay

Got Hay?

Types of Hays and Grasses

USDA Site On Hay

Places to get hay:

Sweet Meadow Farm

FarmerDave.biz

Greens

Don't Forget the Veggies! (pdf of flyer)

Treats

Rabbit Treat Foods: Facts and Fallacies

Check out my book on pet rabbit care and socialization, and I'm always updating it. The book is copyright-protected but available for free, though I request a $1 donation for the bunnies and for my efforts. C'mon, what's a buck?

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:

  • unlimited timothy hay or other grass hay (see note below about alfalfa). Hay should be the primary food source for rabbits, except alfalfa and straw, which has no health benefits, although it may make for a litterbox liner. Since bunnies like to munch when they poop (or is it poop when they munch), grass hay should also be part of their litterbox accommodations. Please also refer to this Wiki page for more information.
    Note about alfalfa: Athough it i widely referred to as hay, it is not really a grass. It's in the legume family with clover, vetch, peanuts, peas, and beans. Legumes are much higher in protein than grasses. More protein equals more calories equals fat bunny. It should only be given as a treat to adults, although it can be offered you growing rabbits or those that need to gain weight. It is also higher in calcium). Please see this page for more information: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/haynet/.
  • a variety of at least 3 green vegetables (see list below) - this should be three different types of greens, i.e. not 3 different lettuces; parsley and cilantro are the same type of green, etc. At least one of these greens should be a source of vitamin A. If your rabbit has never had greens before, introduce them one at a time and watch for runny stool. Any time you notice it, make sure your bunny's bottom is clean (you may have to give him a butt bath), and remove that green from that rabbit's diet. If your rabbit gets runny stool from any greens, it may be due to improper care from his life before he came into yours. Greens are not absolutely necessary, only fresh hay is, so if your rabbit cannot handle any greens at all, make sure he eats a lot of hay.
  • some pellets (depending on bunny's age) - pellets should not be the primary food source for rabbits.
  • a small amount of fruit and treats - too much sugar in any form can cause digestive problems with bunnies, and can also make other problems worse by providing an environment where bacteria and even cancer can thrive
  • fresh water (and the same water you would drink, so if your tap water tastes bad, be nice to your bunnies and don't make them drink it either!)

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:
Strange Fruit: Seasonal Produce That Can Harm Your Pets

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.

  • Bladder and/or kidney stones
  • Bladder sand or sludge - the bladder fills with a thick, calcium-rich urine that also lines the urinaty tract and is an irritant and also a painful condition to endure. The bladder always feels full and the rabbit has difficulty urinating.
  • passing sludge/sand can lead to a urinary tract infection
  • the inability to fully empty the bladder may make the rabbit "leak" urine from an continually full bladder, and this can lead to urine scald
  • it makes it very difficult and eventually very painful for the rabbit to urinate, and they will strain more and more in the litterbox
  • you can't just remove all calcium from a rabbit's diet to avoid this issue because then his body will absorb whatever calcium it needs from the bones and the rabbit will become extremely fragile as the skeleton is weakoned due to the lack of calcium
  • treatment options are not pleasant - if it's serious enough, the bladder must either be flushed with a catheter, or surgery may be necessary.
  • chalky residue in the litterbox, a definite indicator of mineral-rich urine (sometimes it hardens to the point where you can't easily scrape it off) is not, by itself, an indication of build-up - it may simply be normal elimination of the excess calcium so that it doesn't accumulate in the bladder, so the only real way to determine if there is an issue is an x-ray. Calcium is a metal and shows up light in an x-ray, so it's very easy to see when a rabbit is suffering from a calcium-lined urinary tract.

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:

  • Water spiked with some cranberry juice (a natural diuretic) - but do NOT make this the only water you offer, or your bunny may become dehydrated if he doesn't like the spiked water
  • Add pepitas (shelled, unsalted pumpkin seeds) to their food or if they like them, offer them as treats
  • Polycitra - the active ingredients are citric acid monohydrate, potassium citrate monohydrate, and sodium citrate dihydrate. It is administered 3 times a day, which can be stressful on both you and your bunny. You must get a prescription and your vet's advice to use this product.

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.

  • Dental problems
  • Behavioral problems (yup, just like little kids)
  • Rabbits, in general, can have about a tablespoon of food or treats such as raisins each day; some cannot tolerate any sugar in their diets and will get runny stool. Rabbits have a sweet tooth, so you must be careful not to overfeed sugar to them in any form.
  • A rabbit will eat sugary foods in favor of more proper foods if allowed to freely choose, thus negatively affecting their overall diet
  • Sugar is a stimulant - rabbits don't need any help being hyper

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:

  • loud gurgling noises coming from the gut
  • signs of discomfort or lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • sitting hunched over (sort of the same as how people hunch over when they have really bad stomach aches) or pressing their stomachs against something
  • abnormally tight stomach
  • abnormal posture


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!!


Pellets


Please see the problem with pellets to understand the issues with a pellet-only diet.

  • Do not get the pellets with seeds and banana chips and such in it - it is a treat to the bunnies but it isn't healthy and can cause stomach problems. Unfortunately, some manufacturers refuse to accept this and market what looks, to a human, like a really nice dinner for their rabbit, but in fact it is bad for them. Pellets are not even the most important part of a rabbit's diet (hay is), but care should be given not to offer pellets that are bad for the rabbits, or that have treats that are bad for the rabbits mixed in.
  • Pellets can go stale just like bread and become unappealing to the bunny's pallate, so store unused pellets in an air-tight container, preferably in the refrigerator.
  • If you get a large quantity of pellets, the best way to store it is to separate it into smaller sealed containers (ie, ziplock bags) and store them all in the refrigerator, and only open one at a time to get food from. The unopened ones will stay fresh much longer. Do not store in the freezer as this can cause the small amount of moisture in the pellets to ruin the food (as water crystallizes, it expands and forms sharp edges which break the walls of adjacent cells). Oxygen is the most corrosive element there is - it reacts with pretty much everything - every time you open a container, you introduce fresh air (wich contains approximately 20% new oxygen) to be used in the chemical reactions that spoil food. Using smaller bags and pressing out as much air as possible, and only opening one at a time, means that all the unopened bags will use up the available oxygen and degradation will slowed dramatically, keeping the food fresher for longer.
  • Typically you can allow a healthy growing bunny to free-feed on pellets (he can eat as much as he wants)
  • The most common recommendation we hear for healthy adult rabbits (that do not need to gain weight) is that they should only have about 1/4 cup of timthy pellets per 5 pounds of bunny
  • If your rabbit shows any signs of stomach problems, such as runny stool, take away the pellets and veggies and feed plenty of timothy hay and contact your vet
  • For healthy adult rabbits, Some recommended timothy based pellets are Sweet Meadow Farm Timothy and Oxbow Bunny Basics/Timothy, both of which are ideal for adult rabbits that do not need extra calcium or calories.
  • 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.

  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Apple Mint
  • Arugula
  • Basil
  • Beet Greens
  • Bok Choy (Chinese cabbage)
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Celery (especially the leaf) (Note: to avoid any potential problems, slice or chop the celery against the grain so the veins aren't stringy - veins can be swallowed without proper chewing and can cause serious problems, including choking and gastrointestinal issues
  • Chard
  • Cilantro (no roots)
  • Clover & clover sprouts
  • Collard greens
  • Dandelion greens & flowers
  • Dill
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Fennel
  • Green pepper
  • Lettuce: romaine (only limited amounts, may cause excess cecals), green leaf, red leaf (limited iceberg and light green lettucs generally, as they may cause soft stool in some bunnies and generally have less nutrients than the darker greens))
  • Mint
  • Peapods (flat)
  • Peppermint leaves
  • Pineapple-mint
  • Pineapple-sage
  • Radicchio
  • Radish sprouts & tops
  • Raspberry leaves
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Turnip greens (tops)
  • Watercress
  • Wheat grass

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Foods to feed only in small quantities:
Please also see the problem with pellets and the problem with calcium.
  • Broccoli leaves and stems (Note: broccoli can cause gas in some bunnies, and it is high in calcium so it should not be given to bunnies who have any urinary tract problems, such as bladder sludge)
  • Broccoli (high in calcium, also may cause gas)
  • Carrots (high sugar content)
  • Carrot tops (high calcium)
  • Kale (high in calcium, also may cause gas)
  • Mustard greens (high calcium)
  • Parsley (high calcium)
  • Spinach (high in calcium)
  • There's more to come!!...

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Some tips on keeping and serving greens:
  • Always wash veggies thoroughly and dry before storing, and it doesn't hurt to wash them just before feeding and serve them soaked - the fluids are always helpful
  • Get rid of any part of the greens you wouldn't eat (browned, wilted, etc)
  • Serve greens nice and wet to help with hydration and prevention of urinary tract problems
  • To revitalize wilted greens, soak in water for a few hours
  • Storing a paper towel in the bag with the greens helps absord moisture to prevent rotting

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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.

  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Blueberry
  • Cranberry
  • Grape
  • Melon
  • Papaya
  • Peach
  • Pear
  • Plum
  • Pineapple
  • Pumpkin
  • Raisin
  • Raspberry
  • Strawberries

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Foods to avoid feeding your rabbit:
  • Beets (sugary)
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Chocolate (NEVER give this to any pet - it is poisonous to most)
  • Corn (rabbits can't digest the hulls of the corn kernels)
  • Diatomaceous Earth - this is made from finely ground shells, and even the highest quality can have edges which act like razor blades against the thin lining of a rabbits stomach lining. Do not use for food or litter.
  • Fresh peas
  • Grains
  • Green beans (can cause gas)
  • Iceberg lettuce (and any light green lettuce leaves - they are high in water content but low in nutrients and may cause diahrrea) - can be gven in small amounts or when you have no other greens to offer, but watch the output for soft stools
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Onions (see this page)
  • Pelleted food with seeds mixed in (it's a treat to the bunnies but the seeds cause stomach problems)
  • Potatoes (white or red)
  • Seeds of any kind
  • Starches of any kind
  • sugar, in any form (small quantities of treats are allowed, but no more than a tablespoon of fruit or raisins or anything containing any types of sugar)

Foods that contain compounds that destroy nutrients:

  • Sweet potato
  • Cassava
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Maize
  • Lima beans
  • Millet
  • Bracken fern
  • Tea leaves
  • Coffee plants

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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)
  • Generally toxic:
    • Rhubarb leaves
    • Parsnip greens
    • Raw lima, kidney or soy beans
    • Onions
    • Citrus peels
  • Oxalates (causes pain and swelling of mouth and throat, swollen tissue can restrict breathing or cause suffocation.)
    • Begonia
    • Caladium
    • Calla lily
    • Diffenbachia
    • Dumbcane
    • Jack in the pulpit
    • Philodendron
    • Schefflera
  • Minor Toxicities (causes vomiting, diarrhea, nausea)
    • Aloe vera
    • Amaryllis
    • Bird of paradise
    • Birch
    • Boxwood
    • Cedar
    • Chrysanthemum
    • Daffodil
    • Daisy
    • Eucalyptus
    • Galiola
    • Hydrangea
    • Haycinth
    • Iris
    • Juniper
    • Redwood tree
    • Rananculus
    • Sweet pea
    • Swwet william
    • Violas
  • Extremely Toxic (one leaf can kill)
    • Angels Trumpet
    • Azalea
    • Black Acacia and Locast
    • Bleeding Heart
    • Carmellia
    • Carnation
    • Carolinia Jasmine
    • Castor Beans
    • Christmas Beans
    • China Berry
    • Clementis
    • Coffee Tree Plant
    • Cyclamen
    • Daphne
    • Delphinium
    • Easter Lily
    • Elderberry
    • Flax
    • Four-o-clocks
    • Geranium
    • Heavenly Bamboo
    • Hemlock
    • Holly Berries
    • Ivy
    • Jerusalem cherry
    • Lantana
    • Larkspur
    • Licorice plant
    • Lily of the valley
    • Lobelia
    • Milkvetch
    • Monkshood
    • Morning glory
    • Mountain laurel
    • Narcissus
    • NightshadeLoeander
    • Pea family
    • Pig weed
    • Potato plant
    • Pivet
    • Rhododendron
    • String of pearls
    • Thorn apple
    • Toyon
    • Vinca
    • Wintergreen
    • Wisteria
    • Tew

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.


Tamari and Flopsy munching together.



Recommended Reading:

General

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

Hay

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)

Greens

A flyer reminding people to provide fresh greens to their rabbits.

Treats

The Wisconsin House Rabbit Society's page on rabbit treat foods


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Last update: Wed Feb 25 01:52:51 EST 2015