Rabbits have continuously growing teeth. The average rate of growth of the front teeth (incisors) is 3mm per week. The majority of a rabbit’s diet should be grass and hay. A wild rabbit spends around 70% of its time awake grazing. The continuous grazing allows for proper even wear of the teeth through the side to side movements of the jaw. Optimal nutrition is provided through a digestive process called ‘caecotrophy’.
Caecotrophs are the first droppings a rabbit produces from its meal and are eaten directly from the anus. This allows them to extract nutrients, produced by the ‘good bacteria’ of the guts from fermentation of the low quality food, that would otherwise not be absorbed.
A high fibre diet is crucial to the normal motility of the rabbit’s gut and this helps to protect against bacterial infections (which can lead to diarrhoea). High fibre is also important in preventing obesity, which is becoming an increasing problem for rabbits. Obesity can lead to some serious health problems, so is best avoided.
Sounds a bit boring though doesn’t it? You can put some variety in your rabbit’s diet in the following ways, but remember not to overdo it – all they really need is grass!
Commercial rabbit food can be offered, but this should only be a small part of the total diet and a standard pellet food is recommended. This avoids the selective feeding that can occur with colourful variety foods which can lead to digestive problems.This is a good way of providing variety and interest for your rabbit. We recommend Russell or Excel Rabbit food. But remember this is not a complete diet, your rabbit still needs lots and lots of grass or hay. These prepared foodstuffs should make up no more than a quarter of your rabbit’s diet. You’ll know if you are giving too much, as your rabbit will become fat. This is easily corrected by reducing the amount of proprietary food and increasing the amount of grass or hay.
Give green leafy vegetables. These should be offered fresh – not as leftovers or the bits you don’t want to eat. Try to avoid lettuce as the high water content can cause diarrhoea. Never give rhubarb leaves, as these are poisonous. Broccoli has been associated with colic. If you are offering fresh greens, give them on a daily basis. If your rabbit has never had them before offer a small quantity to start with and increase this to a maximum of two large leaves a day per rabbit. Fresh herbs are a well appreciated tasty treat. If they still seem hungry after this, give them some more grass!