The proper diet for rabbits have been the subject of much debate. I have researched and read as many articles as I can on this subject, and suffice to say, there is no hard and fast rule here. In fact, I have come across many conflicting views. Some advocate a strict pellets & hay diet (no vegetables), some a hay & vegetables diet (minimal pellets), some a no-pellet diet.
The main issue appears to be the difference of opinion as to whether vegetables and pellets belong in a proper rabbit’s diet. There is no question/doubt as to the importance of hay in unlimited amounts.
* the no-vegetables argument*
Those standing by a no-vegetable diet seem to mainly be breeders, from what I have read so far. They have always been relying on a diet of solely pellets & hay, and claim to have experienced very minimal health problems as a result of this diet. They feel that pet-rabbit owners frequently experience health problems ( such as gut stasis, dental issues, etc.) because they stray from this very basic diet by adding vegetables and treats to their rabbit’s meal.
Vegetables were never part of a rabbit’s natural diet. Domestic rabbits descended from wild rabbits which mostly lived away from humans. Therefore, wild rabbits did not have access to cultivated vegetables but instead had unlimited access to grass.
Pellets (high quality pellets from reputable feed companies) are designed to be nutritionally balanced and hence, rabbits fed on such pellets require no supplements. Owners which have their rabbits on a non-scientifically formulated diet run the risk of depriving their rabbits of a complete and balanced diet.
*the no-pellets argument*
The ‘not part of a rabbit’s natural diet’ argument cuts both ways. Some argue that pellets were never part of a rabbit’s natural diet as quite logically, pellets are manufactured feed and do not appear naturally in the wild. Protein and fat (as contained in pellets) were never meant to be ingested by rabbits.
A diet consisting mainly of hay & supplemented by vegetables, with limited or no pellets, help prevent obesity. A rabbit with too much fat would be susceptible to health and also reproductive problems.
I have also read about rabbits which are only fed hay. With such a diet, the hay provided must be only top quality hay with known nutritional values, nothing less. Pellets are fed only occasionally, if necessary to maintain weight and body conditioning.
My diet of choice
I have chosen to feed my rabbits a diet which consists of:
- primarily, unlimited hay
Not only is hay a great source of fiber, which is essential for a healthy gut, chewing on hay stalks also help rabbits wear down their teeth. I try to give different varieties of hay. The different types of hay require different mouth-movements to chew, so providing a variety of hay helps to ensure a more even wearing-down of teeth.
- secondarily, pellets (Oxbow BBT)
A lot of research has been undertaken to formulate nutritionally balanced pellets for rabbits. Good quality pellets should contain at least 20% fiber, not more than 14% protein (higher protein content is required for pregnant & lactating does, young rabbits and rabbits which have trouble maintaining weight), not more than 1% fat and calcium, respectively. As my rabbits are adults, the amount of pellets they get are rationed. Each rabbit gets about 1/3 cup pellets per day (1 cup = about 250ml).
I treat vegetables only as treats/supplements to my rabbits’ diet. I do not expect them to receive their complete nutritional needs from vegetables, because that can only be achieved by feeding a very wide variety. I give about 4 – 5 varieties daily.
Some rabbits do not take well to vegetables, any new variety ought to be introduced slowly to gauge how the rabbit’s system reacts to it. Certain rabbits are genetically predisposed to digestive issues (i.e. megacolon), such as Dwarf Hotots, albinos and charlies, and are unable to tolerate vegetables. Let your rabbit be your guide in what to feed it. If it is unable to consume vegetables without bloating or having runny stool, then by all means, remove vegetables from its diet.
- treats, once a week
I try to limit treats (other than vegetables), as these are usually high in sugar. I stick to ‘natural’ treats: fruits, raisins, craisins. Nothing from the pet stores as those usually have massive amounts of sugar in them, or corn & nuts (which can cause blockage in the digestive tract). I give treats because it is important for me to know the food items which they go crazy over. It helps a lot when I need to get them eating again, such as after a surgery.
* Changes to a rabbit’s diet must be done gradually to give the rabbit’s digestive tract sufficient time to adapt to the new diet