Rabbit Diet - Plants, Vegetables & Fruit
Fresh plants provide your rabbit with a range of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients as well as additional fibre. They also make your rabbit's diet more interesting by providing different flavours and textures, and give you plenty of scope for encouraging your rabbit to browse and forage in a more natural way.
Many different plants, vegetables, and herbs are suitable for rabbits. You can feed some daily, where as others, that are high in sugar or starch, should only be a rare treat.
Fruits & Vegetables
Many of the common fruits and vegetables humans eat are also safe for rabbits. The part of the plant a vegetable is from is a good guide to its nutritional balance and its place in your rabbit's diet.
|Bulbs||Onion, leek, garlic||Avoid feeding these types of vegetables as they are generally either toxic or contain high levels of starch.|
|Seeds||Peas, beans, lentil, pulses|
|Roots||Carrot, parsnip, turnip, swede, beetroot||These parts of plants store energy, so are high in sugars, and should make up a smaller portion of your rabbit's diet.|
|Fruits||Cucumber, sweet pepper, pumpkin, apple, squash, blackberries, strawberry, raspberry, pear, pineapple, tomato (not leaves)|
|Stalks||Celery, chard, broccoli||The green leafy parts of vegetables are best for rabbits to eat; these are low in calories and high in fibre.|
|Leaves||Cabbage, spinach, carrot leaves, cabbage/broccoli leaves, kale, blackberry/raspberry leaves, strawberry leaves, romaine lettuce (not iceburg), radish tops,|
|Flower Bud||Broccoli/cauliflower heads|
|Seeds||Although most of the seeds and grains humans eat are not poisonous to rabbits they are high-energy foods and not suitable for rabbits in large quantities. Remember rabbits are primarily leaf eaters not seed eaters.|
Keep in mind that some plants are toxic, and some plants are a mix - for example whilst tomatos are safe to eat, the leaves of the tomato plant are poisonous.
Feeding Vegetable Off Cuts
In addition to sharing the vegetables you eat, rabbits can also eat many of the parts of vegetable plants that humans discard because they are tough and fibrous - the same characteristics that make them good for rabbits. These include cauliflower leaves, broccoli stalks, and carrot leaves.
Supermarkets often strip vegetables of the leaves before sale so try visiting markets or farm shops to source your fresh food. Not all parts of vegetables plants are safe to eat though, for example, the leaves, and stems of tomato plants are poisonous.
Many of the plants that make up a wild rabbit's diet grow in gardens as 'weeds' and can make an excellent free addition to your rabbit's diet. Common 'weeds' that are safe for rabbits to eat include Plantain, Clover, Dandelion, Thistle, Chickweed, Nettle, Blackberry/Bramble leaves, and Shepherd's Purse; and there are many more.
A good reference book on plants is essential as some garden plants and weeds are toxic. You should only pick plants from areas that are free from traffic pollution and pesticides, and have not fouled by other animals.
If your garden is a weed free zone, you can buy or collect seeds and grow your rabbit's favourites in pots like any other plant. Just be careful to pick them before they set seed or your garden won't stay weed free for long!
If you don't have any outside space, then try growing them inside on a windowsill.
Herbs including: parsley, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, dill, and coriander make great healthy snacks or treats. You can grow most in pots to provide a cheap and regular supply.
When fresh foods are dried, the water content decreases and the nutrients, including sugars, become much more concentrated. That means that weight for weight dried fruit and vegetables contain more calories. Dried fruit in particular you should only feed as an occasional treat if at all.
As leaves are low in sugar to begin with you can feed them dried. Mixing dried leaves into hay is a good way to make it more tempting to fussy rabbits.
Quantity & Variety
Different types of plants contain different types and amounts of vitamins, minerals, so feeding a variety of different plants is the key to providing a complete range of nutrients. Where one plant is low or high in a particular nutrient, another will balance it out. Aim to feed several different plants each day and not necessarily the same types every day.
Introducing Fresh Foods
Rabbits do not tolerate sudden changes in their diet well. A sudden introduction of large quantities of fresh foods can unbalance their digestion and cause illness.
Instead, introduce new foods one at a time in small portions so it is easy to isolate a particular type if it upsets your rabbit's digestion. If your rabbit reacts badly to one type, try a different one or a smaller portion.
You need to be particularly careful in introducing fresh foods to young rabbits, as they are more sensitive, although it is not necessary to withhold fresh foods completely, as some older books recommend. Ideally, baby rabbits will have eaten fresh foods from when they first start on solids. If you get a new baby rabbit (over 8 weeks old) that has not previously eaten fresh foods then allow it a week or so to settle in to the new environment and routine before beginning to introduce small quantities of fresh foods as you would for an adult.
Rather than just putting fresh foods in a bowl, try to mimic some of the natural foraging a wild rabbit would do to find food. For example, you can hang up leaves, so your rabbit has to stretch up to get them, as a wild rabbit might have to stretch up to reach the tender shoots from trees and bushes. You can also hide food in, under, or on top of objects (such as flowerpots, boxes, or paper bags) so your rabbit has to sniff it out then work out how to obtain it. Even simply scattering the food around the enclosure will give your rabbit more enrichment than a tidy pile in a bowl.
By creating opportunities for your rabbit to browse and forage you provide exercise and mental stimulation, decreasing the likely hood of destructive behaviour such as chewing.