How to feed your pet rabbit

One of the most common problems that I encounter as a veterinarian that cares for rabbits is dental disease. Overgrown incisor and molar teeth in rabbits lead to painful ulcerations in the lips, cheeks and tongue of pet rabbits which can get infected and in severe cases eventually lead to euthanasia of the bunny. The condition ensues due to malocclusion(teeth not meeting together properly as they are in some way misaligned) in the rabbit's mouth. The teeth in rabbits continue to grow for life and it is the grinding against the other teeth and the roughage of the diet that allows wear enough to keep up with the growth so the teeth do not overgrow causing problems. The interesting fact is that congenital (existing at birth due to a developmental problem in utero) malocclusion  is extremely rare in rabbits (some mini lops have it but still rare). The other interesting fact is that dental disease is extremely rare also in laboratory rabbits. This is because dental disease in rabbits is primarily a result of poor diet and environment in rabbits kept as house pets. Poor diet can lead to metabolic bone disease (cue to calcium and Vitamin D deficiency) as well as low roughage which is necessary for normal tooth wearing as well as normal function of the large intestine which is a major vital organ in the rabbit. But fear not, because there is a cause known, this means that it can be prevented. So how should you feed your rabbit so as to prevent this serious, sad and difficult to manage disease? Here it goes:

(1) Most importantly provide ad lib (as much as they want and then some more) fibrous food - grass and hay. High quality sun dried timothy hay has an ideal amount of vitamin D and calcium content and should be provided in large amounts. This is the main staple in a rabbits diet. Sweet Meadow Farm ( locally is a good source of fresh hay and your lawn has grass - (you can grow a patch for your rabbits to graze in without chemicals, can't you?)

(2) The ideal calcium content in the diet is 0.5-1% - poor quality hay is often deficient and some cereal based diets can actually have too much which can cause other problems. Again, my best advice is to stick to high quality hay as above and stay with a reputable source of pelleted ration such as Oxbow ( which maintains these known calcium requirement standards in their diets.

(3) If possible, right from the start feed a variety of weeds and willd plants that are balanced sources of calcium and undigestible fiber such as dandelion greens, bramble and tree leaves. Wild rabbits, which by the way also dont get dental disease, eat plenty of these. Now if your rabbit is older and has never had these, introduce them slowly like 1 or 2 a day and as he gets used to them just add them to the hay.

(4) Feed at least 3 types of fruits and veggies per day one type being a fibrous veggie such as broccoli, cabbage, spring greens, cauliflower leaves. Keep this to no more than say 1 tablespoon a day.

(5) Feed a well balanced concentrated complete pelletted food ration (from Oxbow ideally or similar good trusted source) and not more than 1/4 cup per 5 lb of rabbit body weight per day. (This means if your bunny is 5 lbs he gets 1/4 cup, if less not even that - this is NOT their main food source HAY is). I would give this in the am and it should all be consumed in about 2 hours and that is it - hay for the rest of the day! If there is still pellets in the evneing, it is very likely that you are giving too much and you will end up with fat bunny with intestinal issues eventually.

(6)If at all possible allow exercise outdoors each day in a grassy area - this provides the opportunity to graze, chew up sticks and leaves, romp and use those bones and booties and also allows the bunny to bask in the sun and make some Vitamin D and thus prevent deficiency.

(7) Never feed your rabbit a mixed cereal ration - this is the surest way to give your rabbit pretty much every disease I learned in vet school and then some. Just DONT DO IT!!

The best thing about feeding your bunny this way and providing some outdoor play is that you will not only likely avoid dental issues but you will also avoid the other most common problem that brings sick bunnies to my practice and that is gut stasis, a painful tummy ache which will kill a bunny if not recognized and managed quickly and efficiently. Enjoy your bun bun! They have a lot of character and make perfect little companions. 

Blog Category: