How To Feed Your BunnyDec 24, 2010 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line A rabbit's digestive system is very different from our own. To prevent health issues and avoid expensive vet bills, you need to pay close attention to a bunny's diet.
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Rabbits are strong, sturdy little creatures that, with proper care, can live long healthy lives. However, their digestive systems are very different from our own. To prevent health issues and avoid frequent and expensive vet bills, you need to pay close attention to their diet.
Bunnies eat primarily green plants and hay. A bunny's digestive system uses bacteria to break down cellulose into a digestible form, so it is imperative that they maintain a proper balance between the good and bad bacteria. Without getting technical, it is a two pass system. Their food passes through their system the first time, and produces special rich, smelly and gooey pellets with the cellulose partially broken down. The bunny eats these pellets (yeuch!!) to complete their digestion. This raises two very important issues.
First, it is essential that a bunny's system keeps running. If a bunny stops eating for more than 24 hours, the amount of good bacteria becomes dangerously low, and there is a chance that their digestion will shut down completely. Once this happens, it takes expert care and a lot of luck to get things started again. Gastro Intestinal Stasis, as vets call it, is probably the leading cause of a bunny's early demise. If a bunny stops eating and stops passing pellets for more than a day, you must get immediate help from an experienced rabbit vet.
Secondly, under no account should bunnies be given human food. Most human food is way too high in protein and sugars, which may cause a surge in bad bacteria. This throws off the balance, and may cause them to stop eating, and so on.... Bunnies are charming, and if allowed to roam free, they will beg food from you like any other pet, especially bread, cake, chocolate and other sweet treats. These foods can kill your rabbits. Do not give them any, and be sure to clean up carefully if any food is spilled where they can get it.
A bunny's diet needs to be a balance of many foods. Also, like any other creature, the diet needs to be varied. You would not want to eat the same thing every meal, and neither does your rabbit. The diet should consist of four parts: hay, greens, pellets and treats.
Hay is the most important part of a bunny's diet. Depending on which source you read, hay should make up 50-90% of a bunny's daily food intake. With the possible exception of alfalfa hay, hay is the only bunny food that you do not need to ration. Simply make sure that the bunny always has a plentiful supply of good quality hay available. The hay sold in most pet stores is of questionable quality, and is probably contains too much alfalfa for a mature rabbit. I strongly recommend Oxbow hay, which is freely available by mail order or over the Internet. It costs a little more, but it can save thousands of dollars in vet bills, and a whole world of heartbreak. And no, I do not work for Oxbow or own stock in the company. I simply use them because I think they are the best.
There are several hays available, and how the different hays will be received varies from bunny to bunny.
This is most bunnies' favorite hay. However, it is very high in protein. While it is perfect food for baby and adolescent bunnies, it is too much hay for a mature rabbit. Feed them all you want when they are young, but once the bunny is a year old, limit the alfalfa to being a treat food, with no more than a small handful a day. Alfalfa hay is also useful to tempt a sick bunny into eating again, and to build up weight on an ailing bunny
Timothy Hay and Botanical Hay
Botanical hay is timothy, with a few herbs added. These two hays are pretty much exchangeable; just swap them around to provide some variety. These hays have been a big hit with all my bunnies.
This is excellent hay. It has not been as universally popular as the timothy, but some bunnies love it, and most will eat it in moderation.
Bunny Brome and Orchard Grass
Some bunnies eat these hays, but many don't. My current bunny, Blue, regards them as bedding, and very rarely eats them. Still, as bedding they make a warm and cozy nest.
Meadow hay exists and is bunny safe, but I have never tried any, so I cannot comment on its reception.
Greens should be the major food after hay. A five pound bunny needs 4-8 large handfuls of greens per day. Always buy small amounts fresh greens, buying only enough greens for a day or two. That way, when the bunny turns his nose up at something, you do not end up with a lot of waste.
During summer months, farm stands and farmers markets are excellent sources of tasty local greens. These greens are very rarely rejected. Supermarket greens have to be used during the winter months, but expect your long-eared gourmet to be very picky. These greens have traveled and/or been stored for a long time, and your bunny is a far better judge of their quality and freshness than you are.
No matter what the source, make sure you wash the greens thoroughly in cold fresh water. Always double check for elastic bands in bunched greens. Often, when making bunches of parsley, cilantro or kale, a band breaks and another band is added, leaving the old band intertwined amongst the greens. Most humans are smart enough not to eat elastic bands, but most bunnies are not. A single elastic band can kill a bunny if ingested.
Radish Leaves (but not radishes)
Carrot Greens (but not carrots)
Cabbage (especially the green outer leaves)
These greens are available most of the time at reasonable prices, and provide a good balanced diet for your rabbit. Basil is good during the summer, but gets a bit expensive off season. Most rabbits love the outer green leaves from a cabbage. Many people tear off these leaves at the store. Usually, the store will give these leaves away for free if you ask. Some rabbits will eat the white inner leaves from a cabbage, and some will even gnaw the hard stem with gusto.
Radish greens are loved by most rabbits, and are often recommended for tempting a sick bunny into eating. The radishes themselves are never fed to rabbits. Carrot greens are another food beloved by bunnies, and are often the first food a sick bunny will eat. Around here, you can often find torn off carrot greens in the store, and get them for free. Carrots can be fed to rabbits, but they are high in sugar and need to be rationed. See treat foods below.
Lettuces other than romaine have less nutrition, so are more of a filler than a food. However, they make a nice addition to the diet, especially if the bunny is a little overweight. Iceberg lettuce does not harm rabbits, but has no nutritional value at all.
Every bunny loves kale. However, kale is high in oxalic acid which is a problem in large quantities. By all means feed them some, but limit it to one small bunch a month.
Every bunny loves dandelion greens, but they are very high in calcium. While this is not as potentially harmful as the oxalic acid in kale, it still needs to be watched. It is probably best to limit dandelions to once a month too.
All bunnies will eat broccoli leaves, many will eat the florets, and some will even crunch up the stems. Some bunnies get gassy from eating broccoli. Keep a close eye on them, and if it appears to be a problem, drop it from their diet. Brussels sprouts too can cause gas too, so use them with caution.
A small garden can supply a large part of a bunnies greens from mid spring until late fall, depending on where you live. Here in New Jersey I can grow lettuce of some variety, celery, and carrots for the whole season. My radishes, spring lettuce (leaf lettuces like romaine and head lettuces like buttercrunch) and dill start producing from about mid-April through to the end of May. These are replaced by basil for the hot summer months, and, after the spring lettuce bolts, it is replaced by a head lettuce like bib. In late August/early September, there is time for a second radish and dill harvest and the spring lettuces become viable again. Even today, November 27, well after the first frost date on October 15, I still have carrots, celery and a few leaf lettuces growing. Fall is also a good time for cabbage and kale, if you can keep the caterpillars away.
Since bunnies have small bodies and eat huge amounts of greens, it is essential that food grown for them uses only organic fertilizers and totally avoids the use of pesticides. After offering your pet rabbit a fresh bunch of garden grown food, it is a good idea to count your fingers.
Surprisingly, pellets should be a minor part of a rabbit's diet, comprising of about 5 percent of the daily food intake. They are mostly provided to make sure the diet contains various trace food elements. Unsurprisingly, the pellets that you get at the pet store are mostly full of junk, perhaps being better suited to guinea pigs and hamsters than rabbits, but probably they are not particularly good for anything. Once again, I recommend Oxbow. They sell two brands of pellets, Bunny Basics, and Bunny Basics/T. The Bunny Basics pellets contain alfalfa and are for young bunnies up to a year old. The Bunny Basics/T pellets contain timothy, and are for mature bunnies. Feed the bunny enough pellets to cover the bottom of a 3 inch ceramic bowl every day.
If the bunny is a pellet hog (as some newly adopted rabbits who have only been fed pellets will be), then double the daily allowance, but no more. The bunny needs to learn to eat hay and greens.
Changing pellets can be traumatic for a bunny, even if you are only changing to a new bag of the same kind of pellet. Some bunnies will happily chomp on any pellets you give them, but some will go on hunger strike and refuse to eat the new pellets. My current bunny, Blue, is particularly picky in this regard. To avoid problems, you must slowly phase-in a new bag of pellets.
The time to change to a new bag of pellets is when the old bag is still one quarter full. Open the new bag and start mixing some in with the old pellets. Continue this process mixing in more new pellets each day until the mix is about 50/50. Then, when the old bag is almost empty, slowly phase the old pellets out. This process gives the bunny a chance to develop a taste for the new pellets.
What is life without ice-cream and chocolate? Well, bunnies cannot eat ice-cream and chocolate, but there are treats that they can eat.
Rolled oats are the favorite food treat of all bunnies. They go crazy for them. However, the oats are far too high in nutrients. Give your bunny a large pinch in their pellets every day. The bunny will talk you into a couple more pinches for sure, but keep it in reason, okay. Too much can lead to fat bunnies and wet stool.
Most bunnies love carrots, but they are too high in sugar. Limit their intake to one finger sized piece of carrot per day.
Bunnies love apples, pears and bananas. They can have one piece of one of these fruits per day. The piece should be no bigger than the top of your thumb. If the bunny starts having wet stool, stop the fruit immediately. Also, remember that apple seed is slightly poisonous. Keep the seeds away from the bunny.
Bunnies love grapes, but grapes are bad for bunnies. Never give them grapes.
One cannot talk about bunny nutrition without talking about water. It is essential that the bunny have a constant supply of fresh clean water. If you use a water bottle, it needs to be rinsed out and refilled about every three days. If you use a water bowl, it needs to be cleaned out and refilled at least once a day. Refill them both immediately if empty.
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