This is what we feed our rabbits.
The diet of a wild rabbit is very simple (grass, and lots of it) but when domesticated it can get quite nuanced, not helped by much of the “rabbit food” sold commercially being bad for their health.
Over the years we’ve researched a lot and got some good advice and now we have happy, healthy rabbits.
You can get everything you need from a decent pet shop, but bear in mind that a rabbit’s diet is pretty much the same as a horse, so try and find somewhere that sells hay in horse-sized quantities. You will save a lot of money!
Rabbits should always have an endless supply of fresh, dry hay. This must never run out. It stimulates their digestive system properly and grinds their teeth as they eat. A rabbit with a bale of hay and a supply of water is a happy rabbit.
We use IKEA’s Variera plastic bag dispensers as hay hoppers (You can get them from eBay resellers for £5-ish if you can’t get to IKEA), in front of a litter tray so they can poop as they eat. In the summer this is outside in their secure run under a shelter. In the winter it’s in the shed. For three rabbits we get through two loosely packed hoppers a day.
Small packs of hay can be expensive and of shockingly low quality so try and buy large bales as fresh from the farm as possible. We were getting decent quality half-bales for £17 from the pet shop until we discovered Hungry Horse, a horse feed shop which sells full bales from their own field for £5.50. A full bale lasts us about a month and the rabbits love it.
Along with hay, this is an essential that must never run out. We used to use bottles but Bunminster in particular doesn’t like them, so we switched to a water tower refreshed once a day and it’s great.
A big issue with outdoor rabbits is keeping their water unfrozen in the winter. This water tower doesn’t fit in the heated section of their hutch so we put a small bowl of water in there on frosty nights.
Grass is the purest of rabbit food. Unfortunately you need a whole meadow to satisfy a pack of rabbits, which is why we buy dry hay, but any grass is better than no grass.
Our lawnmower is a sad, lonely thing, covered in cobwebs. The rabbits mow the lawn these days. Sometimes they eat it too hard and we have to pen off an area to recover, but we like to let them graze for at least half an hour. In the summer we move the home office into the garden so they can out on it all day!
If you do mow your lawn do not feed them the cuttings. The heat from the spinning blades cutting the grass starts a fermentation process which is aparently bad for rabbits. Or so we read once. We’ve never risked it.
A good trick is to cut long grass from the local nature reserve to bring home, though make sure you rinse all the dog wee off first!
Be wary of pesticides and lawn treatments. If you must use them, check if “pet friendly” includes rabbits and consider keeping them off the lawn for a few weeks. If you’re gathering grass from parks and such, find areas that don’t use chemicals. (Our local park has wildflower areas away from the sports pitches, for example.)
Rabbits should be supervised when outside of their secure area. It only takes a few minutes for a fox or dog to jump a fence. We’ve never had trouble with cats, as our buns are quite large and suburban cats are idiots, but countyside cats probably aren’t. A human sitting near the rabbits will keep them safe.
This is cut grass that has been carefully dehydrated leaving the nutrients intact. It’s a great substitute when your buns have mown the lawn down to the last blade and it’s not grass-growing season. If you buy the packs with a rabbit on the front it’s £5 for a kilogram, which is crazy expensive, but if you buy it with a horse on the front it’s £15 for 15kg (at least it is from our supplier - Hungry Horse). That’s a fifth of the price and makes it much less of a luxury food! We give our dudes a few handfuls a day during the winter, less if they have access to fresh grass.
Pellets are a supplement, ensuring your buns get the vitamins and minerals they need. Many people give their rabbits a good portion of pellets a day, say a palm-full. Our vet says rabbits don’t need them as long as they’re getting everything else on this page. We like to use them as bribes to get the dudes to come in from the garden and rewards for being handled. A shake of the pellet box works wonders now!
Do not confuse this with the cereal mixes (see below) which are evil.
We like Selective which is widely available and often on offer at the pet store. Just make sure you keep it on a high shelf as they will get into it!
Once a day we give the dudes a bowl of fresh greens. Usually this is kale which is fairly cheap from the supermarket, mixed in with any suitable scraps from our own dinner. Carrot peelings, cabbage, etc. They can eat most of anything a human can eat, but you should be careful not to give them some things in excess. Mostly this is greens that are high in oxalic acid. Kale is low which is why we default to it. Cabbage can be high so only a leaf or two of that.
The House Rabbit Society page on Suggested Vegetables and Fruits is a good, reasonable guide.
According to rabbit.org there should be 10% of fruit in their fresh (ie, non-hay) diet. We don’t do this religiously but we do use fruit as a treat, usually when we’re eating a banana or apple ourselves. They go crazy for this and will smell fruit from the other end of the garden as soon as it’s opened. Great for having otherwise shy rabbits climb over you! Banana chips are a good alternative to fresh fruit as they keep for ages but make sure they don’t have sugar added.
Rabbits love eating certain varieties of tree bark, particularly from fruit trees. Here’s a good list of safe trees. During pruning season we put a call out to friends offering to take their branches away.
Be aware that they don’t just grind their teeth on the bark, they actually eat it, so it should be treated like any other food - gradually introduced as part of a balanced diet. When we get a new batch we start them with a twig or two and build up to a 50cm or so branch per day.
Cereal / Muesli mix
This is often sold in shops as “rabbit food” but it should be avoided at all costs. If it’s their main food source it will make them fat, lazy and unwell. If it’s a supplement it won’t add anything useful. Just say no.
Rabbits are curious explorers and always hungry so will eat pretty much anything, even if they shouldn’t really. When your rabbits are outside you need to keep an eye on what they’re nibbling!
We have a rabbit-safe section of the garden which is mostly lawn, and Fiona’s section of the garden which has beds and plants she likes to keep alive. The rabbits are allowed in the latter in the winter under supervision to help with pruning but are chased off the bad plants.
We’ve ensured Fiona’s garden is mostly free of the Big Bads. In a normal garden this might include Bluebells, Broken Fern, Burdock, Buttercups, Clover, Daffodils, Dahlia, Delphiniums, Fireweed, Foxglove, Honeysuckle, Iris, Ivy, Lilies, Laurel, Poppies, Primrose, Snowdrops, Sweet Clover or Tulips. (Here’s a handy PDF guide) But it’s easier to just keep the buns away from them.
We find that given the choice they’ll test the bad stuff but default to healthy - after a few minutes being chased off the beds they’ll be happily devouring the lawn. The main risk is when poisonous plants are presented as food by people who don’t know better.
They are many ways to feed a rabbit and while this works for us you may find a variation works better for you. Some rabbits have special dietary needs. The best person to ask for advice is your vet or, if you adopted, the rescue centre.
But, in the words of our first vet, the golden rule for feeding rabbits is hay and grass, topped up with grass and hay. Plus plenty of water. You can’t go wrong with that.