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Rabbit General Health , Behaviour & Bunny Bonding
Wild rabbits not only eat a healthy diet of fresh grass, but they also have access to a wide variety of wild plants which they can eat to balance out their diet and keep themselves healthy. When we keep rabbits in captivity we remove them from both their natural diet and the herbs they would naturally eat if they were feeling sick and need to self medicate. Providing rabbits with a range of herbs and greens that they can choose to eat, or refuse, gives them the opportunity to balance their own diet according to their natural instincts. Rabbit are ideal patient for herbal medicines because they are herbivores and eat their herbal medicine treats with enthusiasm!
One of the most important daily chore in your quest for raising rabbits is observation. Daily observation can easily detect illness or disease in your rabbits that can be found early and contained before all of the rabbits are affected. While you do your daily chores, simply stop, look, and listen. Stand quietly or listen carefully while you do your chores. You’re listening for sneezing, coughing, or labored breathing. A few sneezes here and there are common and normal. A rabbit that sneezes repeatedly needs closer attention. Look closely at the face and ears of your rabbits. Ears should be clean and free of mites. Mites will cause the ears to fill with yellowish nasty crust. It is very simple to treat but only if you know notice it. Noses and eyes should be clear and free of discharge. It only takes a few minutes longer doing your chores to check your rabbits daily for illness. This will also save you lots of time treating when prevention or cure is simple. The number one to keep you rabbits healthy is observation
I believe that most of the health problems rabbits have are brought on by an imbalance in their immune systems that allows the bacterial and parasitic disease to get a hold in the rabbits system. The best herb I believe for balancing the rabbits immune system is Echinacea it can be grown in any backyard and is available in most health food stores.
There are some preventive measures that will help you in your quest of raising rabbits, these will save you from many troubles. sanitation Keep cages clean, wire brush any dropping that get stuck and clean cages thoroughly between litters. Clean cages mean clean rabbits! I have never seen a rabbit die from good sanitation practices. Ventilation- air should be moving to keep fresh air to your rabbits if it smells to you it smells worse to the rabbits. Apple Cider Vinegar- Use as an additive to their daily water giving it continuously or in 3 month cycles (3on, 3off, 3on,etc.). Dosage: Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of ACV to a gallon of water. I have an earlier post in the January archives with lots of good information on Apple Cider Vinegar For Rabbits check it out. Grapefruit Seed Extract- 5 to 10 drops GSE to 1 gallon water 2 times a year for 2 weeks as a preventive wormer (I also use this when I get a new rabbit while the rabbit is in quarantine “just in case”). Echinacea- I use a few of the stems and leaves on top of their daily food as a preventive immune system booster. There are more but these are the best preventive measures I have found and use.
I know that pure breeds are more prone to suffer illness than the crossed breeds. This is mainly because of breeders trying to perfect a breed, in most cases the breeders do not take into consideration health risks, and inbreeding, to achieve the perfect rabbit.
Here are a few herbs and what they are recommended for. These are listed in order by herb name. Natural remedies work great for small ailments. I have seen the effects for treating GI problems, Nest box eye, Diarrhea, ear mites, etc. with natural means work. You should ALWAYS be feeding lots of good grass hay, tonic weeds like plantain and dandelion, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry leaves, willow twigs and leaves if they are available. These things will contribute to your rabbits’ good health, but they are not cure-alls. Just a reminder that seeds purchased for planting are not safe for rabbits. Most of them have been treated with fungicides etc. Stick to seeds purchased as feed or ones you have harvested yourself.
BIRCH – Chewing, pain relief, anti-inflammatory, diuretic.
BLACK OIL SUNFLOWER SEEDS – Coat Condition
BLACKBERRY – Used for pregnant does, summer cooling, stimulate appetite, diarrhea and safe introductory green for young kits use leaves and fruit,this is a very soothing to rabbits and can help cool rabbits in the summer heat by increasing circulation, awsome addition for pregnant does in the hot summer
BLUE COHOSH- Works in the same ways as Shepard’s Purse. It can be used if doe has a hard time birthing or kit gets stuck. It will dilate the birth canal. Do not give while pregnant, wait until doe is due. It will induce labor. Also it will help in healing once kits are born.
BORAGE – Laxative, Increases milk flow of nursing does, helps with fevers, reduces stress, A great treat after a doe gives birth,plus you can check her litter while she is busy eating her treat
CHAMOMILE – Pain relief, calm nervous rabbit, one of the best eye wash for weepy eye Chamomile tea and honey!!!!! Just make a cup of tea, a little stronger than you would drink it and add a teaspoon of honey. I use an old syringe w/o the needle to squirt into the eye. You can also use as a compress and as a wipe for the eye. It will work wonders. Both chamomile and honey are anti-everything! microbial, fungal, and with antibiotic properties. Let the rabbit eat some before you treat for eye problems because of its pain relief and calming effects will make the rabbit easier to handle
CHICKWEED – Anti-inflammatory, healing of cuts, molt
CLEAVERS – Healing of cuts, laxative
COLTSFOOT – Respiratory expectorant
COMFREY – Healing, bone formation, ill rabbits, stressed and weak rabbits, if you have a rabbit off feed try a few leaves of comfrey this is one of my favorite herb tonic for rabbits! You can cut it down and dry it like hay to store for winter use (can be cut down up to three times here in Maine) They also love the freshly harvested leaves(I have never wilted it) . The plant has a calming effect on rabbits Comfrey is a good source of vitamin A and good for pregnant and nursing does. It is a digestive aid, helps with wool block and is used for many other things. It supports the immune system, good for the stomach, feed as a general tonic. In extreme doses, comfrey can cause diarrhea. This is its effects working too hard and if left unnoticed, the rabbit may dehydrate. When used with common sense, Comfrey is one of the best herbs for rabbits.
DANDELION – Blood purifying, respiratory ailments, anti-inflammatory, bladder infections, diarrhea, milk flow of nursing does, good treat for does after having a litter. Some rabbit respiratory problems, such as pasteurellosis, can eventually cause serious problems including head tilt, loss of balance and death. There have been tests on rabbits that were treated with dandelion’s showing that it is effective against pneumonia, bronchitis and upper respiratory infections. Use fresh leaves, flowers and dig up root, the root can be dried to make a weak tea to add to the rabbits water. Well known for its curative powers. The bitter milky sap stimulates the working of all glands, including the milk glands of lactating does. The plant has both laxative and astringent qualities and regulates constipation and diarrhea.
ECHINACEA -Immune system stimulant and broad spectrum antibiotic. In the lower doses it’s the stimulant and in higher doses acts as an antibiotic. Anti-inflammatory with anti-viral properties. It can be grown in nearly every backyard and easily available at most health food stores. Echinacea is a great preventive herb to use for your rabbits. I feed a few leaves every now a then to my rabbits daily greens mix to boost the immune system and fight infection. Research has shown that echinacea increases production of interferon in the body. It is antiseptic and antimicrobial, with properties that act to increase the number of white blood cells available to destroy bacteria and slow the spread of infection. It is also a great herb to dry and add to your winter hay blend! You can also get the capsules at heath food stores add 4 capsules of the echinacea to one gallon of water and boil and cool store in fridge and add 1/4 herb water to 3/4 water and fill water bottles, crocks, ect,
ELDER FLOWER – Respiratory expectorant, fevers
EUCALYPTUS – Dried and powdered, and sprinkled repel fleas
EYEBRIGHT – Weepy eye wash
FENNEL – Bloating, gas, milk flow of nursing does
GARLIC – Immunize against disease, antiseptic, antibiotic, bloating and gas, wormer, respiratory expectorant. This stuff works it is just hard to get a rabbit to eat it!
GINGER – Infertility in bucks
GOATS RUE – Milk flow in nursing does
GOLDEN ROD – Anti-inflammatory
GRAPEFRUIT SEED EXTRACT- As for worming rabbits, grapefruit seed extract does the job well and is all natural. 10 drops in a gallon of water for 2 weeks..or longer if there is a known bad problem. This also helps to worm them and along with raw pumpkin seeds this mix should clean out your rabbits. I regularly run grapefruit seed extract through their water at least 2 times a year with a few raw pumpkin seeds on top of their food and have never had a problem with coccidiosis. I also use it when I bring in new stock this has many uses as a bactericide, fungicide, anti viral, anti parasitic
LAMBS QUARTERS- Another good wormer for rabbits I only feed lamb’s quarters only when it is young rabbits will reject it as it gets older. In spring it is very useful because it starts early when greens are a bit limited
LAVENDER – Circulation problems, nervous stress, exhaustion, induces labor. To bring on labour or expel placental material etc. in problem kindling’s. Use with caution. sparingly. in extreme cases only. The flowers are actually a mild tranquilizer, acting upon the heart in easing blood pressure rather than acting upon the brain as an anti-stimulant. Great for stressed out rabbits.
LEMON BALM – Anti-bacterial, antiviral, bloating and gas, diarrhea, reduce stress
LICORICE – Good for gastric inflammation and coughs.
LINSEED – Laxative, helps with molting
MARIGOLD – Bruises, slowly healing wounds, ulcers, skin diseases, digestive problems
MARJORIM – Coughs, inflammation of mouth, throat. Digestive problems, uterine discomfort, calm nerves
MEADOWSWEET – Weepy eye wash
MILK THISLTE – Helps take ammonia from the blood and protects both the liver and the kidneys, increases milk flow in nursing does
MINT – Firms loose stools, decreases the milk flow of does during weaning, Good herb for treating mastitis. Safe as food for dry does and bucks DO NOT FEED to lactitating does. Used for colds, eye inflammation, liver stimulant, and used to relax the muscles of the digestive tract and stimulate bile flow so mint is useful for indigestion, gas and colic. Avoid prolonged use, it can irritate the mucous membranes. Do not give any form of mint to young babies. Should be harvested just before flowering.
MOTHER WART – Weepy eye wash
NASTURTIUM – Strongly antiseptic.
NETTLES – Increases milk flow in nursing does
OATS – Feed sparingly in summer though. Good for digestive problems, diarrhea, kidney and bladder problems. Small kits may not be able to swallow oats and may actually choke on them.
PARSLEY – Enriches the blood, urinary problems. Roots are used for constipation and obstruction of the intestines. Good for the cure of inflammation of bladder & kidneys, digestive disorders, fertility in bucks, productivity in does
PAPAYA- When I used to raise angoras (Still have some fiber males) I would give them a papaya enzyme tablet every couple of days to help keep them from getting wool block. We always have had healthy rabbits. The enzyme helps to break down the hair in the gut, and keep things moving. I have also given them to the meat rabbits. The rabbits love them, You can get the tablets at most health food stores.
PINEAPPLE- Bromelain, the actual enzyme in the pineapple, is most abundant in the stem of the pineapple, the center part that we throw away. Fresh pineapple are best as the enzyme will be removed once frozen or processed. Bromelain is good for diarrhoea. It will reduce intestinal fluid secretion and is suggested that bromelain has mucolytic and digestive properties. So it’ll dilate the mucus coating of the GI tract as well as helping to breakdown proteins good for gut mobility and helping with hairballs good to give to rabbits during a molt
PLANTAIN – antimicrobial, antispasmodic, healing of cuts, respiratory expectorant, fevers. Great as a safe introduction of young kits to greens, works great for diarrhea. This is something I feed in my daily green feed mix. Leaves soothe urinary tract infections and irritations. Good for gastric inflammations. Juice pressed from fresh leaves is given orally for inflamed mucous membranes in cystitis, diarrhea and lung infections. Use the juice for inflammations, sores, and wounds. Plantain does not cause digestive problems. The plant regulates the function of the intestines and is generally good for the mucous membranes. Useful in the diet of weanling’s and can be harvested and dried for year round use.
PURSLANE- Purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant know of. There was a study where they fed Purslane to rabbits with high cholesterol and it lowered it.
RASPBERRY – Prevention and treatment of kindling problems like retained afterbirth. Improves condition during pregnancy, ensuring speedy and strong birth. Feed during the last two weeks of pregnancy as a great preventive prenatal supplement. Also wonderful cure for digestive ailments including diarrhea, infertility in bucks, fevers. and a safe introductory green for young kits
RED CLOVER – weepy eye
ROSEMARY – Lowers blood pressure, Ideal for exhaustion, weakness, and depression in rabbits. The stems and leaves invigorate the circulation, stimulate the digestion, and are good for cold conditions. Harvest fresh dry or grow inside for year-round use.
SAGE – dried and powdered, and sprinkled repel fleas, dry up does who’s kits have been weaned. Reduces lactation when weaning, digestive stimulant and a uterine stimulant. This herb should be used with caution and should be avoided during pregnancy.
SASSAFRASS – dried and powdered, and sprinkled repel fleas
SCOTCH PINE – bronchitis, sinusitis, neuralgia, rheumatism.
SHEPHERDS PURSE – Uterine disorders, A strong medicine for diarrhea. Use sparingly.
SORREL – Very cooling and soothing, it is a much cherished treat in the summer.
STRAWBERRY – Whole plant is antiseptic and cooling. Leaves are rich in iron and are supposed to prevent miscarriage. Externally used for inflamed areas, rashes and sore eyes.
THYME – Good for diarrhea The stems and leaves are ideal for a useful as a digestive remedy, warming for stomach ache, chills and associated diarrhea. Expels worms. Harvest before and during flowering in summer discard the woody stems
WILLOW – Intestinal inflammation. Willow twigs and leaves. Useful winter food, easily gathered and stored. Also a pain-reliever and possible natural coccidiostat.
Myxomatosis is caused by a virus spread by fleas, mites and biting flies such as mosquitoes. In some circumstances it can also spread by direct contact between infected rabbits too. The first signs of infection are usually puffy swellings around the head and face. Within a day or so, these swellings can become so severe that they can cause blindness. ‘Sleepy eyes’ are another classic sign, along with swelling around the mouth and ears, which then spreads around the anus and genitals. A high fever occurs and eating and drinking becomes progressively more difficult. Death usually follows within around twelve days. Recovery from this disease is rare and euthanasia is often necessary to prevent suffering. Occasionally a longer and more protracted disease course occurs with multiple skin modules. All types of rabbits can be affected, including house rabbits.
Rabbit Haemorrhage Disease (RHD), also known as Viral Haemorrhage Disease (VHD)is a very serious condition which causes a high fever, internal bleeding and liver disease. It is usually rapidly fatal and is spread by direct contact between rabbits (both wild and domesticated) and indirect contact, such as via insect transport or people, clothing, shoes and other objects. Regular flea and fly control measures and avoiding pet rabbits coming into contact with areas wild rabbits have been, can help to lower the risk of infection.
Both diseases are widespread and endemic in wild rabbits in the UK. Although myxomatosis is the most widely recognised in pet rabbits, cases of RHD are also reported sporadically in domestic rabbits. The devastating nature of these diseases means that vaccination against both diseases is recommended to protect pet rabbits. Although separate vaccines were needed in the past, dual protection against both diseases is now available from a single convenient annual vaccine. Ask your vet for further details.
Flystrike he symptoms, treatment and prevention of fly strike in rabbitsFly strike (Myiasis) is predominantly caused by the green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata) and related fly species which lay eggs on living rabbits. The green bottle flies are attracted to damp fur, urine, faeces or the odour of rabbit scent glands.
Fly strike (Myiasis) is predominantly caused by the green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata) and related fly species which lay eggs on living rabbits. The green bottle flies are attracted to damp fur, urine, faeces or the odour of rabbit scent glands. They lay their eggs on or around the rabbit's rear end where they hatch within hours into maggots that eat into the rabbit's flesh, eating it alive and releasing toxins in the process. Fly strike in domestic rabbits is a common problem throughout the summer months.
Flies will strike any healthy animal, but generally those that have a wet and dirty groin area are most at risk. Any rabbit which is unable to clean itself properly may become infected, typically this includes obese rabbits, females with large dewlaps, or skin folds around their abdomen, rabbits with urinary problems, elderly or arthritic rabbits, long-coated breeds, and rabbits with teeth problems who are unable to groom themselves. Wounds also provide a perfect place for the fly to lay its eggs, as the odour and moisture from the flesh attracts them.
If you find maggots on or around your rabbit’s anus immediate veterinary attention is required and the situation should be treated as an emergency. If possible, ring ahead, so that the vet can be prepared for your arrival and treat your rabbit immediately as your rabbit will probably be in pain and shock and will require careful nursing if it is to survive.
If you cannot get to a vet immediately, then pick off as many of the external maggots as you can, using a pair of tweezers. The maggots which have burrowed into the flesh can be encouraged to the surface of the skin, by heat such as a warm, damp towel. Ideally you should avoid wetting the rabbit’s coat, as damp fur will clog the clippers that vets use to shave the infected areas, however, dipping your rabbits rear into water can help to get rid of some maggots providing the area is dried afterwards.
The preferred method of treatment for fly strike is to remove the maggots using tweezers and shave off any damp or dirty fur. This should be carried out by your veterinarian as the rabbits skin is very thin and tears easily. Your vet will not only have skilled and experienced staff on hand but they will also be able to administer sedation or an anaesthetic to make the process easier, which in turn will ensure that your rabbit does not experience discomfort. Rabbits that have fly strike will also often need antibiotics to prevent infection. Anti-inflammatory and pain killing drugs are sometimes also administered.
Fly strike is a distressing and potentially fatal condition which can be prevented by a few simple measures. Unfortunately we cannot eliminate flies from the rabbit’s environment and therefore we should keep a watch full eye over the rabbit, especially during the summer months.
Remove all soiled bedding daily
Ensure that your rabbit is not being overfed, as this can result in diarrhoea, leading to a dirty groin
Feed greens and fruit in moderation, as some rabbits cannot tolerate an over-abundance of green food, again leading to diarrhoea and a dirty anus . For the same reason, take care when putting your rabbit out on the lawn in the summer, not to allow too much access to fresh grass
Check your rabbit twice daily to ensure that it is clean and dry. This includes house rabbits, who can also be at risk
Disinfect hutches every week.
Keep the rabbit dry and use a cleanser to remove faeces
Keep the hair around the anus very short by trimming with scissors or clippers.
Ridding the environment of flies, by means of chemical insecticides may damage the environment, animals, and people along with the flies. Fly traps catch many flies but not all. Repellents may work temporarily, but one must remember to use them repeatedly. Screens on doors and windows reduce the number of flies that get into the house, but some slip through.
Nylon netting can be used to cover outdoor hutches and runs, to prevent flies entering your rabbit’s environment. It can also be used to create inner fly doors in sheds. But do take care not to trap any flies inside when hanging it.
A number of plants can be used to repel insects and flies. Some may be planted in pots to sit on top of outdoor hutches or near runs, whilst others may be dried and hung in the home, or the rabbit shed. Just make sure that all these plants are out of reach of your rabbit.
rabbit not eating or pooping - Gi Statsis
this is why i make sure i actually see that all rabbits are eating and they have a constant supply of hay.
GI Stasis, technical term ileus, is a silent killer.If left untreated the complete intestinal tract will cease to operate and perform its movement function, resulting in a painful death for the rabbit.
This can happen in as little as 12 hours.
GI Stasis is the condition of food matter not moving through the gut as normal or not moving as quickly as normal.
The gut contents compact into a hard immobile mass blocking the digestive tract.
Food matter in an immobile gut may also ferment causing a gas build up and resultant pain for the rabbit.
An intestinal slowdown can cause ingested food matter or hair to lodge in the intestinal tract causing the blockage.
In addition, if the cecum/caecum is not emptying quickly enough, harmful bacteria will override the cecum's natural defence system emitting gas and causing the rabbit terrible pain.
Bacteria can produce deadly toxins damaging the liver thereby being a side effect of this serious condition.
GI Stasis (ileus) is not an illness but a symptom of another underlying problem and it will become an emergency extremely quickly and if left untreated, will be fatal.
The symptoms are no fecal pellets/droppings or very few compared to the amount your rabbit usually produces. They may also be unusally very small.
The rabbit becomes lethargic and has no appetite , becomes disinterested or may hunch up in a ball as if cold. You may also hear them loudly crunching their teeth, which is a sign of pain.
There might be sounds in the belly that sound different to what you are use to? unusually loud? or indeed deadly silent ?
It could be that you simply notice the difference in your rabbit's behaviour, that the rabbit just does not look right.
You know your rabbit's behaviour pattern and nature better than anyone and any difference is very obvious. If no feces/droppings are being produced by your rabbit, you should consider GI Stasis and immediately take your rabbit to the vets.
It is often believed that the rabbit stops eating and consequently produces no droppings.
A more accurate diagnose would be that the rabbit stops passing feces/droppings first and thereby loses their appetite and stops eating.
A rabbit's intestinal tract can become static for several different reasons such as stress, dehydration, pain form an underlining disorder or illness, dental problem, wind, infection, intestinal blockage or insufficient fibre in the diet. Lack of fibre is a common cause.
At the bottom of this page we have given a checklist on how to try and avoid this condition.
The stomach and intestine of a rabbit are never empty. The rabbit may eat normal amounts of food up to the GI tract shutting down and therefore the stomach may contain a large bolus of food when GI stasis occurs.
A mass that is misidentified as a hairball in a rabbit usually composes of food held together by hair and mucus. Such a bolus or ball of mass chewed food matter is unable to pass out of the stomach but can be broken down slowly. Do not try and treat GI Stasis yourself. An immediate visit to a vet familiar with rabbits is essential.
If the vet diagnoses GI Stasis, then they will try to determine the cause of the slowdown.
If there is an underlying condition, it is imperative to address it.
The vet may then decide that the best course of treatment is to stimulate motility in the gut, and may advise one or more of the following:
Motility drugs (like cisapride or metoclopramide) which will help to stimulate movement in the digestive system.
Administer fluids and rehydration techniques which help to soften the mass in the intestines.
Administer enzymatic digestive aids in order to lossen and soften an impacted mass.
Pain medication to alleviate discomfort due to gas build up.
Syringe feeding to ensure the rabbit continues to get essential nutrients.
If the rabbit shows signs of a bacterial infection then antibiotics might be used to combat the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. The vet might only use antibiotics if it is felt absolutely necessary. For the treatment and aftercare of your rabbit, work with your vet.
With these treatments it may take time and patience for a rabbit to make a full recovery.
To correct this condition involves patience in allowing the treatments to work. It may take several days before any fecal pellets are seen.
The first few pellets may be small, hard misshapen, perhaps covered in mucus.
Avoid stress for the rabbit. Recovery can be very slow.
It might be helpful to mention that sometimes GI Stasis is misdiagnosed as hairballs by a vet. Use your own commonsense in the matter. The hairball is more likely a result of GI Stasis, not the cause.
It is also advisable to remember that, unlike cats, rabbits do not have the ability to vomit.
Bloat is an extreme form of G stasis
Here is a checklist to try and avoid this condition;
1.Plenty of fibre in diet, are you giving too many starcy treats? A rabbits diet must be very high in fibre.
2. Beware of an underlying infection or illness? This can be an indirect cause of GI Stasis.
3. Overgrown molars or abscessed tooth or related tooth problems.
4. Stress. Beware of major changes to the rabbit which include the loss of a bonded partner, a change of living environment, a new pet in the house, suddenly noisy environment etc.
5. Lack of exercise. Your rabbit whether it is a house or garden pet must have regular exercise. Being left in the hutch or cage all day long is not good. Obviously, if you are away or on holiday or and have someone looking after your rabbit, that can't be helped but under normal circumstances, exercise is a must.
6. Ensure plenty of water.
7. Find a recommended vet, experience and familiar with rabbits.
The best cure for GI Stasis is prevention.
The importance of weighing your rabbit.
HAY HAY HAY HAY HAY
What Rabbits Eat - Hay
What do rabbits eat? A question that is asked often but not always answered correctly.
Even though many rabbits owners are more educated on the dietary needs of their bunnies, there is still many people who do not fully understand what the main part of a rabbits diet is.
The majority of a wild rabbit’s diet is grass, leaves, twigs, herbs and plants. For domesticated rabbits to stay as healthy as their wild counterparts, their diet should consist mainly of hay. Some people tend to think that rabbit pellets are the main meal and hay is a type of ‘bedding’ or just an extra nibble. Whilst hay can be used as bedding it is also your rabbit’s staple diet. I’ll break this topic down into three sections: Hay, Pellets, Fresh & Dried Produce. Fresh grass is included in the 'Hay' section.
this is the staple diet. Feed your rabbit plenty of hay and you are on the right path to a healthy and happy bunny. If you have a lawn, then grass is a good alternative but when your bunny is in their hutch or cage, you should leave a large pile of hay in the cage for them to eat.
Why is hay beneficial to rabbits?
It is full of fibre which helps keep the intestine moving. A rabbit’s intestinal system needs to be constantly moving to stay healthy. As they like to chew on various objects, hay will ensure that anything that was hard to digest will be moved along by ingesting hay.
The action of chewing hay is good for wearing down teeth. Many teeth problems occur from not eating enough hay. Pellets may feel harder but the way of chewing a pellet and the way of chewing a piece of hay is different so they both wear down different parts of the teeth. That’s why providing only pellets is not healthy for a rabbit.
Having hay to eat prevents boredom. Rabbits will happily sit there for hours picking out the bits they enjoy and throwing the hay around.
The indigestible fibre found in hay can prevent hair from accumulating in the gut. As rabbits do not spit hair balls out like cats do, it is important that they can get rid of swallowed hair in their faeces.
What types of hay are there?
This is possibly the healthiest type of hay you can feed your rabbit. Depending on the bag of timothy hay you buy, it should be a lovely green colour or a slightly tan colour. It is easiest to store as it is less damp therefore less likely to mould. It should smell sweet and fresh and you should see quite a few seed heads and many stems and leaves. The texture of the hay is hard and provides a good texture for the wearing down of teeth. Timothy hay is a good choice for obese bunnies and for general bunnies as it has low calories, fat and protein yet is high in fibre.
There are several brands from pet stores, at the moment I use Alfalfa King Timothy Hay as I found the colour and the smell wonderful. My rabbits tend to prefer this one but I find that whilst the strands are nice and long to begin with, the last third of a pack is always dusty and full of small bits that get ignored. I have also tried Woodland’s Timothy Hay with Carrot and Apple. Whilst it sounds nice to me, I‘m not sure if carrot and apple are very healthy additions to hay. In my opinion, it would be better to shred some fresh carrot and mix it into hay. I would like to see one with dried dandelion or other herbs mixed in as my rabbits were not very impressed with dried apple. Excel Herbage Timothy Hay with dandelion and marigold was received well in general. You can also buy large bales of timothy hay from farmers but you will need a place to store it. Bales are cheaper than pet shop hay.
This is a legume hay which contains as much fibre as timothy hay. It is good for younger rabbits and lactating does, but due to its high calorie/protein/calcium content, it is unsuitable for rabbits that are over a year old. The high calcium can cause sludge in urine and the high calorie content can cause a rabbit to gain weight. It is a rich green colour with a distinct smell and many leaves.
Many rabbits enjoy this hay so I am under the impression that its tastier as given a choice, my rabbits would rather nibble on alfalfa than timothy hay. Unfortunate for them, as I do not feed them alfalfa hay anymore. They used to have a bit but I was weary of the calcium content as Nibbles also had slightly thicker urine. You can give a bit to rabbits over a year old as a treat but if they are prone to kidney stones, stay away from alfalfa. It is also a good hay to help stimulate underweight rabbits to eat. One popular brand that sells alfalfa hay is Oxbow. Alfalfa King also does bags of alfalfa hay.
This hay has a similar nutritional analysis to timothy hay which makes it a great alternative. If your rabbits do not like timothy hay (yes! They can be so picky sometimes!) you can try oat hay as it has a completely different texture and taste. Oat hay has grain husks that many rabbits enjoy the taste of.
I’ve tried two types of oat hay with my rabbits. The first type I tried is Burns Green Oat Hay. My rabbits were not so keen on the coarse stems but did nibble some of the seed heads. My sister in law’s guinea pigs much preferred this hay though. I’ve tried Alfalfa King’s Oat, Wheat & Barley Hay. Whilst this is not all oat hay, it has a nice variety of other hays and my rabbits enjoyed foraging for their favourite bits. Once again, I found them not too fond of stems. Oxbow also produces bags of oat hay but I have not yet tried that.
This is soft yellow/green hay that smells quite sweet. It is less coarse than oat or timothy hay and can be quite stringy as the strands are very thin. It has a variety of grasses, flowers and herbs which encourages rabbits to dig through and look for their favourite bits. This type of hay contains a bit more protein and a bit less fibre than timothy hay but it is cheaper (due to being more easily grown) and appears to be tastier than timothy hay. That could be due to rabbits preferring the softness of meadow hay over timothy hay.
This is readily available in the UK unlike timothy hay which is not usually grown here due to the climate being less suitable. You can buy bales of this from local farms and big bags are available on the internet and at pet stores. I’ve used two brands and both were received well by the buns (Pure Pastures Meadow Hay and Devon Meadow Hay). My rabbits love meadow hay so much, if you have a bag, they will bite a hole in it to get to the hay. I use meadow hay as the main hay as they eat more of this. Even though it is not as good as timothy hay (which I still give but is not always finished), the general rule is some hay is better than no hay.
This is dried grass. There are two types that are readily available, one is literally the same kind of grass you expect to find in the UK and the main brands is Readigrass and Excel Barn Grass. It has a higher protein and calcium value than other hays apart from alfalfa and the amount of fibre is not as high as the other hays. The second type is orchard grass which is nutritionally similar to timothy hay. It even looks similar to timothy hay in appearance. You can feed this freely to your rabbits whereas I would suggest giving less Readigrass if your rabbits are susceptible to kidney stones.
Buying hay from local farmers is the cheapest way to go as you can buy bales of it provided you have the storage space. However, you must keep the hay dry and let it breath to prevent damp and mould. As long as it’s kept in good conditions, hay can be kept for a long time.
If you have access to fresh grass, this is an excellent alternative for hay. You can leave your rabbit in a run on your lawn (supervised!) and let him eat grass. Or you can pull fresh grass from your lawn to give to your rabbit. You will still need hay in the cage or hutch but you might notice that the more grass your rabbit eats, the less hay you will need to give. This means a bale of hay can last a bit longer. You will need to check that your rabbit can handle fresh grass as I know some rabbits are less tolerant to it for some reason. I know too much grass and my rabbits produce too much cecal faeces (soft droppings) and that they do not eat those which can be a hygiene hazard. Any grass with no pesticides, chemicals and is not next to a busy road is safe for your rabbits.
Other foods to feed your rabbit: Pellets, Fresh & Dried Produce
It's all very well feeding your rabbit the right food, but what are the wrong ones? Plants and foods that are toxic to rabbits
What Rabbits Eat - Pellets
No rabbit food on the market is a complete diet
There was a misconception (and there still is for those who are unaware) that rabbit food is a complete diet for bunnies. You must always provide hay and water. Plenty of both. Rabbit food is a concentrated feed; it provides all of the nutrients a rabbit may need in a concentrated form. When you consider a wild rabbit, their diet involves eating lots and lots of grass and herbs that are low in nutrients. They will eat all day to get the amount of nutrients they need. Rabbit food is very different in that you only need to feed a little bit due to the high nutrient content.
It is meant to accompany hay, rather like a side dish.
Even though pellets are hard, they do not wear down a rabbit’s teeth in the right way which is why you cannot just feed pellets alone. Most rabbit foods state on the packaging that hay should also be offered in unlimited amounts nowadays. It is possible to not feed pellets but that requires the owner to be very knowledgeable in rabbit nutrition as you will need to substitute pellets for other foods that would offer a healthy amount of nutrients.
I would not suggest you do this unless you were very confident that you can provide a good diet plan. There are two types of foods on the market, the ‘luxury’ kind and the ‘plain’ kind.
Luxury rabbit feeds are colourful and appeal to us
They contain lots of different parts such as pea flakes, seeds, dried sweetcorn etc. They look fun but they encourage selective feeding. Rabbits are able to pick out which bits are yummy to them and they leave the bits they dislike. This means they are not getting all the nutrients that are needed. Poor luxury feeds contain a lot of grains, sugars and fats which are not suitable for rabbits. A rabbit diet should consist mainly of fibrous foods and that applies for this too. If you choose to offer this kind of feed, you should check that it is high in fibre and with fewer grains. You should also ensure that your rabbit does not eat selectively. Do not put any fresh food into their bowl till all the old food is eaten. If you cannot make sure of that, then you should choose the option below.
What are pellets made of?
Plain rabbit feeds are dull green brown in colour and look rather boring. Each pellet has the same nutritional value and you do not need to worry about selective feeding. These pellets usually have hay or grass as the first ingredient. Some are made from alfalfa and these pellets contain a lot more protein. Alfalfa based pellets should only be given to young rabbits or lactating does to help them grow or produce milk. As young rabbits grow older, gradually move them onto grass/hay based pellets. Young rabbits can also be given pellets freely. As they grow older, the amount of pellets should be slowly reduced. Check the packaging to see how much you should give your rabbit per day and split it into two meals. Your rabbit does not need a lot of pellets per day so if you find your rabbit is not eating much hay, try cutting down on pellets gradually as you may be giving too much. A handful a day is sufficient so do not be afraid to give less when it comes to pellets as you really do need to get your rabbit eating the good stuff: hay.
Good quality pellet
I recommend using a good quality plain pellet food. I believe the ‘luxury’ stuff to be unhealthy for rabbits. Look for one high in fibre and low in sugars, protein and fats if you are buying for an adult rabbit. If you are buying for a young rabbit, look out for high fibre and high protein pellets. Do not buy many bags of pellets in one go as the amount of vitamins in the pellets reduce over time. Always make sure you know how much pellets you are giving your rabbit, grab a plastic cup, measure and mark it. It is very easy for a rabbit to gain weight but hard for them to lose it. If you are cutting down on pellets, make sure you do it gradually.
If you are unsure of what pellet food to use, I have a useful guide which tells you what to look for, the ingredients and the nutritional content of some popular brands of bunny food.