Free foodRabbits are strict herbivores with a versatile appetite. They can remain healthy on a number of different diets. The best diet is one that the rabbit enjoys and will keep it occupied, slim and active. Dental disease, obesity and some gastrointestinal problems can be prevented by feeding the correct diet.

Formulation of rabbit food

Rabbits are popular pets and the market for rabbit food is big. Many types of commercial foods are available and heavily marketed. The formulation of many of these diets is based on information gained from commercial rabbits, which are bred for their fur or meat. Commercial rabbits have no individual value and do not live long in comparison with pet rabbits that can live for 10-15years. In contrast, pet rabbits do not need to grow quickly or reproduce prolifically so their nutritional needs are completely different. There is little research into the nutritional needs of pet rabbits. Instead, the anecdotal experience of rabbit owners and breeders has been passed on and has led to some myths and mistaken (or maybe unmistaken) beliefs, especially about poisonous plants and sugars and starches.

The ideal diet

In my opinion (as a vet and rabbit owner), the ideal diet for rabbits is based on the food that wild rabbits choose to eat i.e. grass, wild plants, a range of herbs and vegetables with some fruit and root vegetables. Owners with allotments or vegetable plots can grow their own plants as rabbit food or feed their rabbits on surplus produce, old plants and the weeds that grow between the rows of vegetables.

The importance of hay

A constant supply of fresh growing grass is not an option for most pet rabbits, especially in the winter. Dried grass in the form of hay is the ideal alternative and can be used for bedding as well. Hay has many benefits, and a variety of hay products are available for pet rabbits. Palatable hay should be available for all rabbits when they are housed indoors.

Hay and vegetable diet

A forage and vegetable diet is easy for those of us that have access to the countryside or have large enough gardens to grow food for our rabbits but this type of diet is not an option for many rabbits. Fresh grass is often unavailable, so a constant supply of hay is necessary, but it will not meet all a rabbit's nutritional requirements and needs to be supplemented with leafy green vegetables and herbs and a small amount of fruit. It can prove expensive to buy sufficient vegetables and herbs to satisfy the rabbit all year round. Additional nuggets or pellets may be necessary.

Nuggets or pellets

A variety of brands nuggets or pellets for pet rabbits are available. This type of food has many advantages. They are widely available, convenient, easy to store and palatable. However, they are consumed quickly and do not provide dental wear and are fattening if the rabbit eats too much. Nuggets or pellets should be fed alongside hay and can be useful for owners that find it difficult to provide a constant supply of leafy green plants or vegetables. Nuggets or pellets are essential for rabbits with dental problems that find it difficult to chew hay or eat leafy green plants. They are also useful for thin rabbits that struggle to maintain their weight. The quality of nuggets and pellets varies between food manufacturers and it should be  born in mind that the manufacturers want to sell as much of their food as possible so the claims on the side of the food packets can be optimistic.

Muesli mixes

Muesli mixes are a mixture of grains and legumes  that have been processed in some way. They may be rolled, flaked, or micronized and cooked to form nuggets that may be coloured or flavoured with herbs such as fenugreek. Strands of alfalfa may be incorporated to improve the fibre and calcium analysis of the mixture.  These mixes are unsuitable as rabbit food. Some ingredients are more palatable than others, which leads to their selection from the mix, so the rabbit eats a fattening, unbalanced diet. Muesli mixes are responsible for many of the health problems that thousands of pet rabbits have suffered from since the mixes came on the market. 'Suffer' is the right word for a rabbit that has a dental spur lacerating its tongue or has flystrike because it is so fat that it cannot reach under its tail to eat its caecotrophs.


Treats are not an essential part of a rabbit’s diet and are seldom satisfactory as ‘boredom breakers’.  Sugary treats such as chocolate or yogurt drops are never a good idea, whatever it says on the side of the packet. They may even be harmful as they can lead to obesity and contribute to dental disease.

Treats can be useful as a training aid and to check that the rabbit is responsive and eating. Rabbits can be trained to come when they are rewarded but shop bought rabbit treats are not necessary. A piece of a favourite food will suffice. My own rabbits are given one Shreddie each morning and a piece of pear at lunchtime. Shreddies can also be used to administer oral medication, such as meloxicam.


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