Very important! Many rabbits die regularly due to GI stasis, a quickly fatal condition, frequently caused by improper diets.
Absolutely NO chocolate (poisonous!), corn, seeds cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, yogurt drops or other “human treats.”
See More about GI Stasis HERE.
Grass hay makes up 80% of a rabbit’s diet and must be available in unlimited quantities at all times. Hay is essential to good health. Hay stimulates the rabbit’s GI tract to work correctly and helps prevent dental issues and blockages. Grass hay is rich in Vitamin A and D, calcium, protein, and other nutrients.
IMPORTANT: Before introducing any fresh foods, it is best if your rabbit has been eating grass hay for a minimum of 2 weeks. The grass hay will help to get your rabbit’s GI tract motility and flora in good working order so that he/she will be able to accept new foods more easily.
Provide a variety of fresh, grass hay twice daily as it provides natural foraging to find the best pieces. Your rabbit will dig through the hay to find the best pieces to eat; therefore, never consider what they don’t want to eat “wasted hay.” Varying the type of grass hay or mixing hays is a great idea (e.g., timothy, orchard, oat hay, brome, etc.). Alfalfa is not grass, but rather a legume (in the pea and bean family) and is only safe for rabbits under 6 months of age.
Store hay in dry, temperature-controlled climates out of plastic to prevent mold.
Fresh water must be supplied daily. Please make sure water is always available in a heavy crock/bowl (NO bottles) to encourage drinking. Rabbits need a lot of water every day, and bottles do not allow them to drink as much as they need. Water is necessary to flush excess calcium from the kidneys and bladder, and it is essential for healthy function of the gut and its bacteria.
Pellets should be fresh and should be high in fiber (>18% fiber), and low in protein (<14%), calcium (<0.9%) and fat (<2%). Pellets should make up less of a rabbit’s diet as he or she grows older; amounts are based on weight and age. Alfalfa pellets are fine for younger rabbits, but timothy pellets are preferred for older rabbits to prevent kidney stones from too much calcium.
Rabbits under 6 months old are still growing and should be fed unlimited hay and pellets and some vegetables. For adult rabbits, pellets should always be rationed because overfeeding can cause serious health problems. Smaller rabbits have a faster metabolism and less efficient digestion than do large rabbits; they may need to be fed more per pound than would a large rabbit. Angoras need more pellets per pound because of their fur; mini-rex rabbits have a tendency to plumpness and may need to be fed less.
***See below for specific guidelines based on age***
The following guidelines are suggested:
§ 2-4 lb body weight: ¼ cup daily
§ 4-7 lb body weight: ½ cup daily
§ 7-10 lb body weight: ½ – ¾ cup daily
§ 11-15 lb body weight: ¾ -1 cup daily
For some rabbits, pellets can cause digestive upset. For others, too much calcium can cause urinary stone formation for some. When you feed a lower quantity (or no) of pellets, you must replace the nutritional value without the calories, which is done by increasing the vegetables. It is important to discuss the pros and cons of reducing or eliminating pellets from a rabbit’s diet with your rabbit savvy veterinarian.
Feed 1 cup of fresh, washed leafy green vegetables for each 2-4 lbs. of body weight. Select at least three types of vegetables daily to offer variety. Fresh vegetables provide nutrients and moisture in the diet, which is good for kidney and bladder function.
IMPORTANT: When introducing new fresh foods to any rabbit’s diet, it is best to go slowly to allow the GI tract and all its important microorganisms time to adjust. Introduce one new food every three days and keep a watch on the stools. Eliminate from the diet if it causes soft stools or diarrhea.
Iceberg lettuce is mostly water and can cause diarrhea; carrots are sugar-rich and may cause intestinal problems in some rabbits. Brassicas (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, mustard greens) may cause gas and soft, smelly poops. Provide them in limited amounts.
Leafy Green Vegetables for Rabbits (75% of fresh portion of your rabbit’s diet)
Basil (any variety)
Beet greens (tops)
Dandelion greens (no pesticides)
Fennel (leafy tops & base)
Green lettuce (not Iceberg)
Mint (any variety)
*There is current dispute in the scientific community regarding the levels of oxalates and goitrogens in kale. Some feed it daily without issues while others have found that kale fed in large amounts on a daily basis may contribute to bladder sludge and other health issues.
Rotate Weekly Due to Higher Oxalic Acid Content (1 out of 3 varieties of greens a day)
Sprouts (from 1 to 6 days after sprouting, sprouts have higher levels of alkaloids)
Safe in Moderation (About 1 tablespoon per 2 lbs of body weight per day)
Broccoli (leaves & stems)
Carrots (high in sugar)
Cabbage (any type)
Celery (cut into small pieces)
Pea pods (the flat edible kind)
Edible flowers (chamomile, dandelion, hibiscus, nasturtiums, pansies, rosehips, violets without seeds)
***Grown without chemical sprays/pesticides or bought dried from a reliable vendor***
Limit fruits to 1 teaspoon per 2 lbs. of body weight per day (or 1-2 tablespoons per 5 lbs. of body weight per day) from the list below of high fiber fruits. Cut out fruit if dieting.
Sugary fruits such as bananas and grapes should be used only sparingly, as occasional treats. Bunnies love sweets and will devour them, so be careful. Too much sugar slows the GI tract and leads to GI stasis.
- Apple (without steam & seeds)
- (remove peel; no more than about 2 1/8 inch slices a day for a 5 lb rabbit…they LOVE this!)
- Berries (any type)
- Cherries (without pits)
- Orange (including peel)
- Pineapple (remove skin)
- Plum (without pit)
- Star Fruit
Many pet stores sell treats disguised as “healthy” choices; most of these are fat- and sugar-rich and are not healthy at all. Any treat that lists flour or sugar as a main ingredient or corn in it is a NO. The best treats are inexpensive, unprocessed ones: A small apple slice, a slice of banana, 2-3 raisins, a dried and unsweetened cherry or strawberry, a pinch of whole oats, a dish of cooled herbal tea, a small piece of carrot, or spoonful of fresh apple cider. Treats are a fun way to bond with your rabbit, a good way to monitor appetite, and serve as a nice reward when medicine has to be given.
Vitamins, Salt or Mineral Block, Rabbit Supplements and “Enhancers”
These are unnecessary if the rabbit is receiving a balanced diet of hay, green-leafy vegetables, and a good quality pellet food fed in limited amounts.
DIET BROKEN DOWN BY AGE:
WHAT QUANTITIES OF FOOD SHOULD I FEED BABIES AND “TEENAGERS”?
- 3 to 4 weeks–mother’s milk, nibbles of alfalfa and pellets
- 4 to 7 weeks–mother’s milk, access to alfalfa and pellets
- 7 weeks to 6 months–unlimited alfalfa based pellets, unlimited hay
- 12 weeks–introduce vegetables (one at a time, quantities under 1/2 oz.)
WHAT QUANTITIES OF FOOD SHOULD I FEED YOUNG ADULTS? (6 MONTHS TO 1 YEAR)
- Introduce timothy hay, grass hay, oat hay, and other hays; decrease alfalfa
- Switch to timothy based pellets and decrease pellets to 1/2 cup per 6 lbs. body weight
- increase daily vegetables gradually; make sure your rabbit can tolerate
- fruit daily ration no more than 1 oz. to 2 oz. per 6 lbs. body weight (because of calories)
WHAT QUANTITIES OF FOOD SHOULD I FEED MATURE ADULTS? (1 TO 5 YEARS)
- Unlimited timothy, grass hay, oat hay
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup timothy based pellets per 6 lbs. body weight (depending on metabolism and/or proportionate to veggies)
- Minimum 2 cups chopped vegetables per 6 lbs. body weight; always introduce vegetables and greens slowly to make sure your rabbit can tolerate
- fruit daily ration no more than 2 oz. (2 Tbs) per 6 lbs. body weight.
WHAT QUANTITIES OF FOOD SHOULD I FEED SENIOR RABBITS? (OVER 6 YEARS)
- If sufficient weight is maintained, continue adult diet
- Frail, older rabbits may need unrestricted pellets to keep weight up. Alfalfa can be given to underweight rabbits, only if calcium levels are normal. Annual blood workups are highly recommended for geriatric rabbits.
- Decreased poop or loose poop (not diarrhea – true diarrhea is an emergency). Liquid or mushy cecotropes can result from an imbalance of the normal bacterial and fungal flora of the cecum. You may or may not see mucus around the feces from inflammation.
- Eating less or refusing a favorite food.
- Signs of pain or discomfort (hunched posture, teeth grinding, behavior changes) – more information here. Rabbits hide pain well due to being a prey animal, so once signs are seen you are in trouble and need to act quickly.
GI stasis is always a result of a cause. It is important to determine what caused it.
- Diet too low in crude fiber and/or too high in sugar/carbohydrates
- Intestinal blockage
- Dental/teeth issues
- Abdominal massage. Gentle abdominal massage is one of the most effective ways to stimulate a lazy gut and help relieve gas. Video showing how to do this this: HERE.
- Simethicone 20 mg/mL (baby gas drops), dye and flavor free, may acutely help relieve gas pain. Give 1-2 mL every hour for 3 doses, then give 1 mL every 3-8 hours. Simethicone is safe to give, even as a precaution.
- Monitor temperature carefully with a rectal thermometer (normal temp. 101-103 F). A temp under 100 F is an extreme emergency. Get your rabbit to a rabbit-savvy vet immedietely, taking a warm water bottle wrapped in a towel with your rabbit. See more information HERE.
- Fluids are very important to hydrate a potentially hard mass that has formed and stuck. ***Avoid any fluids with sugar.*** Water is ideal, but unflavored Pedialyte made for children may also be used.
- Force feeding with watered down Critical Care to encourage eating. If you don’t have any, soften pellets with warm water (not too hot or it will destroy nutrients). Give 1-2 cc at a time in the cheek, allowing to chew and swallow. Aspiration is life threatening. If there is a blockage, force feeding can cause worsening and death. Continue providing unlimited Timothy hay
- Fresh, wet, leafy herbs. Entice your rabbit to eat with fragrant herbs (cilantro, parsley, mint, basil, dill, etc.). The water content and fiber will help.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus has been known to help. Only use non-dairy powder; no yogurt.
- Rabbit-savvy vet. Rule out blockage with an x-ray. IV fluids. Pain medications. Motility medications. Appetite stimulant medications.
- See more HERE.
PREVENTION IS THE MOST IMPORTANT
1. Kremples, D. (2013, February 10). Gastrointestinal Stasis: The Silent Killer. House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/2013/02/gastrointestinal-stasis-the-silent-killer/.
2. Richardson, D. (2016, September 2). The veterinary nurse’s role in recognition and management of pain in rabbits. UK Vet: The Veterinary Nurse. https://www.theveterinarynurse.com/review/article/the-veterinary-nurse-s-role-in-recognition-and-management-of-pain-in-rabbits.