Tips For Feeding Rabbits

by Nancy J. LaRoche
Copyright 2001
(May be copied for free distribution)


Rabbits are masters of the art of training humans. If they have three favorite vegetables, they will carefully teach you never to offer them any but these three.

•The rabbit makes the first move, which is to refuse the Brussels sprouts you’ve offered and turn her back on you with a motion which is the rabbit’s equivalent to rolling her eyes in disbelief you could possibly have committed such a gaffe.

•Desperately wanting her to have vegetables, which you know are good for her, you remove the offending matter and dash to the store for parsley.

•She rewards you by savoring every last morsel and smiling approvingly at you (yes, rabbit do smile).

•You sigh with relief and vow never to offend her delicate sensibilities again

Since this is not in the rabbit’s best interest, take control of the situation as follows:

•First, refer to a list of vegetables that rabbits can eat (Safe Veggie List). Choose an item and bring it home – let’s say it’s the Brussels sprouts.

•The first move is the rabbit’s again refusing the Brussels sprouts and giving you the look.

•You respond by cutting one of the sprouts open to display its freshness and leave it with her.

•She retaliates by lying in her litter box, eyes unfocused in a morass of despair over your stupidity, checking briefly from time to time to be sure you are noticing.

•You steadfastly ignore her plight, wish her goodnight, and go to bed. The next morning, when you invite her out for her morning romp while you eat breakfast, you remove the shriveling sprouts with no comment.

•For several days, as you work your way through your list of vegetables, all seems well. And then one day you foolishly bring home some fresh mint.

•She again demonstrates her deep disappointment in your lack of good judgment. She passes up her papaya tablet and pellets, ignores her hay, and sinks as deeply into her litter box as she can, sighing from time to time as though her heart might break unless her empty stomach kills her first.

•You steadfastly ignore her plight, wish her goodnight, and go to bed. The next morning, when you invite her out for her morning romp while you eat breakfast, you remove the wilting mint with no comment, but you do happen to notice that the papaya tablet is gone, her pellet dish is empty, and she needs more hay.

•This little charade may go on for weeks. And then one day, certain you have wasted your money, you bring home Brussels sprouts for the eighth time, give them to her, and notice as she turns to her pellets. You sit down across the room and and apparently get lost in your newspaper, but actually watching her out of the corner of your eye.

•She stops eating pellets and turns her head toward the Brussels sprouts, knowing that if she ignores them, you are too dense to understand she is requesting – nay, demanding – something more to her liking. She sniffs at them, wrinkling her nose in disgust, but a look of surprise appears before she can suppress it. She checks to be sure you didn’t notice. There was a most interesting odor there… she sniffs again, takes a nibble, pretends to be interested in rubbing her chin on one of her toys and carefully chews so as not to be noticed. And suddenly, it doesn’t matter any more… she admits to herself that, although you aren’t the most intelligent creature in the world, you did happen to stumble on something which isn’t all that bad.

•Half way through, she decides it isn’t one of her favorites but it is tolerable. She leaves some of it, polishes off her pellets and hay, and contentedly lies down for the night.

•The next day, you remove what is left. Three weeks later, you find the next time you offer the Brussels sprout, it is gone by morning. And it strikes you as interesting that she seems to have forgotten entirely how stupid and untrainable you once were.

Dr. Susan Brown, of Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital in Westchester, Illinois, makes these suggestions on changing your rabbit’s diet:

“If your rabbit is not used to getting vegetables on a daily basis, then start out gradually with the green leafy vegetables and add a new food item from the list every 5 to 7 days. If the addition of a new food item leads to diarrhea or unformed stools in 24 to 48 hours, then remove it from the diet. Once your pet is eating these foods, give at least 3 types daily.”

Obesity In Rabbits

Obesity in rabbits is far more serious than in humans, or even in cats and dogs. Among the problems caused by obesity are the following:

Rabbits’ lungs occupy a mere one-fifth of its body, in comparison to one-third in ours. Obviously, obesity can be an extreme strain on the heart and lungs.

All rabbits eventually develop some arthritis. Obesity can bring it on earlier, and cause it to be more painful. The following summarizes points made in an article written by Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM, of the Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital in San Diego. The article was published in the Fall, 1998 issue of the “San Diego Rabbit News.”

When a rabbit perceives danger or encounters a frightening situation, chemical changes occur, causing the heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate to increase, the eyes to dilate, and blood sugar (fuel for the body) to soar. These chemical changes make the rabbit better able to sense the danger and to run from it. But if the condition lasts for very long, it can cause serious problems.

For one thing, it can cause the contents of the intestine to stop moving. It can also cause diarrhea, inflammation of the intestinal tract, or even the production of poisons by bacteria in the intestinal tract. And, liver energy stores can be depleted – this is called shock disease, and it may be fatal! Shock disease occurs when rabbits who are obese or have been on a pellet-rich diet, undergo a prolonged stressful event (e.g., infested with maggots (fly strike) or left on a balcony overnight, etc.). A poor diet causes fatty changes in the rabbit’s liver, and when stressed, the result is starvation of body tissues.

Stress can’t be entirely avoided, but you can protect your rabbit from some of the more dangerous effects of stress by providing a good diet. A diet high in fiber (that means mostly good quality grass hay) helps to protect the GI tract from toxins produced in the intestine; helps to keep the contents of the intestine moving; and helps prevent the development of fatty liver. If your rabbit is stressed by some situation or event, get him back to a normal environment as soon as possible. Be sure he eats and drinks. If he becomes depressed or weak, he needs to see a veterinarian immediately.
Ways to help a rabbit regain prime weight:

•Exercise is probably the most important aspect of helping your rabbit regain his or her sleek body. Play with your rabbit, encouraging gentle chase games, or simply follow her around and keep her hopping (but not to the point of exhaustion or labored breathing); provide tunnels and boxes and sheets of newspaper to encourage active play – tear the paper to demonstrate it’s delightful ripping sound, etc. Get a rabbit friend of the opposite sex to encourage activity (the friend must be altered, of course)

•Minimize treats of high caloric content.

•Provide straw for chewing: it is different, so your rabbit may see it as a treat, but straw is essentially without calories.

•Hide tiny bits of low-calorie treats around the house. Once the rabbits begins to realize this happens every day, they will begin searching for the treats, thereby being more active.
Feeding your rabbit properly is essential to the health of these specialized creatures. Although it may present an interesting challenge for you, when done sucessfully, it brings rich rewards in your rabbit having a long and active life.