With Easter coming up, I thought I’d do a series of posts on what it’s really like to own a rabbit (or to be a “bunny slave” as they would put it) – just in case any of you see my photos and think “gee, bunnies sure are cute – maybe I’ll get one for Easter!”
A lot of people think that feeding a rabbit is just a matter of giving them some “bunny chow” the same way you might give dog food or cat food to a dog or a cat – but it’s not that simple. Although I often describe rabbits as “vegetarian cats,” when it comes to feeding them they kind of have more in common with horses than with cats.
Just like horses, rabbits in the wild will graze on grass and other plants – so the number one component of their diet needs to be hay (you can’t really “graze” rabbits outside). A rabbit should always have fresh hay available to eat at any time – which leads to my next point.
Just like horses, rabbits can go “off their feed” if they get sick or if they don’t eat anything in a while. And if a rabbit stops eating their GI tract basically shuts down and they can die quite quickly. So you always need to make sure a bunny has food – such as hay – available pretty much at all times.
Given that hay is the #1 component of their diet, it shouldn’t be surprising that rabbits can eat an astonishing amount of hay, which means that depending on how many rabbits and how big they are, you may need to keep quite a substantial amount of hay in your home (if you can’t get it quickly from somewhere local). In my case, I keep a 10 pound box of hay on hand at all times – and even though it is compressed somewhat, 10 pounds of hay is a fairly big box.
Beyond hay, rabbits can also be feed rabbit pellets – provided they are appropriate for the rabbit’s age (don’t give young rabbit pellets to adult rabbits) and don’t contain a lot of filler. But pellets are almost a supplement – they should not be fed pellets as their primary food. My 2 rabbits only get a very small scoop of pellets in the morning and evening – despite the fact that they are fairly big (6 pounds and 13 pounds, respectively).
The final component of a rabbit’s diet should be fresh vegetables – but remember that not all vegetables that are safe for humans are safe for rabbits. Dark leafy greens such as chard, kale, romaine lettuce, parsley, dandelion greens, and so forth are all great – but if you’re not sure, look it up online; it’s easy to find lists of “safe” greens. Rabbits will also eat some greens that we humans might not enjoy – such as the green leafy tops of some vegetables which we’d normally toss.
Like the vegetarians they are, rabbits enjoy a nice salad – I give mine a big handful with dinner (but not breakfast). Of course it also goes without saying the greens need to be fresh – if you wouldn’t eat it, don’t give it to your rabbit either.
Finally, I have to touch on the subject of carrots – the stereotypical “bunny food.” Carrots are actually more of a treat for rabbits than staple food – they have a lot of sugar in them – so don’t give in to the cartoon stereotype of “all a rabbit needs to eat is carrots.”
So that’s a quick overview of what it takes to keep a rabbit fed – and if that seems like a lot of work and a lot of stuff that you need to keep on-hand all the time, maybe think twice before picking up a rabbit on a whim (especially if you were thinking of getting one as an Easter present).
Stay tuned for more insight into the life of a bunny slave!