Bugs Bunny ate carrots all the time, so that’s what my bunny should eat too! Well, not exactly. Bunnies do like carrots, but it’s basically the nutritional equivalent to candy for humans. There are much better ways to feed your bunny, though he’ll love you for tossing in a piece of a carrot here and there.
Rabbits have a very interesting digestive system. Because they eat a diet so high in fiber, it’s been specially designed to move the food through relatively quickly, while still using the nutrients the bunny needs. This also provides a level of protection against toxins they may come in contact with on their food or the ground.
Digestion starts in the rabbit’s mouth, just as ours does. The food then travels down the esophagus to the stomach and digests further. Then, the food is moved into the small intestine, and this is where it gets interesting. Between the small intestine and the large intestine is a sac called the cecum. This little sac gathers usable material from the digesting food and allows the extra fibrous material to move through as waste. This is what we call ‘Bunny Berries’; the dried up little round balls of manure.
That material that is gathered in the cecum, is held for about eight hours after a meal and then also expelled. The cool (or gross) part about this material called cecotropes, that comes out as a moist clump that looks a little like a tiny clump of grapes, is that the rabbits consume it again. It’s loaded with good bacteria and nutrients that keep the rabbit healthy, so they don’t get wasted by being expelled as manure the first time.
So, your bunny needs a diet that is much more fibrous than carrots. There are several ways to feed a rabbit and many people argue their way is the right way. The most important thing I can share with you, is to make changes SLOWLY!! Rabbits use those cecotropes to acclimate to foods they aren’t used to, so if you’re introducing something they’ve never had before, just give them a little taste not a full meal. Let’s talk about the ways you may choose to feed your bunny.
First, and by far the simplest way to be sure your bunny has all the nutrients it needs, is to feed a complete rabbit pellet. You can find a quality pellet at any pet store or your local farm store. You may even be able to find better prices at a local feed mill, if there’s one nearby. Using a pellet takes the guesswork out of what to feed and also reduces your time of finding things for your bunny to eat. You can add hay to the daily regiment if you like. Some recommend your bunny have access to hay all the time to help keep their teeth ground down.
The next possibility would be to feed a combination of pellets and fresh greens. Again, it’s important to start very slowly if you’re introducing fresh foods, and be sure the plant is safe for rabbits! Not every plant is safe. Some safe plants you might find in your yard are grass, dandelions, lambs quarters and clover (feed more leaves than flowers.) Gather from places that aren’t sprayed with herbicides or pesticides as these could also harm your rabbit! If you choose to add fresh things to your rabbit’s diet, be sure to do the appropriate research and don’t just start loading them up on things. Most domestic rabbits today are used to pellets and not fresh greens.
The third way to feed your rabbit is all fresh plants. This takes a commitment of time and diligence to do the appropriate research on how much and what to feed. It’s a great, tasty way for a rabbit to eat, but you must know what you’re doing so you don’t end up feeding them something toxic. Do your homework before you start!
I hope this has helped you feel a bit more prepared to feed your bunny a nutritious diet that will keep them hopping happily for many years. Check on the Fun Stuff page for more helpful resources!