Most of us have seen wild rabbits nibbling on fresh grass, it seems to be a staple part of their diet and with wild rabbits being so closely related to our domestic pets, you could be forgiven for thinking that grass is something rabbits need to survive, perhaps you’ve even been put off getting a rabbit as you don’t own a lawn of your own? So do rabbits need grass?
You do not need a supply of fresh grass to be able to own a rabbit, however, domestic rabbits without access to vegetation will require an unlimited supply of good quality dried grass (hay) such as ‘timothy’ to ensure their continued dental and digestive health.
Why rabbits eat grass?
Wild rabbits nibble on grass when it’s readily available but rabbits have also thrived in many places that have hardly any grass at all.
Naturally, those born in environments surrounded by grass will have a much easier time getting the required nutrients to survive than those born in warmer dryer climates. A grassy environment means easy access to an abundant food source and less of a requirement to forage.
Without grass rabbits will eat anything they can find so long as it fits in with their plant-based diet. This includes weeds, berries, and non-poisonous plants and flowers. In colder climates where vegetation and plants are more difficult to find they will also eat bark, twigs, and evergreens.
Although rabbits are regularly observed eating grass, the grass that our domestic breeds eat doesn’t necessarily have to come fresh from a lawn. Packaged hays (dried grasses) can provide all the essential nutrition that our rabbits need and should make up most of our pet’s diet.
Grass and the rabbit digestive system
As humans we can’t break down the cellulose in grasses in the same way that rabbits can, it would all just pass through our gut as indigestible fiber (that’s if it didn’t make us vomit first) and we wouldn’t get a lot of nutritional value from it.
A rabbit is different. It’s digestive system has evolved to be able to gain the most amount of nutrients from foods that do not have a lot of nutritional value.
When food is eaten it travels from the mouth, down the esophagus, into the stomach, and on to the small intestine where enzymes break it down into individual nutrients small enough to pass through the lining of the intestine and into the bloodstream.
These enzymes can’t breakdown fiber, but while most mammals including would then excrete this as indigestible fiber a rabbits colon sorts this fiber into two types, digestible and indigestible.
Digestible fiber is diverted to a special organ known as the caecum where bacteria known as gut flora continues to break it down, extracting some more nutrients.
Once the caecum has got all those that it can, the fiber goes back to the colon once more where it is coated in a protective mucus. This is then excreted from the rabbits anus as a special dropping known as caecotropes to be reingested (yes, they eat them directly from the anus!) so that the small intestine can extract the last remaining nutrients.
As for the indigestible fiber, this also has a vital function – it is what keeps the rabbits digestive system moving along, carrying food through the digestive process without slowing down. Once this function is complete, the indigestible fiber forms into the more widely recognized droppings we see often.
A rabbit’s ability to extract nutrients from foods that have very little nutritional value has meant that they are able to survive when vegetation is scarce, even in dry barren desert areas such as the Australian outback rabbits are so widespread that they are considered pests.
Can I have a rabbit without a lawn?
Although it does make a nice surface when playtime comes around, you do not need a lawn to be able to own a rabbit, Rabbits benefit just as well from eating good quality dried store-bought hays as they do from eating fresh grass. As well as aiding digestion, its coarse texture helps grind down the teeth and prevent dental issues.
Other advantages of grass
Although having a grass lawn is not essential in owning and keeping a rabbit, grass does have some advantages. Rabbits have a lot of energy and like their wild relatives, our domestic rabbits enjoy a large area to explore and play.
Although it would be impossible for the average pet owner to reproduce the same kind of green space a wild rabbit may enjoy, a lawn does add a more natural feel to a rabbits exercise space than a concrete yard does. It also provides a nice soft landing space for all those binkies and is a much better backdrop if like me you love to take rabbit photos!
Nevertheless, exercise is one of the most important factors in ensuring a rabbit has a long and healthy life.
Rabbits that spend their lives confined to a small hutch with little space to exercise sadly lead a miserable existence, in fact, for a rabbit this is a form of psychological torture. For this reason, you should aim to provide your rabbit with an exercise space of 32 square feet (4 feet X 8 feet) as a minimum.
Do rabbits like hay?
Despite their natural enjoyment of grass, domesticated rabbits are just as keen on dried grasses (hays) and these are a convenient and easy to store alternative for us rabbit owners.
Hay is made up of one or several different dried grasses and there is an unlimited number of brands available for our rabbits to enjoy. Timothy Hay is highly recommended as it is rich in nutrients and the important fibers that a rabbit needs.
Other brands of hay are mixed with foliage such as flowers and dried leaves and while not all hays are equal it is fairly inexpensive to get good quality hay that will keep your rabbit happy and healthy.
How much hay should a rabbit eat?
Hay should make up around 80% of a rabbits daily diet and they can eat an amount of hay similar to their own size each and every day. This means that an unlimited amount should be provided to ensure your rabbits nutritional requirements are being met.
The rest of a domestic rabbit’s diet should ideally be made up of leafy green vegetables, a small number of pellets and the occasional healthy treat. If you would like to know exactly what to feed your rabbit safely you can check out our post here (link to post: What Can Rabbits Eat – Complete Guide)
Can I give my rabbit grass clippings?
You can give your rabbit grass clippings however these need to be freshly cut. Use scissors to cut the clippings and offer them to your rabbit within 15 minutes of clipping. Any longer and the clippings will start to ferment. Always remove any clippings that your rabbit doesn’t eat right away.
Never give lawn clippings that have been through a mower, these can ferment in the gut and cause serious digestive issues.
If you are thinking of offering a rabbit lawn clippings bear in mind that the lawn may have been soiled by other animals so take care when cutting grass by hand.
Finally, never give clippings from a lawn that has been recently treated using chemical pesticides or weedkillers. These can be fatal for a rabbit.
Grass is a tasty foodstuff for rabbits and many other mammals, however, Dried grasses are equally tasty and nutritious. This means that even if you do lack a lawn, you can still offer a rabbit a healthy diet and a loving home.
Do’s and Don’ts of Eating Grass rabbitholehay.com