What Can Rabbits Eat? Complete Guide & Reference Table


When we bought our first rabbit home from the pet store all those years ago I literally had no idea what I was doing, in fact, I wasn’t even sure what I should be feeding it. Recently a work colleague and new rabbit owner asked me this very question, ‘what can rabbits eat?’, of course, this is a huge topic but if like my colleague you’re looking for a quick answer here’s what I told her.

A rabbit eats hays and grasses, herbs and forage, vegetables, and plant-based pellets. As herbivores, their diet should be made up of 80 – 90% grasses and hays. The rest should be safe green vegetables and good quality pellets.

Of course, the real answer to this question is a lot more detailed so if you’re looking for specifics, stick around, I’m going to tell you what I’ve learned about this subject during many years of rabbit ownership and go over some of my extensive research on this subject.

I’m also going to tell you what really matters when it comes to a rabbit’s life expectancy and how I’ve managed to ensure my own rabbits are have lived long, happy, and healthy lives.

In a rush? We understand that not everyone has the time to read through our post so feel free to jump to the parts your interested in below.

What we’ll cover

The complete rabbit diet

As a new rabbit owner, choosing the right food is a daunting task. A quick Google search on this subject shows that there are limitless different vegetables, multiple brands of hays, grasses, pellets, and even treat foods, many of which are perfectly viable foods for a rabbit so how do you choose?

For beginners, there is almost too much information on this subject, this can be hugely confusing. I personally spent countless weeks and hundreds of dollars testing a variety of different foods on my first rabbit but it wasn’t until I really started to learn about rabbits and their delicate digestive system that I really settled on what was actually important.

Before we look at exactly what a rabbit can eat let’s first understand what a rabbit is. Although sold as easy pets, nothing could be further from the truth, rabbits are complex exotic animals that have a very sensitive and somewhat temperamental digestive system that needs to be handled with care.

A rabbits digestive system is linked to its survival in the wild and has evolved to be able to get the highest amount of nutrients from food sources when they are scarce or of poor quality.

High fiber plant material is relatively low in nutrients which means that a rabbit has to eat lots of it to meet its nutritional needs. 

Unlike horses and other herbivores which share similar dietary requirements, a rabbits gastrointestinal tract is small. To compensate it moves food quickly, breaking down and digesting high fiber plant material that most mammals, including humans cannot.

In short, a rabbit cannot survive without a high fiber diet. For this reason When it comes to feeding an unlimited amount of hays and grasses will form the foundation of any recommended diet you read here or on any other reputable rabbit site. This fibrous material is what keeps the digestive system moving

Owning a rabbit can be an education so we recommend reading more on their interesting digestive functions and how each part of their digestive system works.

Although not essential in order to provide for a rabbits needs, Its interesting nonetheless and will give you an awareness of the reasons why diet is so important for their health and wellbeing .

You can jump to that section of the post by clicking here (link to Rabbits Digestive System and Functions) Otherwise we’ll jump straight into what makes up a good rabbit’s diet.

Balance and Diet Composition

Survival is the most important thing for a wild rabbit which means if it’s not poisonous, it’s probably fair game for the rabbit to eat.

As well as grasses, wild rabbits will forage for flowers, fruits, and vegetable plants during seasons when they are available, and when winter comes and food is scarce, they’ll chow down on twigs, bark, and pine needles.

Fortunately, there’s no such shortage of food for domesticated rabbits and owners are spoilt for choice. Pet stores provide many different brands of hays and grasses while grocery stores provide multiple vegetable types many of which are suitable for rabbits.

Before we decide on what vegetables that can be given to a rabbit lets look at the main aspects of the diet.

A domestic rabbits diet should be made up of the following.

The main consideration with a rabbit should always be getting the right balance of foods. Gut flora (micro organisms) that reside in a rabbits large intestine are vital for a rabbits digestive process can be sensitive to poor diet choices or changes that upset the balance within the gut.

Rabbits also rely on a large amount of indigestible fiber for moving food along its gastrointestinal tract and assisting its quick digestion process, lack of fiber can lead to blockages and the dreaded gut stasis (link to post ‘What is G.I Stasis?’)’.

Fiber is the most important part of a rabbits diet and is obtained through the biggest portion of its food, grasses and hays.

Grasses and Hays

These should make up the majority of a rabbits diet and are important not only for the rabbits gastrointestinal health but also its dental health with coarse fibrous hay and the chewing motion it promotes ensuring that the teeth (which are continuously growing) stay at a healthy length.

In the wild rabbits would eat fresh forage rather than dried grasses and hays however for domesticated pets, hays are more readily available and can be supplied at a higher hygienic standard.

Hays of higher nutritional quality are the best choice for rabbits due to their high energy requirement.

There are many different types of hays available with Timothy hay being the usual choice for most rabbit owners.

The requirement for hay should not be underestimated, rabbits are grazers and can get through a ball of hay equal to their own size every day therefore an unlimited amount of fresh hay should be available to a rabbit at all times.

Hay is readily available at most pet stores, Walmart or Amazon. You may even have a local farm that can provide you with a fresh supply at a good price.

When selecting a hay brand, remember you’ll be getting through a lot of it so consider your budget. There are many different varieties of hay, but we’ve just listed the ones that are readily available and you’ll likely find in pet stores.

Just to give you an idea of their cost, we’ve put together a table that shows the price you can expect to pay for a 10lb bale. Remember these are liable to change and we are only providing you with a rough idea.

Hay types 10lb price comparison

Orchard Small Pet Select Orchard Hay
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$39.35
OatSmall Pet Select Oat Hay
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$34.99
TimothyStandlee Premium Western Forage Timothy Grass
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$24.99
MeadowSnowflake Meadow Hay Feed and Bedding
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$6.23

Alfalfa

Aside from grass hays, another possible food choice for rabbits is alfafa hay. Alfalfa (sometimes referred to as ‘lucerne’) is a legume hay in the pea family.

In terms of nutrients, it’s higher in protein and minerals than grass hays and is used mainly as a feed for horses, cattle, chickens, sheep, turkeys, dairy cows and other farm animals

As a high nutrient/high energy hay brand it does have some benefits for kits and young rabbits and its palatability also makes it a good source of food for underweight rabbits or those recovering from an illness.

While you may use alfalfa as part of a mix alongside grass hays, feeding it as the main source of hay for an adult rabbit is not recommended due to a high calcium content that may contribute to the formation of bladder sludge or stones (solid build-ups of crystals made from minerals and proteins).

Vegetables/Leafy Greens

Nutritionally speaking a rabbit doesn’t need to eat vegetables to survive, and like their wild relatives would live perfectly healthy lives provided they had unlimited access to grasses, hays, and other forage.

However, rabbit owners have recognized that vegetables, fruits, and certain herbs are amongst rabbits’ favorite foods and now commonly provide them as an extra source of nutrients.

When it comes to vegetables there is a vast list of vegetables that rabbits can eat safely. It’s fairly safe to say that if it’s not shown on this list, you should probably avoid it.

Due to the delicate digestive balance required inside a rabbit’s gut, we recommend choosing two or three of the leafy green varieties, that your rabbit enjoys, and sticking with those (personal favorites of our own rabbits are collard greens and cabbage).

Remember, a rabbit is not the same as a human, it does not need the same degree of variation in its diet that we do.

While it’s natural for an owner to want to feed multiple different varieties of vegetables daily but too many diet changes can be detrimental to the rabbit’s health.

New varieties can of course be introduced on occasion provided it’s done carefully. Runny poop (diarrhea) can be a good indication that a certain food is disagreeing with a rabbit’s digestive system so when new foods are introduced toilet areas should be monitored and diet changes made if necessary.

One particularly easy mistake to make as a new owner with a rabbit is to feed iceberg lettuce.

Although readily available and low cost, iceberg has little nutritional value and high water content which means that feeding it in larger quantities may cause diahhrea.

It also contains lactucarium, a chemical that can be dangerous to rabbits. With so many other tasty vegetables available we recommend not taking any risks.

Vegetables suitable for rabbits (click here to find the recommended portion size for your own rabbit)

ArugulaThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Aragula70X70.pngGreen Leafy LettuceThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Green-Leaf-Lettuce70X70-1.png
BasilThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is basil70X70.pngKaleThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is kale70X70-1.png
Beet Greens*This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is BeetGreens70X70.pngMacheThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mache70X70.png
Bok ChoyThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is BokChoy70X70.pngMallowThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mallow70X70.png
BorageThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Borage70X70.pngMintThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Peppermint70X70-1.png
Broccoli This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is BrocolliLeaves-and-Stems70X70.pngNapa CabbageThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Napacabbage0X70.png
BrocolliniThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Brocollini70X70.pngOreganoThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is oregano0X70.png
Butter LetttuceThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Butterlettuce70X70.pngParsley*This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Parsley70X70.png
Cabbage (all varieties)This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cabbage70X70.jpgRadicchioThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is radichio70X70.png
CeleryThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is celery70X70.jpgRadish tops*This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is radish-greens70X70.png
ChardThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is chard70X70.pngRed CabbageThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is redcabbage70X70.png
ChicoryThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is chicory70X70.pngRomaine LettuceThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is romainelettuce70X70.png
Chinese Pea PodsThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ChinesePeaPods70X70.pngRosemaryThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Rosemary70X70.png
CilantroThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cilantro70X70.pngSpinachThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is spinach70X70.png
Collard GreensThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is collardgreens70X70-Copy.pngSpring GreensThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is springgreens70X70.png
CorianderThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is coriander70X70-Copy.pngSwiss Chard*This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is swisschard70X70.png
Dandelion LeavesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dandelionleavess70X70.pngThymeThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is thyme70X70-1.png
Dill LeavesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dillleaves70X70-Copy.pngTurnip GreensThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is turnipgreens70X70-1.png
EscaroleThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is escarole70X70.pngWatercressThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is watercress70X70.png
EndiveThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is endive.jpgWheatgrassThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wheatgrass70X70.png
Frisee LettuceThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is friseelettuce70X70.pngYu ChoyThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is yuchoy70X70.png
*Can be fed on alternate days due to higher oxelate levels

How many vegetables do rabbits need?

There are a lot of differing opinions on exact quantities of vegetables for rabbits, but its worth remembering that rabbits should already be getting the majority of the nutrients its body needs from good quality hay.

Having raised several rabbits over the above-average life expectancy these are the simple principles that have served me well.

Feed a minimum of 2 cups of leafy green vegetables for adult rabbits up to a weight of 6lbs, adding another cup for larger rabbits (giant breeds or those over 6lbs). Herbs found on the list can be added on occasion (but sparingly) to give a bit of variety.

Root vegetables including carrots and beetroot should only be fed as a treat food at a daily portion size of 1-2 tbsp per 6lb of body weight (1 tbsp for dwarf breeds) due to higher sugar levels or oxalates (chemicals that may be harmful in large doses) levels.

Simple feeding guide for rabbits

There are countless resources that detail feeding a rabbit on the web and we’ve noticed that a lot of them use ‘cup size as a measure’ but for those of us who are unfamiliar with US measurements (and you don’t know a cup is 125g) we’re simplifying this for you.

We’re still going to refer to cup size as a measure however for simplicity’s sake, our cup fits 100 grams of pellets (or 1 large handful of vegetables) this means that if we recommend a rabbit eats 1/4 of a cup of pellets, you should provide approximately 25 grams, 1/2 cup 50 grams, etc.

Alternatively, if we recommend ‘2 cups of vegetables’ you can simply give ‘2 large handfuls’ rather than measure out exact amounts (assuming your hands are not the size of dinner plates!)

When measuring quantities out for a rabbit, keep in mind that the recommendations found on any rabbit site or book are purely an estimate.

In reality, the amounts of pellets or vegetable matter a rabbit needs will depend on its activity level and many other factors that cannot be guessed at as they are specific to the individual rabbit (e.g. it’s location or environment).

As a beginner, use this easy table as a rough guide, you’ll soon learn to use your own judgment and if you feel you need to adjust the amounts you can.

Though pellets in excess can be problematic, there’s no need to worry about overfeeding on greens – these guidelines are more about saving you money at the grocery store. Rabbits will stop eating when they are full.

How much does a rabbit need to eat? A quick reference tool

Rabbit Size or ageHay VegTreat Foods (fruits & flowers)Pellets
0 to 3 weeks old
*Mother’s milk only
N/AN/AN/AN/A
3 to 7 weeks old
*Mothers milk plus:
Unlimited Alfalfa HayN/AN/A1/4 cup
7 weeks to 7 months Unlimited Grass Hay 1 cup1 tbsp 1 or 2 times per weekUnlimited
Small adults (1kg, e.g Netherland Dwarf)
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Unlimited
Grass Hay
2 cups1 tbsp 1 or 2 times per week1/4 cup
Medium adults (2.5 kg, e.g. Mini Lop)
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Unlimited Grass Hay2 cups2 tbsp 1 or 2 times per week1/2 cup
Large adults (4kg e.g. Satin Angora)
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Unlimited
Grass Hay
2 cups2 tbsp 1 or 2 times per week1/2 cup
Giant breeds
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Unlimited
Grass Hay
3 cups 2 tbsp 1 or 2 times per week3/4 cup
Elderly rabbits with weight loss
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Unlimited Hay (may mix with alfalfa if calcium levels are normal)2 cups2 tbsp 1 or 2 times per weekUnlimited

Pellets

Pellets are readily available at pet stores but in truth, provided a rabbit is getting good quality hay and veggies of the recommended amounts there is actually little need for pellets at all.

Pellets were originally developed for caged rabbits that were bred for food. They are useful for fattening up undernourished kits and elderly rabbits.

When considering pellets, it’s worth remembering that wild rabbits do perfectly well without them. Although pellets can provide a little extra nutritional value, we advise against them in healthy rabbits as it can be very easy to overfeed.

Obesity in rabbits is a common problem often associated with a lack of space to exercise coupled with too many pellets.

If you do choose to feed pellets adherence to the guideline amounts should be observed. Pellets should never be used as a substitute for good quality hay and fresh vegetables.

You can read more about obesity in rabbits and it’s associated problems in out post here (link to ‘How to Prevent Fat and Obesity in Rabbits’).

What to look for in a rabbit pellet brand

There are multiple brands of pellets available, but not all are made with a rabbits best interests in mind.

If you take a look at the ingredients in pellets you’ll usually find that they are comprised of either timothy (grass) or alfalfa hay.

Alfalfa brands will, of course, have higher calories and protein which is better for a growing rabbit under 7 months of age.

With the most important part of a rabbits diet being fiber, it makes sense to look for a pellet brand that has a high content.

Look for a pellet that is around 20% fiber and a low-fat content of 3% or under, this will ensure that the rabbit has no problems with digestion.

If your interested you can find our recommended pellet brands on our resources page linked here.

Muesli style rabbit food

As well as pellets many pet stores also sell cereal style food mixes for rabbits. These are usually a mix of the some of the following ingredients: Wheat, flaked peas, flaked maize, timothy hay, alfalfa meal, whole oats, soya bean hulls, flaked wheat, soya oil, wheat feed, extruded locust beans, calcium carbonate seeds, corn flakes, and bits of fruit and dried veg and claim to be a balanceed solution for a rabbit.

These are relatively cheap and would appear to be a good choice to add variety to the diet, however, the problem with these mueslis is that a rabbit will often only pick out and eat only the bits it likes.

This has the potential to lead to a rabbit missing out on essential nutrients (particularly if it is not getting a good supply of grass hay). As such, we recommend staying to the ‘all the same’ type pellets.

Water

It goes without saying that the most important aspect of any pet’s diet including rabbits is water. Rabbits in the wild will drink water from any number of sources so you can rest assured that tap water is perfectly clean and safe for rabbits.

Although a lot of a rabbits water will come from the vegetables it eats, rabbits should have access to a fresh water supply at all times.

While water bottles are the usual choice for new rabbit owners, it should be noted that rabbits can consume a daily amount of water similar to a cat or a small dog.

There are a couple of issues with a water bottle. The relatively small spout size can make it difficult for rabbits to get enough water for a proper drink.

Another problem is that algae can often build up on the inside of the bottle, this can be very difficult to clean completely from the inside of the bottle.

Taking this into account we recommend providing rabbits with a large ceramic bowl. Rabbits often throw objects around including food dishes and bowls, however, the weight of a ceramic bowl will ensure that the rabbit is unable to flip it over.

Finally, always monitor water levels in your rabbits home to ensure they have a good supply especially during warmer seasons.

Treats

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Every rabbit owner loves to spoil their pet and pet food manufacturers know it.

They are also well aware that consumers ‘buy with their eyes’ so they create bright and colorful additive-laden treats intended to catch the attention.

Unfortunately, a lot of these products can be very bad for a rabbits delicate digestive system. Yogurt or chocolate drops and dried sweetcorn on a stick are amongst the worst of these ‘treats’.

The other thing to note about a lot of pet store treats is that they can be quite expensive and while the price wont necessarily leave you going hungry every month, these costs added to the price of vegetables, hay and other rabbit essentials will really add up over the lifetime of a rabbit.

There are of course some natural treat ranges (those that include folage mixes and bits of dried fruit) that are perfectly healthy for a rabbit, however our question is this:

Why pay a few dollars for a small bag of dried apple pieces when you can prepare fresh fruit at a fraction of the price?

Instead, why not simply choose one of the tasty and natural treat foods from our list of fruits or rabbit safe flowers below?

Spoiling your rabbit doesn’t have to be expensive and there are plenty of natural treats that rabbits love. Most (if not all) on our list can be eaten by us too so you can save money by sharing them with a rabbit rather than buying them specifically for it.

Always stick to very small quanitities described in our ‘simple feeding table’ to ensure there are no ill effects to your own rabbit.

Just like for us humans, long term overfeeding of treats and sugary foods will reduce life expectancy significantly. 

Remember, treats are just that – a treat! they are not a staple part of a rabbits diet and even natural sugars in fruits can lead to health problems and obesity. Despite what a rabbit might tell you if it were able to speak, it is not necessary to give rabbit treats every single day!

Fruit and vegetables that rabbits can eat as treats (click here to find the recommended portion size for your rabbit)

AppleThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is apple70X70.jpgKiwiThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is kiwi70X70.jpg
ApricotThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is apricot70X70.jpgKohlrabiThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is kohlrabi70X70.jpg
AsparagusThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is asparagus70X70.jpgMandarinThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mandarin70X70.jpg
BananaThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is banana70X70.jpgMangoThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mangos70X70.jpg
Bean SproutsThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is beansprouts70X70.jpgNectarinesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is nectarine70X70.jpg
Beetroot*This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is beetroot70X70.jpgOkraThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is okra70X70.jpg
Bell PepperThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bellpeppers70X70.jpgOrange PeelThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is orange-peel70X70.jpg
BlackberriesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is blackberries70X70.jpgOrangeThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is orange70X70.jpg
BlueberriesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is blueberries70X70.jpgPapayaThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is papaya70X70.jpg
Brussel SproutsThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Brusselsprouts70X70.pngPeachesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is peaches70X70.jpg
CantaloupeThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cantaloupe70X70.jpgPearsThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pear70X70-1.jpg
CarrotThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is carrots70X70-1.pngPineappleThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Pineapple70X70.jpg
CauliflowerThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cauliflower70X70.jpgPlumsThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Plums70X70.jpg
CeleryThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is celery70X70-1.jpgPumpkinThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Pumpkin0X70.jpg
CherriesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cherries70X70.jpgPumpkin SeedsThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Pumpkinseeds70X70.jpg
CranberriesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cranberries70X70.jpgRadishesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is radishs70X70.jpg
CucumberThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cucumber70X70.jpgRaisinsThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is raisins70X70.jpg
Cucumber LeavesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cucumberleaves70X70-Copy.pngRaspberriesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is raspberries70X70.jpg
Dragon FruitThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dragonfruit70X70-3.jpgRaspberry LeavesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is raspberryleaves70X70.png
EggplantThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is eggplant70X70.jpgSnap PeasThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is snap-peas70X70.jpg
ElderberryThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is elderberries70X70.jpgSummer SquashThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is summersquash70X70.png
FennelThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is fennel70X70.pngStar FruitThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is star-fruit70X70.jpg
Fig LeavesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is figleaves70X70.pngStrawberries & TopsThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is strawberry.jpg
GrapefruitThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is grapefruit70X70.jpgSunflower SeedsThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sunflowerseeds70X70.jpg
GrapesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is grapes70X70.jpgTurnipThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is turnips70X70.jpg
Green BeansThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is greenbeans70X70.jpgWatermelonThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is watermelon70X70.jpg
HoneydewThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is honeydew70X70.jpgZucchiniThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is zucchini70X70.png
* feed sparingly due to higher oxelate levels

Plants and flowers

Wild rabbits will eat anything they find to survive, including plants and flowers but they will be well aware of those they can and can’t eat.

Domesticated rabbits are not always quite as street smart when it comes to plants and those in a domestic setting will happily try out any house or garden plants within reach to see if they taste good.

There are many varieties of house and garden plants, some of which can be poisonous to a rabbit.

House and garden plants are often sourced from all over the world which means that they are not native to a rabbits natural environment, as such the rabbit has no real idea of what the plant is.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of plant species on the planet, lots of which can do harm to a rabbit.

It’s of course impossible for anybody including us to know the possible effect that each species may have on a rabbit, however we have provided a very short list of some common plants and flowers that a rabbit can eat safely as treats.

Our recommendation is that unless you know without any doubt that a particular plant or flower is harmless, always keep those in the home out of reach and those in a garden protected using a chicken wire fence or mesh protection.

List of common plants and flowers that rabbits can eat (click here to find the recommended portion size for your rabbit)

BindweedThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bindweed70X70-1.jpgJuteThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is jute70X70.jpg
BorageThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bindweed70X70.jpgKudzu VineThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is kuzuvine70X70.jpg
ChamomileThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is chamomile70X70.jpgLavenderThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lavendar70X70.jpg
ChicoryThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is chicory70X70.jpgLemon BalmThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lemon-balm70X70.jpg
CloverThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is clover70X70.jpgMaple LeavesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is maple-leaves70X70.jpg
ColtsfootThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is coltsfoot70X70.jpgMarigoldsThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is marigolds70X70.jpg
ComfreyThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is comfrey70X70.jpgNasturtiumThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is nasturtium70X70.jpg
CrocusThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is crocus70X70.jpgPansiesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pansies70X70.jpg
DaisyThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is daisy70X70.jpgRosesThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is roses70X70.jpg
DandelionsThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Dandelions70X70.jpgShephard’s PurseThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is shepherds-purse70X70.jpg
EvergreensThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is evergreens70X70.jpgSow thistleThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sow-thistle70X70.jpg
GoosegrassThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is goosegrass70X70.jpgSunflowersThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sunflowers70X70.jpg
GrassThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is grass70X70.jpgTulipThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Tulips70X70.jpg
HibiscusThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is hibiscus70X70.jpgVioletsThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Tulips70X70-1.jpg
Jewel WeedThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is jewelweed70X70.jpgYarrowThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is yarrow70X70.jpg

Foods rabbits should avoid

New rabbit owners often have questions around what a rabbit can and can’t eat, while we can’t cover all of the possible foods in this post, here is a list of some common foods you should never feed a rabbit.

List of things you should avoid feeding a rabbit

AcornsLeeks
AlmondsLegumes
Apple seedsLentils
Artichoke leavesMushrooms
AvocadoMustard greens
BeansNoodles
BreadNuts
CabbageOlives
CandyOnions
CauliflowerPasta
CheesePeanut butter
ChocolatePeanuts
CoffeePeas
Corn husksPopcorn
CrackersPotatoes
DatesQuinoa
EggsRhubarb
FigsRice
GarlicSeeds
Green onionsSilverbeet
HoneySugar  
Hot peppersTurnip greens
Iceberg lettuceWalnuts
KelpYogurt

Rabbits digestive system and functions

Before looking at the parts of a rabbit’s digestive system lets consider its function – breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. 

Digestion breaks down food into smaller units which can be absorbed through the wall of the digestive tract.  This energy is then used for daily needs, exercising, growth, or conditions such as pregnancy.

The digestive tract of the rabbit also provides protection from harmful bacteria and toxins.   Enzymes and acid within the rabbits stomach help prevent or kill bacteria and protect the rabbit from illness. 

This shows us that a rabbits immune system is closely linked to its digestive system, and emphasises  the importance of not upsetting this balance by introducing or overfeeding unsuitable foods like sugar rich treats.  

Removal of waste from the body is also an important role of the rabbit’s digestive tract and is witnessed frequently by rabbit owners! (aka pooping!)

Parts of a rabbits the digestive system

Let’s take a quick look at the several important parts of a rabbits digestive system which each play a part in breaking down these plant materials so that the rabbits body is able to make use of them.

1. MouthFood passes to the rabbits mouth via the lips where the teeth begin to break it down.  The teeth (which grow continuously to account for wear from the abrasive high fiber food) cut and grind the food into smaller pieces. 

An adult rabbit has four upper and two lower incisors at the front of the mouth and 22 molars and premolars at the back. 

When you look at a rabbit you will, however, see only two upper incisors as the other smaller pair sit behind (if you have ever been bitten by a rabbit hard enough to leave an indent you can see this!) the function of these teeth is to tear and grab food.

The rabbit’s premolars are sometimes called cheek teeth.  A rabbit has three upper premolars and two lower, along with three upper and three lower molars. 
These teeth grind the chopped food particle even smaller so that they can be swallowed.

One issue that can occur when a rabbit is not given enough fibrous plant material in its diet is that its teeth can easily grow out of control. 

Undesirable relative positioning of the upper and lower teeth when the jaw is closed may occur which consequently prevents the rabbit from being able to eat or drink, understandably this is a serious problem that can be fatal and will likely require treatment from a vet.
2. EsophagusAfter swallowing, food travels down the esophagus, the tube leading to the stomach.  Swallowing is made easier as the food is lubricated with saliva produced during chewing.
3. StomachRabbits have quite big stomachs as they need to be able to hold quite a large amount of food.  Once it reaches the stomach the food begins to be broken down into smaller pieces by acid and enzymes.

During the digestion process the stomach will secrete hydrochloric acid, mucus and pepsin.  Mucus protects the stomach wall from the acid and enzymes and keeps the food moist. 

Acid plays an important role in reducing the PH of the stomach to a level that allows the enzymes to work and kills any harmful bacteria in the food, while pepsin breaks down the proteins.

Muscles in the stomach assist the digestion process by contracting in order to create a churning motion.  This mixes the food with these stomach secretions and breaks it down.
4. Small intestineThe mix (also known as chyme) then makes its way to the small intestine.  The flow of food into the small intestine is controlled by the pyloric sphincter. 

The small intestine is where most of the digestion and absorbtion of the nutrients in the food occurs and is made up of three sections, the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum.

When food passes to the first section, the duodenum, buffers secreted from the pancreas pass into the small intestine in order to neutralise the PH level of the chyme while proteolytic, lipolytic, and amylolytic enzymes continue to break down the food.  

Next food passes to the jejunum where some of the nutrients from the food are absorbed, these include glucose for energy, fatty acids and various amino acids important for the rabbits health.

The final part of the small intestine, the ileum, absorbs the remaining nutrients and vitamins.
5. Large intestine and cecumThe last part of a rabbit’s digestive system is the large intestine and cecum.  The cecum is a blind sac located in a similar position to the human appendix. 

When food reaches this point it splits into food that has some remaining nutritional value and food that hasn’t, such as indigestible fiber. 

Food that cannot be broken down further passes into the large intestine where water is reabsorbed.  This creates the familiar round droppings that rabbit owners see often. 

Although passed as waste, Indigestible fiber is in fact very important.  It stimulates the intestinal contractions which help to push the food through the g.i. tract. 

Rabbits that lack this fiber in their diet can develop blockages or stasis, which can be fatal. 

Food that still has nutritional value to the rabbit passes instead to the cecum.  This is the most important part of a rabbit’s digestive system and is larger than the stomach. 

In the cecum, large amounts of bacteria and microorganisms ferment and digest the food to produce their own cells proteins, and vitamins. 

This is then turned into digestible nutrients by these bacteria so that they can either be absorbed through the cecum wall or excreted as caecotropes. 

Caecotropes unlike waste pellets are small and very moist droppings that are rarely seen by humans.  This is due to the fact that a rabbit will eat caecotropes directly from their own anus as they are being expelled.  

As strange as this may seem to us humans, it is a very important part of a rabbit’s digestive process, especially for wild rabbits who may experience a scarcity of food. 

Rabbits need to be able to utilize as many nutrients as possible from their food and caecotropes passing through the entire digestive system is a way of ensuring as many nutrients as possible are used.

Although this information isn’t essential, these basics can help us, owners, to understand the importance of a good high fiber diet.

Its also worth noting that rabbits did not evolve with access to unlimited varieties of vegetables, fruits, flowers, and definitely not yogurt drops. In order to avoid gastrointestinal issues, remember the next important point.

Aside from hay, introducing new foods into a rabbit’s diet needs to be done carefully. Very small amounts should be provided at first before a short monitoring period. If no issues occur (diarrhea, discomfort, or lethargy) within a few hours, you should be pretty safe to increase the amount.

Wrap up

Although we all enjoy spoiling our pets, a rabbit is not like us. It does not need a varied diet that includes all manner of sugary fruits and treats. 

A diet high in carbohydrates or lacking in fiber will cause all sorts of health issues for a rabbit over the long term.  Only a high fiber diet will ensure the gut is moving as it should prevent the very serious gut stasis, a common killer of pet rabbits. You can read more about this very serious issue here (link to post ‘What is G.I. Stasis?).

Meeting a rabbits nutritional needs is one of the easiest things an owner can do, however, it’s just one part of the puzzle when it comes to them living a long life.

Aside from food, there are another couple of crucial factors that can influence a rabbits life expectancy and having kept several rabbits to a ripe old age, these are the other things I have provided to ensure their continued health. They may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people miss them.

Firstly, there’s no point having a good diet without sufficient exercise.

Rabbits are very active animals that need a decent exercise space where they can burn off all those calories, as such, setting up an environment that encourages an active lifestyle is vital.

Unfortunately, the majority of hutches sold in your average pet store just won’t meet a rabbits physical needs (as well as not being a very nice place to spend its life) and a poor hutch choice will likely lead to a drastically shortened lifespan.

If you have no alternative but to use a hutch consider rabbit proofing a garden as a larger exercise space and allowing them a couple of hours per day to enjoy it, alternatively you could share a room or two inside the home (rabbits are just so much fun to live with!)

From a personal standpoint, I loved living with house rabbits however when my daughter came along I was forced to make some changes.

Although rabbits are very hygienic, we didn’t want to take any chances so we set up several large custom playhouses for them outside. We also rabbit-proofed our garden to make it completely safe and secure for them to get plenty of exercise.

I wholly recommend children’s playhouses/wendy houses as good alternative for a standard rabbit hutch, they are much more spacious and can quite easily be customised internally to suit a rabbits needs.

If your interested in seeing exactly what we did click here (link to post ‘Can a House Rabbit Live Outdoors?’)

The other thing that will help a rabbit to lead a long and happy life (and arguably the most important factor I have found) is companionship.

Rabbits are social animals that thrive on interaction, particularly with their own species but failing that a human can also be a good companion for a rabbit.

Having personally adopted two rabbits as companions for lonely or bereaved pets, I can tell you that not only is it extremely satisfying to know that you’re giving a neglected rabbit a loving home but the effect on the well-being of both rabbits is clear to see.

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing two bonded rabbits playing together or grooming each other.

A companion will give a rabbit a reason to live. If you would like to learn more about companionship, you can read our post here (link to post ‘Should I Get My Rabbit a Friend?’).

Related Questions

What do rabbits eat in the wild?

Wild rabbits will eat anything they can get to survive, including grasses, 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.

Can I feed wild rabbits carrots?

Wild rabbits can eat carrots and other vegetables but they rarely have the opportunity. A wild rabbit has a digestive system that is no different from a domestic rabbit so although they can eat carrots, carrots are a high sugar food that should only be given in small amounts.

Further Reading

  1. Harriman, Marinell, “FAQ: Diet,” http://rabbit.org/faq-diet/
  2. Fisher, Cindy, “Plants Poisonous to Rabbits,” http://www.allearssac.org/badplants.html
  3. Brown, Susan DVM. “Small Animal Nutrition.” House Rabbit Society. Jun. 10, 2012. https://rabbit.org/small-animal-nutrition
  4. Brown, Susan DVM. ‘What Can a House Rabbit Eat?’ House Rabbit Society https://rabbit.org/suggested-vegetables-and-fruits-for-a-rabbit-diet/
  5. Marinell Harriman ‘Rabbit Food’ House Rabbit Society https://rabbit.org/faq-diet/
  6. ‘Feeding Your Rabbit’ pdsa.org https://www.pdsa.org.uk/taking-care-of-your-pet/looking-after-your-pet/rabbits/your-rabbits-diet
  7. Becker, Marty DVM ‘Get the Hop on Bunny Digestive Problems’ Vetstreet.com http://www.vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker/get-the-hop-on-bunny-digestive-problems
  8. “Natural Nutrition I: The Importance of Fiber.” House Rabbit Society. Jul. 10, 2011. rabbit.org/natural-nutrition-part-i-the-importance-of-fiber.

Darren

Darren is the founder and editor at Bunny Advice and has been caring for rabbits for over a decade. He has a passion for helping animals and sharing his experience and knowledge with others.

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