Note for Pet Owners:
This information is provided by
Provet for educational purposes only.
You should seek the advice of
your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise
on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for
herbivores and require a ration containing predominantly fresh green plants
Whenever possible rabbits should be provided with
unlimited access to browse on grass or leguminous plants (especially alfalfa), which is their staple ration in the wild.
This may be difficult to achieve for domestic rabbits kept in an urban
environment, in which case the regular supply of fresh green plants is very
important. Left-over salad materials intended for human use make excellent
supplements for rabbits and the outer leaves of fresh greens such as cabbages or
cauliflowers, as well as the tops and bottoms of carrots should never be thrown
out before they have been offered to the pet rabbit. However, excessive feeding
of some plants may be harmful. For example, too much cabbage or rapeseed can
result in enlargement of the thyroid (called goitre).
There are a wide variety of prepared commercial foods -
often in pellet form - which are available to feed to rabbits. Most of these are
NOT a complete and balanced ration. If they are, the packet should bear the words
COMPLETE FOOD. Fresh green plant food should be provided in addition to prepared foods.
Nutritional requirements of rabbits include :
1. Calorie requirements
- For maintenance : 2100 kcals/kg food
- For growth, pregnancy or lactation : 2500 kcals/kg
- Obesity is common in pet rabbits, and excessive
calorie intake should be avoided. In particular only limited amounts of
high fat (oil) content grains should be fed.
- Rabbits require a good quality protein ration,
containing a number of essential amino acids including arginine
(0.6%), methionine and cystine (0.6%) and lysine (0.65%).
- The digestibility of plant proteins in rabbits
is very high - about 75%
- Rabbit rations should contain 14-17% crude
- Rabbits require a dietary intake of essential
fatty acids for growth, hair coat condition and normal reproductive
performance, and fats (or oils) are naturally present in
vegetables and grains.
- In addition volatile fatty acids are synthesised
in the gut by the bacterial breakdown of fibre.
- In feeding trials rabbits prefer rations with
5-10% fat content.
Rabbits require essential vitamins, or their
precursors , to be present in their ration. The precise requirements for some
of the vitamins are not known. Vitamins are present in the rabbits normal fresh foods, and
they are added to pre-prepared rabbit mixes, so deficiencies are rare. Some
vitamins are synthesised in the gut of the rabbit (Vitamin B complex) and so
they do not have to be present in the ration. However, a common problem is over-supplementation, which can lead to toxicity
eg Vitamin A and D.
- Vitamin A
- A precursor to Vitamin A (pro-vitamin A or
carotene) is present in carrots and other vegetables/plants
- 580 IU Vitamin A is adequate for growth in
- 1160 IU Vitamin A is required for reproduction
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin C
- Rabbits do not require vitamin C to be in
- Vitamin D
- Deficiency of vitamin D causes rickets in
- Excess vitamin D intake causes toxicity and
calcium deposition in tissues
- Vitamin E
- Rabbits require about 1mg Vitamin E/kg body
weight per day
- A level of 40mg/kg diet is recommended
- Vitamin K
- Sufficient Vitamin K is synthesised in the gut
by bacteria to meet normal needs.
- 2ppm vitamin K is recommended in the
diet for reproducing females.
most species rabbits require calcium and other essential minerals
(see below) in their ration. The
precise requirements are not known for some of the minerals.
- Calcium and Phosphorus -
- Chlorine - Unknown. Likely to be very low.
- Cobalt - micro-organisms living in the gut
of the rabbit need cobalt to produce vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
but very low concentrations are needed (less than 0.03ppm cobalt) in the
- Copper - 3mg copper/kg diet has been
- Iodine - requirements unknown. At least
0.2% iodine / kg diet has been recommended.
- Iron - requirement unknown
- Iron is naturally present in rabbit
- Magnesium requirement - 30-40mg/100g diet
- Magnesium deficiency may cause fur chewing and
- Magnesium is excreted in urine
- Manganese - requirement for growth and
adult maintenance 2.5-8.5 mg manganese / Kg diet
- Molybdenum - requirement unknown.
Deficiency or toxicity are unlikely to occur if the rabbit is fed a mixed
- Potassium requirement : 0.6% of diet for
- Grasses eg alfalfa are rich in potassium
- Selenium - the role of selenium in rabbits
appears to be different to other species in that it's relationship to
Vitamin E is different and it does not appear to help as an antioxidant.
- Sodium requirement : Unknown. Likely to be
- Zinc - requirement unknown. A ration
containing only 0.2ppm of zinc resulted in clinical signs of deficiency
including hair loss, skin inflammations, greying of the hair, reduced
appetite, weight loss and poor reproductive performance
A supply of fresh clean water must be available at
all times. This can be provided in bowls or drop feeders. Water intake is in the region of 10ml/100g body
weight , but this can increase to 90ml/100g body weight during peak lactation.
Because the rabbit relies on a stable population of
"good" bacteria in its gut any changes in dietary intake should be
introduced gradually to avoid sudden changes in types of bacteria present, as
this can result in diarrhoea.