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 your pet.  


Rabbits are herbivores and require a ration containing predominantly fresh green plants (especially grass)

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 food
  • 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.

2. Proteins

  • 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 protein 

3. Fats

  • 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.

4. Carbohydrates

5. Vitamins

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 rabbits
    • 1160 IU Vitamin A is required for reproduction
  • Vitamin B 
    • The first, soft stools that a rabbit passes are eaten again (a process called coprophagia). This is thought to supply the rabbit with most of its Vitamin B requirement, as several of the Vitamin B complex, including:
      • niacin
      • pantothenic acid
      • riboflavin
      • thiamine
      • vitamin B12  cobalamin

      are produced by bacteria in the gut during the first passage of digestion. 

    • Other Vitamin B's do have to be present in the diet :
      • choline - 0.12% of diet
      • pyridoxine - 39 micrograms/gram of diet
  • Vitamin C
    • Rabbits do not require vitamin C to be in their diet
  • Vitamin D
    • Deficiency of vitamin D causes rickets in rabbits
    • 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.


Like 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 ration.
  • Copper - 3mg copper/kg diet has been recommended
  • Iodine - requirements unknown. At least 0.2% iodine / kg diet has been recommended.
  • Iron - requirement unknown
    • Iron is naturally  present in rabbit foods.
  • Magnesium requirement - 30-40mg/100g diet
    • Magnesium deficiency may cause fur chewing and hair loss
    • 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 ration.
  • Potassium requirement : 0.6% of diet for growth. 
    • Grasses eg alfalfa are rich in potassium content
  • 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 very low.
  • 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.


Changing Diets

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.