Karla S. Rugh, DVM, Ph.D.
Posted: December 20, 2012, 4 a.m. EST
Rabbit Snowball/Courtesy Kayla Jones
Bunnies have delicate digestive tracts, so always introduce new foods in small amounts to test whether it agrees with your rabbit.
Rabbits are hard to resist when they ask for a treat, standing on hind legs, stretching their necks upward and twitching their noses to get a whiff of a tasty morsel. Just a little treat won’t hurt now and then, will it? It might if the treat isn’t healthy or you feed too much of it.
The healthiest treats for your rabbit pal are veggies such as small pieces of carrot, a broccoli stem, celery, etc. (Avoid high-starch vegetables like beans, peas, potatoes and corn.) Sure, your rabbit eats veggies every day, but that doesn’t mean it won’t like them as a treat, too. And don’t forget: even an everyday veggie is extra-special when it’s hand-fed!
Fruit also makes a healthy treat in limited quantities. Offer no more than 1 ounce (about 1 tablespoon) of fruit per 6 pounds of body weight per day. Any more than that, and you risk upsetting your bunny’s digestive tract, which isn’t designed to digest large quantities of sugary foods, even natural ones like fruit.
Dried fruits, such as raisins or apples, make good treats for rabbits as well. You’ll need to feed smaller amounts than you would for fresh fruits, because dried fruits are more concentrated due to the water loss that occurs during processing, so opt for four or five raisins instead of a human-sized snack box proportion.
Just because your rabbit will eat something doesn’t mean it is a suitable snack. Avoid giving your rabbit friend goodies that are:
• high in sugars
• high in fats
• high in starch
Some examples of treats not to give to your rabbit are bread, cereal, nuts, seeds, oats and other grains, chocolate and refined sugar. Some products offered as treats contain high levels of fat and starch, components your bunny’s digestive tract can’t handle in concentrated amounts. These types of treats can cause serious digestive upset, especially if overfed. Your bunny doesn’t need the extra calories these treats provide either. Substitute a healthy treat, or just give your bunny some extra cuddles!
Rabbits thrive on a variety of foods, but make dietary adjustments slowly to avoid upsetting your rabbit friend’s digestive tract. New foods and treats, such as a new type of vegetable, should be introduced to your rabbit one at a time. At first, feed only a small piece (1 1/2-inch square for leafy veggies; 1-inch cube for solid ones like carrots or broccoli) for one or two days. Watch your rabbit closely for signs of digestive upset, i.e. failure to eat, listlessness or severe diarrhea. If your rabbit tolerates the new food, double the amount offered for the next day or two. Continue in this fashion until you reach a quantity that is suitable as a regular dietary addition. The same procedure can be used to introduce fruits to your rabbit, but the quantities are smaller (for example, start with 1/4 teaspoonful).
Excerpt from the Popular Critters® Series magabook Rabbits®,with permission from its publisher BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Rabbits here.