Rabbits make great pets, but there is often confusion about what to feed and not feed rabbits. In order to understand their dietary requirements it is useful to know a little about rabbit anatomy;
Rabbits (like guinea pigs) are ” fibrevores”, this makes them a herbivore where the diet is primarily “indigestible” fibre. We call this fibre indigestible because mammals like rabbits, cows, dogs and humans cannot digest it, however bacteria can. Herbivores that utilise these foods have a stomach and digestive tract arranged to support bacterial populations that can digest (ferment) the indigestible fibres for the mammal to absorb.
Rabbits are “hindgut” fermenters and have a 2 pass digestive tract. Hindgut fermenters means they digest the fibre in an organ called the caecum (in humans this is where the appendix is), and a two pass digestive tract describes how rabbit produce 2 different types of poo, the caecotrophs which are darker, softer, smellier and squidgy, they are nutrient rich due to the hind gut bacteria and are eaten directly from the anus, the second poos are the faeces, these are firm, light brown to grey in colour, dry and nutritionally empty.
Rabbits thrive in low nutrient environments, eating the most fibrous and difficult to digest foods. In the home this makes them very susceptible to obesity, dental disease and digestive disorders when they are fed high calorie, high nutrient foods like cereals, fruits and non-leafy vegetables.
The single most important thing to feed you rabbit is grass based hay, and lots of it, they need all that fibre to keep their teeth nice and trim and their digestive tracts balanced and active. Alfalfa hays are less ideal due to their high protein and Calcium content.
Next to Hay there is the fresh greens, good examples are grass, dandelion, green leafy vegetable such as bok choi, kale, cabbage, carrot tops, endive, radiccio, and other greens that are fibrous, dark and tough, avoid the lighter weaker leafs like iceberg lettuce.
Finally as a special treat a small amount of a sweet vegetable or fruit can be used, such as carrot, capsicum, apple, etc. These should not make up a significant portion of the rabbits diet, just as cookies and cake should not make a significant portion of our diets!
In regards to rabbit food, or rabbit nuggets, most rabbits do not require this at all, they can have a use in pregnant or lactating does, young weaning kits, or sick rabbits that need a calorie boost, but for otherwise healthy adult rabbits they are usually not needed and will contribute to obesity.