Feeding a Rabbit: Its Diet and Nutritional Needs

Updated on July 30, 2019
Schatzie Speaks profile image

Schatzie has bachelor's degrees in animal science and English and a master's in education.

A highly fibrous diet aids a rabbit in its fast flight response.
A highly fibrous diet aids a rabbit in its fast flight response.

What to Feed a Rabbit

There are many different classifications of diet compositions for animals. Diets that are composed of plant material are grouped as herbivorous, diets that are composed of animal material are grouped as carnivorous, and diets comprised of both plant and animal material are considered omnivorous. Animals that must eat material from one of these specific categories are considered obligates of that food type. Rabbits are classified as obligate herbivores, meaning that they must consume plant material in their diet in order to be healthy and thrive.

There are many reasons why animals evolve to require certain food types. Natural selection ensures that animals adopt traits that are most beneficial to their survival. In order to survive and combat predation, rabbits have many adaptations that increase their likelihood of escape. Along with having their eyes situated on the side of their head, thereby creating a good visual field to survey their surroundings; having upright ears adept at funneling sound; and having an unguligrade foot structure to ensure the longest stride possible; diet also plays an important role in a rabbits' defense strategy.

A rabbit's defenses depend on its ability to see, hear, and flee with speed and agility.
A rabbit's defenses depend on its ability to see, hear, and flee with speed and agility. | Source

Rabbit Diets

Diets of dry, fibrous material enable rabbits to eat in open plains, a habitat that allows early and easy detection of any approaching predators. At the sighting of such a threat, a highly fibrous diet also aids a rabbit in its fast flight response. With its muscular hind legs, and a body skeleton which comprises a mere eight percent of its entire body weight, a rabbit is capable of very fast flight, an ability which will not be hindered by a stomach filled with a meal of fiber. A meal with a high fat or water content would sit significantly heavier in a rabbit's stomach, potentially slowing it down and making it victim to a faster predator.

In the wild rabbits are able to fend for themselves and eat the nutrients they require.
In the wild rabbits are able to fend for themselves and eat the nutrients they require. | Source

Rabbit Feeding Issues

In their natural wild habitat, rabbits are able to fend for themselves and eat meals that fulfill their dietary requirements. However, in captivity, it is easy to feed rabbits in such a way as to deprive them of certain nutrients and the high fiber content they have evolved to require.

When such deficiencies occur, there are detrimental effects on the animal's health. Gastrointestinal problems are common in pet rabbits, and most "are related to inappropriate diets (low fiber; high protein; high carbohydrate) and infrequent feeding of treats to which the rabbit is not accustomed" (Davies). Other problems arise from an imbalanced diet as well.

Health Problems Caused by Improper Feeding

Feeding young rabbits too many carbohydrates causes enteritis characterized by overgrowth of undesirable bacteria, excess calcium can cause kidney disease, pregnancy toxemia occurs when by pregnant does are not fed the right nutrients and can result in seizures, and urolithiasis is a condition involving the formation of urinary stones due to the consumption of too much calcium.

The dietary requirements of rabbits are not well understood, except that they do best when fed a combination of foods they would normally eat in the wild, and "problems can be avoided if captive rabbits are fed a diet consisting primarily of fibrous vegetation, such as grass, hay, and fibrous weeds" (Davies).

Coprophagy in Rabbits

Another evolutionary dietary characteristic of the rabbit is the practice of coprophagy. This refers to the production of both hard and soft feces and the ingestion of the latter type directly from the anus. The purpose of this particular behavior is to gain access to "water, protein, and B vitamins that the rabbit needs" (Gendron 41), all of which are contained in their soft feces.

Problems arise when raising rabbits in captivity if owners consider this behavior abhorrent and attempt to stop it. Coprophagy is necessary in the health of a rabbit, and "when you try to keep a rabbit from eating this stool or if your rabbit is impacted and not passing stool, he will become ill from missing these nutrients" (41). Due to their anatomic limitations, rabbits are unable to absorb all the needed nutrients from their meals during the first digestion; and food must be processed multiple times to derive the utmost benefit of its contents.

Evolution has shaped the dietary requirements of the rabbit. The ingestion of feed of high fiber has allowed the rabbit to survive and flourish, and it has evolved many characteristics that complement and depend upon this diet. This dependence should be taken into account when rabbits are raised in captivity, and their food source is provided for them solely by their caretakers. In order to have ideally healthy pets, diets should mimic a rabbit's natural food intake as much as possible, as most deviations from natural feed result in severe health problems.

In captivity it is important rabbits are fed plenty of fiber and allowed to practice coprophagy.
In captivity it is important rabbits are fed plenty of fiber and allowed to practice coprophagy. | Source


1. The veterinary clinics of North America. Exotic animal practice [1094-9194] Davies, RR yr: 2003 vol: 6 iss: 1 pg: 139

2. Gendron, Karen. The Rabbit Handbook. Barron's Educational Series, Inc. Hauppauge, New York 2000.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2008 Schatzie Speaks


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Schatzie Speaks profile imageAUTHOR

      Schatzie Speaks 

      8 years ago

      Healthy Pursuits, thanks for commenting!

      Haha, it is kind of an unpleasant process, but a very necessary one! :)

    • Healthy Pursuits profile image

      Karla Iverson 

      8 years ago from Oregon

      I wondered why my rabbit ate its own feces! I used to kiss its nose until I saw that. I learned to think of it as a sort of backward cud chewing. I was too young at the time to ask anyone.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, pethelpful.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)