So just what does one feed a house full of bunny rabbits? Do they eat carrots like in the cartoons? What about other vegetables? Can I use the bag of feed with the hamster, guinea pig and bunny on it that they sell at Mega-Giant-Max-Club, Super-Tiny Pet Store Plus, or at the Mom & Pop's Grocery? What about sneaking my rabbits a few treats from my own plate?
These are all great questions, and here are a few of the answers.
PART 1: ABSOLUTELY NOT!
1) Every-Pet Food: You may see bags in the pet food sections that say "small animal feed" or something like that, and have a picture with various pets (including bunnies) on the bag. The health-conscious urban rabbit shouldn’t eat this UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. This type of feed is a "catch-all" made to feed multiple species of pets, primarily rodents. This might be okay for your hamster or gerbil, but rabbits are NOT rodents, no matter what Yosemite Sam says. It just doesn't contain the right balance of nutrients for your bunny, and can actually be harmful.
2) Table Scraps: Other than rinsed, raw veggies, most table food is also out. If your Flopsy happens to grab a bite here and there, don't panic. Our oldest bun LOVES stealing dropped kernels of salty, buttered popcorn (eeek), and he's been known to swipe nibbles of unattended syrupy breakfast pancakes and scrambled eggs (shudder). He stole a bite of a piece of pepperoni pizza once (yikes!), and even made the daring theft of a Valentine's Day chocolate, right out of the box, while everyone was looking but just out of reach! (*faints*)
Amazingly, Percival is still around at age 10 and his health has yet to suffer for his transgressions. But in all seriousness, sneaking bunnies your table food can wind up killing them.
3) Fresh Fruits and Bad Veggies: Just like our neighbor Meg Dure (who does a different blog in these parts), many of us humans have found that a good salad once in a while is a good thing! But let's take a quick look at which pieces of this "rabbit food" are actually good for the healthy house bun, and which we should limit or skip altogether.
On our "AVOID!" list, fresh fruits, onions, rhubarb, cucumbers and tomatoes are all bad ideas for various reasons ranging from being too high in sugar, seeds or calcium to being downright poisonous. Kale is supposedly okay in small amounts only, but while our rabbits ADORE it, we only ever gave it to them once - the smell of their urine afterwards was UNBEARABLE! I've heard that result depends on the rabbit, but I'm not willing to risk it ever again. Consider yourself warned.
Fresh spinach is on the "OK" list, but only in small amounts, and iceberg lettuce has almost no nutritional value, so save that bag of mixed lettuce for your own table. Thumper would be much better off with some fresh romaine or some celery with the leaves still on. Dandelion greens are also good for rabbits, and you can even be get them right from your yard, but do make absolutely certain they're free of any herbicides or pesticides before you serve them up.
By the way, dandelion greens make a tasty and affordable addition to your own salad, as well! We often grab a bunch or two when we happen to be at one of the Asian grocery stores, rather than trusting the weeds from out front. Not that there's any real difference between the two. Not that we have weeds out front. Ahem. Moving on...
Bunny digestion depends mightily on two things: constant movement, and the right mix of bacteria in the gut. Sugar, seeds and human foods can mess with that mix by promoting the growth of "bad" bacteria, and this can slow or stop the motion of food inside them, a condition called "stasis." Foods that aren't easily digested can also stop things up or even cause injury, situations which are far better avoided instead of treated.
Finally, the "when in doubt, throw it out" rule definitely applies. If the veggies in your Long-Ears' dish are a day old, moldy, or just looking a bit off, by all means toss them. If you wouldn't eat it, they probably don't need to, either. If they just aren't eating all of what you're giving them, try giving them less per serving, or something else entirely next time.
Next time, we'll dive into Part II, where we explore the following equation:
Rabbits = Horses...?
Questions about what to feed or not feed your pet house rabbit? Or about what to do if your bun decides your salad is tastier than hers? Or are you just a vegetable fan? Pat would love to hear about it in the comments below!