This being the final segment of our series, I think it's fair that we finish up with a couple of human favorites: Dinner, and Dessert!
Dinner is Served!
As I mentioned in the first post, the catch-all "small animal" feed isn't good for the health-conscious rabbit. But there is such a thing as bagged pet food for rabbits, just as there is for cats and dogs, et cetera. This type of food is designed specifically to meet the nutritional needs of rabbits, and its primary ingredient is hay.
Once, or at most twice a day, give them a small, measured serving of one of these quality, designed-for-rabbits pellet feeds. This will fill in whatever nutritional gaps might otherwise exist in their diet, as well as contribute to their chewing & tooth-wearing needs. And when I say "a small serving," I mean it. About a quarter-cup per serving per 4 or 5 pounds of body weight is plenty to start with.
Most rabbits will eat as much of this feed as you give them, but the more you give, the bigger they'll get, thanks to the good nutritional content. A well-rounded rabbit is fine, but they shouldn't have rolls and rolls of fat on their flanks or be too big to groom themselves or get around easily. By the same token, a rabbit that's gradually losing weight can be given more feed to reverse that trend, provided there are no underlying medical reasons for the weight loss.
(*Weight loss can be a serious sign of illness, especially if it's noticeable and sudden. Check with your vet immediately!*)
And Now, Dessert!
We humans love our sweets, and whether it's chocolaty, fruity, tangy or just plain sugary, we have a tendency to eat more of these than we need, mostly because they're just so darned good. We have our Valentine's Day chocolates, Easter jelly beans, summer key lime pie, Halloween candy, Thanksgiving pecan and sweet potato pie, and don't get me started on the sheer number of sweets out there come December!
Whatever the occasion, we like to celebrate with food that may be a touch low on the nutritional side, but just tastes so good it's a celebration all by itself. It just so happens that our health-conscious house rabbit likes to celebrate in exactly the same way, but as with human treats moderation is the key.
For the record, don't share YOUR dessert with your rabbit. The nuts, chocolate, flavorings and fillings can be downright poisonous, and even our "healthy" sweets generally have too much sugar in them to even consider giving them a bite.
The types of treats we're talking about are much closer to items we would normally put in a different part of the food pyramid. Dried apple chips (no seeds!), pear chunks (raw, not canned) or bite-sized hunks of papaya can be a super-special bunny treat, full of flavor and a few delicious vitamins to boot. Citrus fruits like lemons, limes, or oranges are out, though; the acid is bad for them.
Our rabbits will fall all over themselves for a dried banana chip, and if we let them, they'll push the mason jar we store them in all over the room trying to open it. Thank goodness for the lack of opposable thumbs, or they'd eat themselves sick, and quickly! Try to limit these treats to just one or two bites on a daily basis, and cut back even further if they're gaining weight or already too heavy.
Trick or Treat!
Like us, our rabbits don't really "need" dessert, they just really enjoy it. But bunny treats like these can be very effective as rewards for good behavior, and can help jump-start human-rabbit interaction in the case of shy or timid animals.
If you have a bun that's fine by himself, and maybe fine with you too, but runs and hides when your young child comes in the room (for instance), try getting your young'un to hold one of these treats while sitting quietly. Eventually, Hopper's curiosity is likely to win out over caution, and both will get a better idea of how to interact with one another.
Likewise, treats can make up for times when you might otherwise "offend" them. Sometimes bunny nails need trimming, or their fur needs brushing out due to shedding. That prolonged contact might be something you need to enforce despite your rabbit's wishes, but a couple of dried banana chips and freedom to run around for a while will quickly cover a multitude of your "sins."
Such treats should be given sparingly, but it can vary depending on the treat and the bunny. Cilantro, for instance, is a food they can have daily, but it's also nice and sweet and our bunnies love it. If something like that works as a "treat," you can use it just about as often as you like. Parents' willing, we routinely use it to encourage the introduction of our bunnies to kids (and grown-ups!) that have never interacted with indoor rabbits before.
The Final Word:
Well, there isn't really any final word. As with any diet, there are almost as many opinions as there are rabbits and rabbit owners. There are many lists of "good" and "bad" foods online, and some are more complete than others. Some will even disagree on what category to put which food into. The most consistent advice I have found is to give plenty of hay, and if a horse can safely eat it, generally so can a bunny rabbit.
For me, the last word is this: do your research, be consistent, and introduce new things gradually until you find out from your Long-ears what they like most.
Raw and fresh, that's what's best for the healthy house rabbit.
And, ahhh…, no cookin', Doc!
Pat does love his rabbits, but has a soft spot for animals of all kinds. If you have any questions, comments, pet stories or concerns for him, or just like what he writes, he'd love to hear about it in the comments below!