It is often assumed that, because most rodents are omnivores and will eat just about anything, rabbits must also be omnivorous, too. Contrary to popular belief, however, rabbits are actually herbivores!
This doesn’t necessarily mean that a rabbit will turn down a piece of food that contains meat. Rabbits are like grazing bulldozers that will munch on anything that crosses their path – whether it’s wood in their enclosure or a bite of your pepperoni pizza slice that got too close to the rabbit.
However, rabbits rely on a plant-based diet to live.
If you’re thinking of getting a rabbit and you’re curious about what to feed it, or perhaps you’re wondering whether it’s safe to allow your rabbit to eat meat, keep on reading!
What do rabbits eat?
Rabbits rely on a plant-based diet that is high in fiber. As with the majority of domestic pets, domestic rabbits must be given a diet that closely matches the one that they would normally eat in the wild.
Grass and hay are the two main ingredients in a rabbit’s diet. In fact, 80-90% of their diet is made up of grass and hay! Rabbits enjoy grazing on different types of grass and hay throughout the day, so it’s something that bunny owners must top up regularly. Some rabbits might be fussy about a certain type of grass and hay, so it’s important to give them a mixture of different textures to satisfy their cravings and help to grind their teeth down.
Hay is particularly useful for maintaining their oral hygiene, but it also provides a good source of entertainment to prevent them from destructive boredom, promotes a strong jaw, and is a great source of fiber.
Commercial bunny food is good for rabbits as it is filled with the nutrients necessary for a rabbit’s diet – however, it is only recommended feeding your bunny pellets rather than rabbit mixes. This is because rabbits will only eat the bits they like in a bowl of rabbit mix, which means they will miss out on the other vital nutrients. The pellets, however, contain an equal amount of fiber and nutrients.
Rabbits love vegetables. They should eat around 3 types of greens per day, otherwise your rabbit might get picky about not eating their essential pellets. Problem is, new vegetables can be a source of digestive problems for a rabbit. This is why you should always feed your rabbit a small amount of veggies at a time to see how they react to it.
Fruit is a nice treat for rabbits, but due to the high sugar content of most fruits, rabbits shouldn’t eat more than 2 tablespoons worth of fruit a day.
Can a rabbit eat meat?
Rabbits need fiber more than they need protein. As meat isn’t very fibrous, rabbits have evolved to not require meat in their diet.
While rabbits can eat meat if they want to, that doesn’t mean they should. Meat can be the cause of a variety of digestive problems for a rabbit, purely because their bodies cannot absorb and digest meat in the same way it digests fibrous hay and vegetables.
If your rabbit accidentally has a few bites of something meaty, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. However, it’s important to look out for anything wrong with your rabbit afterwards, because they are likely to experience tummy aches. Too much meat is a huge no-no, as this can cause damaging health problems. If you feed your rabbit meat regularly, this can even lead to death.
Think of it like a dog with chocolate. Dogs shouldn’t eat chocolate, but a few bites of the stuff won’t do too much harm other than cause a tummy ache. Too much chocolate can cause a myriad of health issues, including fatalities.
Are there carnivorous rabbits?
Scientific studies have suggested that rabbits might have been carnivorous thousands of years ago, but when they realized their bodies weren’t suitable for a meat-based diet, they adapted to a solely plant-based one.
Carnivorous rabbits were a thing of legend back in the 17th century. Feared by English and Irish natives, the carnivorous rabbit was a hostile creature that fed off the corpses of livestock, including cows, pigs, and sheep. Whether this version of a rabbit was real or not is unclear, and rest assured, no such rabbit exists like that nowadays.
What foods can kill a rabbit?
As with most domestic pets, there are several foods that rabbits cannot eat as they will cause digestive problems, promote health risks, and could even be the cause of fatalities. These foods include:
- Pips and seeds from fruits – pips and seeds contain small particles of cyanide that is safe for a human, but deadly for a rabbit
- Almonds, mangoes, millet sprouts, cassava roots – all of these foods also contain cyanide
- Spinach and rhubarb – harmful but not fatal
- Tomato plants, eggplants, potato plants, sweet potato plants – all contain harmful toxins
- Caffeine (tea or coffee) and chocolate – these contain methylxanthines that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, and death
- Grapes and raisins – these fruits are high in sugar
- Sugary foods – a small amount of fruits is fine, but sugar can be lethal
- Salty foods – likewise, excessive salt can cause dehydration
- Dairy products – rabbits do not produce enough lactase to break down lactose
- Bread and floury goods – while rabbits need fiber, these foods are made of processed and bleached grains with no fibrous value, leading to constipation or death
- Onions, garlic, and chives – these cause gastrointestinal problems
There is a long list of other foods that rabbits cannot eat, which includes:
- Various weeds
- Wild peas
- Rhubarb leaves
- Mustard plant roots
- Iceberg lettuce
- Yeast dough
If you think your rabbit has eaten something it shouldn’t have, the best thing to do is to keep an eye on them for the next few hours to see if you notice any behavioral changes. If in doubt, go to the vet!