At our farm, we really don't feed a lot of treats to the rabbits. Their diet is probably 98% rabbit pellets that are formulated for us by our vet and delivered in bulk direct from the Masterfeeds Elevator in Cavan. Rabbit pellets are the best nutrition for rabbits. They provide everything they need, and won't get them fat the way other treats can. I also feed my rabbits hay on occasion, and sometimes dandelions, or some watermelon rinds if we have watermelon. That's rare though. For the most part the vegetable scraps go to the guinea pigs instead.
That being said, if you just have one or two rabbits, treats are something you probably want to feed. Whether it's for training purposes (I never use food rewards for training my rabbits, but I know some people do), or just to spice up the diet, treats can be fun to feed. The key is to feed them in moderation, and to be careful what you feed. Some foods are very harmful to rabbits.
There are many rabbit treats commercially available at pet stores and in the pet section of the big box stores. You may wonder if it’s a good idea to be feeding these treats to your rabbit, or if it’s better to just feed fresh fruits and vegetables.
A treat is just that, a treat. As long as a commercial treat is fresh, it is probably safe to feed in very limited amounts. In reality, even fruits and vegetables should be fed as treats in addition to a healthy diet of good quality pellets and lots of fresh hay.
Pellets do have a shelf life, so try to buy feed that has a manufacturing date, or best by date. Don’t buy feed that is more than a month old, and try to use up a bag of pellets within 3 months of it being manufactured. As long as they are not musty, they will still be safe for awhile longer, but the nutritional value will be lower. Never feed mouldy, musty, or insect infested feed. Ideally use a J-style feeder that attaches to the outside of the cage. This way, you can quickly fill the feeder from outside, and it will be harder for the rabbit to get the feed dirty. Always discard soiled feed and replace it with fresh.
Any food changes should be made slowly. You should also use caution when offering your rabbit a new treat because too much all at once might cause a digestive upset. At first they may not recognize a new treat as food, and might ignore it. Give them a small amount, and remove the leftover after a few hours so it doesn’t spoil.
Every rabbit has its likes and dislikes. Learn what type of foods your rabbit likes, and you’ll be able to use treats as a way to bond your rabbit, or as a training reward.
Here are some ideas on what types of fruits your rabbit might like:
Apples (and apple tree branches)
Oranges (and the peel)
Grapes (with the stems)
Watermelon, Cantaloupe, and Honey Dew Melons (with the rind). I often eat a piece of watermelon myself, then give the rind to my rabbit. Feed melons very sparingly. They can cause diarrhoea because of the high water content.
Raspberries and Blackberries and bramble stems
Vegetables and Greens
Stock photo from pixabay
Lettuce. Dark green lettuces are best. Some people say iceberg lettuce can cause bloat in rabbits, and this is possible, however, I have fed iceberg lettuce to my cavies for many years and have never had a problem. I am not sure if this would be the same case with rabbits, so it is probably best to stick with dark green lettuce, which will also have a much higher nutritional value than iceberg lettuce.
Broccoli and Cauliflower florets and stalks
Celery. Celery is something that can be fed to rabbits and cavies, but is probably best avoided. The stringy fibres are sometimes tough to digest. If you are going to feed celery, chop it into very small pieces.
Spinach. Spinach is a wonderful treat for rabbits and probably superior to any type of lettuce.
Carrots with or without the tops
Beet or Radish tops
Maple or Oak Leaves
Things to NEVER Feed a Rabbit
Beans. Not the plant, leaves or beans themselves
Frozen or canned vegetables – always use fresh
Cabbage, Kale and the like – these are very likely to cause bloat
Raw Potatoes, or any part of the plant
Letting Rabbits Graze Outside
You might think that putting your rabbit in a pen on your lawn and letting it eat the grass would be fun and healthy for the rabbit. It can be, but use caution. First of all, as has been mentioned above, you need to make any feed changes gradually. Letting your rabbit have unlimited grass all of a sudden will probably make it sick. Young rabbits are especially susceptible to sickness or death from too much green feed.
Rabbits also like to dig, and can do it quickly. If you aren’t watching them, they may be able to dig out of their pen and take off.
To make the most of a ‘lawn-mowing’ experience, put your rabbit in a properly fitted H-style harness and leash and allow if to nibble some grass while you spend time outside with it. Obviously, be sure you are in an area where cats and dogs won’t attack your rabbit, and that the lawn is free from pesticide and poisonous plants. Unless you have a well fenced (very well fence) yard, never just put your rabbit down outside without a harness, regardless of how tame it is. It might not come back to you.
Bottom line is: use treats as treats, and for bonding with, and training your rabbit. The rest of the time, feed your rabbit a healthy pellet and hay diet with plenty of fresh water.