Freedom from hunger and thirst (Food and Water) All rabbits must have access to clean water and a well-balanced, nutritious diet. Freedom from hunger and thirst provides a rabbit’s most basic needs by allowing that rabbit to remain in good health and full of energy.
It says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five groups of welfare needs are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act all animal guardians (owners) need to provide all these things for their animals. One of these Five Freedoms is: Freedom from Hunger and Thirst. In this section you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your rabbits have the right diet so they are always free from hunger and thirst.
Don’t confuse this with the straw used for your rabbit’s bedding though!
Hay might look boring to humans, but for rabbits it's their main dish of the day, with 80-90% of their diet needing to be hay! Good quality hay should be available at all times. Each of your rabbits needs at least a ‘rabbit-sized’ bundle of good quality hay every day, which should be sweet-smelling. Always make sure the hay you give is never damp, dusty or mouldy, as this could make your rabbit really sick.
Feeding some hay from a hay rack or hanging basket keeps it clean and above floor level.
Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their life and need to be worn down and kept at the correct length and shape by eating hay, grass, and leafy green plants – if rabbits don’t eat the right sorts of food, they can suffer from serious dental disease.
Hay is also made up of long fibres that help the muscles of your rabbit’s stomach stay strong. A rabbit's complex digestive system means they need to constantly snack on hay throughout the day to keep things moving inside and help prevent blockages - like from fur or things they've eaten that they shouldn’t have!
Fresh grass and garden greens are another key part of a rabbit’s diet, as they also ensure good dental and digestive health.
Rabbits love grass, dandelion leaves, puha, fresh safe herbs, plantain and dock leaves. Your family must make sure the area they pick these from is a safe area that has not been sprayed by poison or chemicals that could harm your rabbit.
Offer your rabbits a variety of safe, washed leafy greens or weeds every day – ideally five or six different types. Other safe plants include cabbage, broccoli, parsley and mint. Check online and ask your vet or local SPCA for ideas of other rabbit safe herbs and garden greens you can grow for your rabbits.
Don’t ever feed your rabbit’s lawnmower clippings - this can upset their digestive system and make them ill.
Always check with an adult before feeding your rabbit a picked plant. If they don’t know for sure what type of plant it is or whether it is safe – don’t feed it to your rabbit!
A rabbit’s diet doesn’t naturally include cereals, root vegetables or fruit, but you can give apples or root vegetables like carrots in small amounts. However, you must introduce vegetables slowly (one at a time) and if any cause diarrhoea (runny poo) – stop feeding them those vegetables straight away.
Fruit is very high in sugar, so these should be fed just as an occasional treat for your rabbit
Your family can also feed a small, measured amount of good quality commercial rabbit pellets or nuggets to help to ensure your rabbits get a balanced diet, but remember that hay and grass are much more important and must be available at all times.
Make sure that any pellets/nuggets you provide are high quality and contain high fibre levels.
Ask one of the small animal team members at your local SPCA, or your rabbits’ veterinarian, to recommend a healthy pellet food for your rabbit. Remember, only introduce a new food or change to your rabbit’s diet gradually to avoid giving them a sore and unsettled stomach.
Muesli-style rabbit foods are a rabbit’s version of junk food!
Muesli-style rabbit foods are usually a mixture of pellets with dried fruits, nuts, grains and coloured pieces – they look a bit like human breakfast muesli.
These mixes are high in fat, sugar and salt, which are not good for your rabbit.
Many muesli-style rabbit foods are associated with health problems in rabbits and should not be fed. Feeding muesli-style rabbit foods can increase the risk of rabbits developing serious teeth and tummy problems (including obesity) which can cause terrible suffering.
If your family currently feed muesli-style rabbit foods, encourage your parents or caregivers to talk to your vet about gradually transferring your rabbits onto a healthier diet. Your rabbits will be much happier and healthier for it! This change should be done slowly over 14-28 days to avoid potentially serious tummy problems.
The importance of feeding your rabbits the right amount is just as important as choosing the right food for your rabbits.
Rabbits tend to eat for long periods of time, mainly at dawn and dusk when they like to graze, forage for food and be sociable.
How much an individual rabbit needs to eat depends on his or her age, lifestyle and general health. If a rabbit eats more food than he or she needs, he or she will become overweight and may suffer. When a rabbit is really overweight, he/she has reduced quality of life such as not wanting to play, having difficulty breathing, or suffering from diarrhea. This means they will be unable to eat their caecotrophes (special droppings they re-digest). Obesity also causes serious health problems such as diabetes. Preventing obesity depends on having the right food in the right amounts.
Try to avoid rabbit pellets with dried fruits, nuts, grains and coloured pieces. These are high in fat, sugar and salt, which are not good for your rabbit.
Different rabbits have different needs, so always check with your rabbits’ vet if you are ever unsure of what, how much or how often to feed your rabbits.
Just like people, most of a rabbit’s body is made up of water – 80% of it in fact!
Water is absolutely essential for every function of its body. A rabbit needs water because without water, a rabbit is not going to survive for very long.
Fresh, clean water must always be available and replaced daily for your rabbits.
Use heavy containers for your rabbits’ water to avoid it knocking over and spilling, or use rabbit sipper bottles that clip to the side of your rabbits’ enclosure.
Take note of the amount each rabbit eats and drinks every day and watch out for any changes in an individual’s eating, drinking or toileting habits. For example, if the number of droppings gets less or stops, or if there are soft droppings sticking to his or her back end, ask your parents or care-givers to talk to your vet straight away as your rabbit could be seriously ill.