A friend of mine recently rescued a neglected “jail” bunny whose owner had been feeding it mostly carrots!! I find many people have ‘funny’ ideas about what constitutes a good diet for rabbits.
Though pet stores hawk the well-known alfalfa pellet as the all-purpose food, this is actually not a good diet for an adult rabbit. The most important item in a rabbit’s staple diet is HAY. For adult rabbits this should be timothy or grass hay NOT ALFALFA. There is an abundance of calcium in alfalfa that can lead to a condition called ‘bladder sludge’ which can be deadly.
So, though young rabbits may have a alfalfa pellet, in small amounts (HAY is still the mainstay) adults should have a timothy hay based pellet as supplement to the hay.
Pet stores also lure the human tendency to look for novelty by offering lots of fancy pellets with fruit, grains, colors, etc. These high calorie foods are not good for the gut system of rabbits, which needs a high proportion of fiber in order to operate in good health. Sugars from fruits should be offered very sparingly—a apple core or pear piece once a day at most. Fruit sugars can cause loose stools and upset the beneficial bacteria in the rabbit’s intestinal tract. And carrots are sweet!! So, minimize the carrots.
Hay should always be in the rabbit’s litter box and should be augmented daily.
My rabbits enjoy chewing the bark off cuttings from my Chionanthus tree. Since bunny teeth are always growing, they need appropriate chewing items to satisfy this urge to chew. When you provide them with these things, they are much less likely to gnaw on the furniture!!
I have Asian pear trees but they won’t need pruning any time soon. Can I give our rabbit pecan wood to chew?
If you keep rabbits, the House Rabbit Society website is the best place to get info on the types of plants and woods your rabbits can have: http://www.rabbit.org/faq/sections/diet.html .
I have a pair of house rabbits–don’t have the heart to raise rabbits for meat yet– and they get plum and apple woods almsot every day, as well as the leaves. Our trees don’t get sprayed on any of the new growth, so the wood is safe. Several of the nut woods are ok, but I can’t remember which ones to stay away from.
I personally disagree with the comments on alfalfa. I have moved away from pellets because their quality suffers so much in shipping them to Alaska, but a good, dairy quality alfalfa hay is still the basis of my rabbits diet, supplemented with a bit of whole grains (I go for as much variety as possible,) and as many quality fresh foods as the season allows. I am experimenting with sprouting the whole grains for winter greens.
Obviously alfalfa hay should never be fed in addition to alfalfa pellets as the calcium sludge is real, but rabbits in production require a certain level of protein that is difficult to find in vegetation. I definitely prefer a good, green, leafy alfalfa hay to the nasty GMO soybeans which are the second best option, and even then can only be fed roasted!
Growing rabbits and pregnant and nursing does need approximately 18% protein. Maintenance diet for other adult rabbits is in the 16-17% protein range, which is what your adult breeding bucks and does that are not currently bred or nursing will need. The average protein content of most grains and vegetation is 12-14%, so, as you can see, you really need something to boost that up a bit.
And, all that said, a good quality alfalfa pellet in theory CAN be a very good and balanced diet. Steer clear of corn, be aware that some brands will use animal proteins to boost their protein (yuck!) and look for a fresh, dark green pellet free from clumps and discoloration. I also do recommend a good quality grass hay as a supplement.
Please remember that rabbits in a production environment need a somewhat different diet than a pet that is not being bred! Primarily in that they need more calories, proteins, and fats, just like a house dog will need a different diet than a hard-working hunting dog.