Anyone who’s ever seen, let alone owned a rabbit knows that it’s a furry little feeding machine. Put food in front of a rabbit and chances are it’s bound to eat it, especially if it’s one of the foods that make up a staple in a typical rabbit diet.
Even if it isn’t something that the average rabbit eats, your own hungry bunny may feel the need to nibble away anyway.
Is that okay? How much is too much? What happens if your rabbit overindulges itself? What should you do if your rabbit’s eating habits suddenly change?
The question of what rabbits eat and how much is a complex one, so let’s dig into the first course of questions and see what answers we have to satiate our rabbit culinary curiosity.
Why Rabbits Eat So Much
The simplest answer to why rabbits eat so much is that they need a lot of food in the wild to survive and are naturally adapted to eat that much.
It should come as no surprise that rabbits are in constant need of food in the wild when so much of their life involves breeding or running away from predators. Both of those activities require a lot of energy, which means eating nutritious food and eating a lot of it.
Thankfully, a rabbit’s digestive system is well suited for this, being herbivores and thus inclined to eat all manner of plant life. From clover to grass and especially hay, rabbits tend to have plenty of food available to them and a strong drive to eat as much of it as possible.
This is even more important for when food does become scarce, such as in winter months. As with many mammals, rabbits need to fatten up for the winter, adding yet another incentive for them to eat a lot of fruits and veggies while they can.
When Rabbits Eat
Rabbits tend to be most voracious at dawn and dusk, which are the periods they tend to be most active overall. This allows them to eat, mate, and be active with the least amount of risk from predators.
Your pet rabbit doesn’t need to worry about predators, of course, but it is still bound to be most hungry during these periods.
Another reason your rabbit may be eating so much may have to do with the season and how it relates to the rabbit rhythm of life.
For example, rabbits are unsurprisingly even more voracious during the breeding season. All of that “activity” requires more energy, and eating is a social time for rabbits as well as humans, so it should come as no surprise that rabbits are especially hungry in between mating sessions.
Rabbits also tend to eat more when they shed their fur, given how much energy that can take.
However, there are more negative possibilities for a rabbit’s appetite increasingly sharply, such as parasites, which may leech off your rabbit’s intestines, sucking away the nutrients it consumes for itself. Symptoms of a parasitic infection can include irritated skin, sudden weakness, weight loss, a shabbier coat, and issues with its urine or excrement.
Diabetes is very rare in rabbits, but it is still another potential cause for your rabbit suddenly becoming dangerously hungry. Due to its rarity, it is often easier to diagnose once the other options here have been discounted by your vet.
Finally, rabbits tend to need more food as they grow, which naturally means a bigger appetite. This is especially true of key transition points in their lifecycle, such as growth from youth into young adulthood and sexual maturity.
What Rabbits Eat (and How Much)
To get a better idea of if your rabbit is eating too much, you first need to take a closer look at what your rabbit is eating in the first place. Too much for one foodstuff may be fine for another.
Hay and grass should together make up as much as 80% of your rabbit’s diet. In the wild, these things are obviously in abundance, and rabbits tend to graze on them throughout the day.
Hay and grass are full of fiber, which is essential for your rabbit’s wellbeing. Both grass hay and legume hay are essential parts of your rabbit’s diet.
Grass hay tends to contain more nutrients than legume hay, which is richer in calcium and protein. These nutrients are important, but too much of them can cause problems for your rabbit down the line.
Vegetables should make up roughly 10% to 15% of your rabbit’s diet. It’s arguably the part you need to be most careful about, since giving a bit too much can easily lead to overeating and obesity.
What’s more, not all veggies are created equal. Leafy greens are most beneficial, containing the most nutrients and helping rabbits wear down their teeth so they don’t grow too long.
Examples of leafy greens include lettuce (especially romaine), cabbage, celery, and fennel.
By contrast, root veggies have much higher sugar and starch content, which can fatten up your rabbit in a hurry. Examples of these kinds of vegetables include radishes, beets, yams, carrots, and turnips.
Then there are vegetables that aren’t good for rabbits to eat, such as cucumbers, eggplants, pumpkins, and tomatoes.
The final component of a pet rabbit’s diet are food pellets. Even though these are easy to give to your rabbit, you don’t want to fall into the trap of giving it too much, as these should only make up 5% of your rabbit’s diet max.
Pellets in particular are highly convenient to feed to rabbits, and they tend to love them. As such, you can’t bet on your rabbits displaying self-control with pellets present – if they’re there, they will eat them, and once they start, it can be hard to stop.
Consequences of Overeating
That said, overeating isn’t as innocent as it sounds. A chubby bunny may seem like a cute idea, but in fact obesity in rabbits can cause a wide range of medical problems.
- Obesity, which can make rabbits heavier, less mobile, more sluggish, and lead to some of the other problems listed below.
- Heart problems, such as plaque building up in their arteries and congestive heart failure.
- Diarrhea, gastrointestinal stasis, and other gastrointestinal issues.
- Tooth decay from eating too much of foods with high sugar content.
- Urinary tract issues, which can occur if a rabbit’s calcium intake is too high, resulting in cloudy, chalky, or sludgy-looking urine.
Finally, you’ll also want to check your rabbit’s dropping to see if they can provide a clue as to potential health problems related to overeating. “Healthy” rabbit droppings should be small, dark, round, and neither too soft nor too hard.
On the other hand, if your rabbit’s droppings are wet, less formed, diarrhea, or otherwise abnormal, it may be a sign that its diet has gone wrong, which itself can be an indication that it is eating too much of a certain type of food. For example, wet, malformed droppings can be a sign of too much sugar or insufficient protein.
Rabbits naturally eat a lot, but as a pet owner, it is your job to make sure that they don’t overeat their way into health problems while ensuring they maintain a healthy diet.