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In short, no. Your rabbit can live a long, perfectly healthy life without eating pellet food.
I mean, it makes sense. Wild rabbits don’t eat pellets.
Sure, they also only live for a couple of years, but that generally isn’t to do with dietary constraints, just like early man’s lack of sugar in their diet isn’t anything to do with their longevity (or lack thereof).
It just so happens that life is hard when you have a lot of predators and are at the mercy of the elements.
Why do we feed rabbits pellet food?
I actually only recently learned this, but it makes sense. It’s also quite sad when you think about so, er, don’t.
Rabbits are used a LOT in experiments. Please use cruelty free products where possible. Not only do they have extremely sensitive skin, but they reproduce quickly and readily – a scientist’s dream.
But hay is messy. We know this. It clogs up your vacuum and gets EVERYWHERE. The solution to this was feeding rabbits pellet food. It’s mostly just compressed hay anyway. The benefits of hay, like wearing down teeth and improving digestion aren’t that important when the rabbit won’t live very long anyway (I actually couldn’t find out how long lab rabbits live, so I’m assuming not long).
So the only reason rabbit pellets were developed was to reduce mess.
What’s in rabbit pellets?
I buy the Burgess Excel Nuggets with Mint for my rabbits, and its top ingredients are:
- Oat bran
- Soya bean hulls
- Lucerne (alfafa)
Unfortunately, I can’t find any more information than that, so I don’t know whether it’s 99% grass and 1% everything else, or 20% grass, and 80% everything else. Oh well.
Either way, you can see from the ingredients that rabbits shouldn’t be living on this. Pellets are supplementary, with the main event being hay. Hay should be a good 85% of a rabbit’s diet.
Can rabbits survive on just pellets?
Probably. It’ll contain all the vital nutrients to keep a rabbit alive.
But we need to remember that we’re not here to have our rabbits survive.
We want them to thrive.
A rabbit would happily exist on just pellets, just like some humans would happily live on a diet of potatoes and bread *raises hand shamefully*.
Pellets are a great way to get your rabbit to gain weight and condition if they’re in bad health, but hay is really the most important component of a healthy lagomorph diet.
Not only is it imperative to their digestive system, and will help keep GI stasis at bay, but it wears down their constantly-growing incisors and will save you trips to the vets and ultimately, money.
Will rabbits stop eating when they’re full?
I wish I could just put ‘no’ here, because it does *tend* to be the case. The vast majority of rabbits I’ve encountered will eat until they pop (not literally – I don’t think).
Let’s consider wild rabbita.
All rabbits are designed to eat constantly. Not only do they have a digestive system that relies on them eating very often, but they’re prey animals that have eat whenever it’s safe. The more energy they can get in one go, the better.
The reason they’re so intent on getting into vegetable gardens is that they have access to vegetables that have more bang for their buck, nutrient wise.
Rabbits do love carrots (like it says on the TV), because they’re very sugary, and sugar = energy. Wild rabbits need a heck of a lot of energy. Peas are even better because they have protein and sugar. But just because wild rabbits go mad for them doesn’t mean they’re actually healthy.
A wild rabbit may not know where their next meal is coming from. They may be eating dry grass for the next month – they don’t know, so it’s best to take the chance and eat those carrots.
A pet rabbit doesn’t have this actual conundrum, but their internal brain doesn’t know that (you know, the same one humans have that make us crave fatty foods). Most of them will eat as many pellets as you give them, and won’t stop for something as trivial as being full.
I had one rabbit, a little Dutch boy, who always leave some pellets for later (obviously, the other rabbit would eat them so we’d have to give him a few pellets on the down low). Every other rabbit has been a greedy, greedy little pig.
Interestingly, we have our two girls separated (Daisy has head tilt and needs a small area to ensure she doesn’t hurt herself) and they don’t rush their food like they used to, so there’s probably an element of ‘if I don’t eat this, someone else will’.
I get it, I grew up with three brothers.
Why won’t my bunny eat their pellets?
I always panic when my rabbits won’t eat their pellets, but usually they’ve not needed any vet intervention. Sometimes when they’re moulting, they might ingest fur and prefer to eat hay to push it through their system.
If you notice that your rabbit isn’t eating their pellets, it’s incredibly important that you monitor them well. If they’re not eating at all, you need to get them to a vet.
Some rabbits just aren’t that interested in pellets, but I’ve never had one that refused to eat them because they didn’t like them. It might just be that pellets are their third choice over veggies and hay. Not only is that perfectly healthy, it’s probably beneficial to the rabbit’s overall health.
If your rabbit stops eating their pellets all of a sudden but is still eating veggies, try adding a little water to the pellets to soften them up. If you use warm water the aroma may make your rabbit more likely to give them a try. If the soft pellets are eaten, your rabbit could be experiencing dental pain, so it’s off to the vets for you.
When Daisy first had head tilt she went off pellets (having previously loved them) but was still eating hay and veggies. I’m not trying to detract from the fact she was very ill, but if a rabbit is still eating something (be it hay or lettuce or whatever) it’s a good sign that they’re a fighter.
If your rabbit isn’t eating and you’re panicking in the time between now and getting them to a vet, offer them herbs (basil and coriander/cilantro are usually winners). They’re delicious and not likely to cause sugar spikes like banana might.
A quick and dirty trick is to make up a paste using pellets and water, and smear it on your bun’s face. They’ll have to eat it when they wash their face.
Rabbit pellets vs. rabbit muesli
The old-fashioned rabbit mueslis of yesteryear are still, I’m afraid, going strong in a lot of pet stores. You know the ones – they have seeds, weird green and orange bits, and usually chopped up dates (I used to eat them when I was a kid).
I wouldn’t give them to a rabbit. I firmly believe that no pellets is better than bad pellets. Not only do they have a lot of added sugar and dye in them, but they have seeds that could potentially wreak havoc on your rabbit’s digestive system.
Should you give your rabbit pellets?
I think so. Pellets have added vitamins and minerals that are hard to monitor in hay. Hay tends to vary in terms of quality, so I like having the back up of pellets.
To find out how many pellets you should give your bunny, I have a whole post on feeding rabbits here, but in general, we’re looking at around a quarter of a cup a day. If you’re used to giving your rabbit a full bowl, it will seem like a paltry amount, but I PROMISE it’s plenty. Larger rabbits may get more depending on how you calculate it, but they don’t need more.
Will your rabbit act like it’s starving when you reduce pellets? Oh yes. Expect dramatics.
A diet of veggies and hay is a great way to cure this (it’s usually to do with too much of a specific gut microbe), but you may need to do it for months. Be strict, because once you reintroduce pellets your rabbit will become obsessed with them. I know this from experience.
Final thoughts on rabbit pellets
Rabbit pellets are a great, convenient way to ensure that your rabbit is getting all the micronutrients that they need. BUT they’re not a replacement for hay, which should make up the vat majority of your rabbit’s diet.
Yes, I know it’s messy, and hard to vacuum (Shark vacuum cleaners handle it better than Dyson IMO), but that’s what you let yourself in for when you got a bun. At least their poop doesn’t smell!