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Rabbits are greedy little creatures that put on weight easily. They’ve evolved to eat food quickly to make help them get as many calories as possible whilst avoiding predators (they eat so quickly they have a digestive system that relies on them eating their own poop).
Due to this need for them to constantly graze on, they don’t really have an off-button in terms of satiety. Sure, they feel full, but there’s this grass here, and what if a wolf comes and they have to hide for a few hours? Best fill up now.
You have to control your bunny’s eating, because they’ll eat you out of house and home if they can.
Treats are hard to control when it comes to rabbits, because traditional rabbit treats that you can buy in pet stores are either very unhealthy (and often entirely unsuitable) for them, or high in calories.
Luckily, there are loads of food you might already have on hand that will do as a treat.
Try not to get into the habit of treating your rabbits regularly, just because. Save it for training, or when you’re getting them used to being left, or, you know, it’s their birthday/Christmas.
Below are a few treats I like to give to my rabbits, and they’re not in any particular order, though I will say how often (and how much) it’s wise to give.
The most important times you’ll need these in your arsenal are when your rabbit needs medicating. For this reason it’s important to keep certain foods (whatever your rabbit values the most) to only give with medication.
Teaching a rabbit that eating medicine is a treat is one of the most valuable things you can teach them. Some medications are more of a struggle than others. Mine don’t like Panacur (for E. Cuniculi), though they will eat it squished between two dandelion leaves. Pain meds like Meloxaid are usually accepted, but smearing it on a bit of toast really helps things along.
Eye drops swiftly followed by banana is a winner.
Bunnies LOVE banana and it’s a popular treat, but you must remember that it’s relatively high in sugar compared to a rabbit’s normal diet. For this reason I suggest you only use a small amount.
It’s great to smear onto hay to encourage them to eat it, and it’s a good reward for after things like eye drops or clipping their nails, but I try to avoid it if my rabbits are having digestive issues. As a last resort, fine, but sugar can make stasis worse, so try veggies first.
Pretty much the same as banana, unless you can find carrot tops. They’re weirdly hard to come by in the UK, though you can get them in Morrisons.
We don’t eat a lot of carrots because my boyfriend doesn’t like them (I have no idea why he finds them so offensive, but there you go), but on the occasions I do cook with them, I might give my rabbits a small slice, usually either top or the bottom.
I wouldn’t advocate giving rabbits entire carrots, but I’ve also adopted rabbits that have previously spent the last few years eating a carrot a day. Are they overweight? Yes. Did it kill them? No.
So if your rabbit snaffles and entire carrot and eats it all, don’t panic. Keep an eye on them, but they’ll probably be fine.
By the way, the whole ‘rabbit’s love carrots’ thing hasn’t been over exaggerated by the media. They freaking LOVE the things, and if you grow them in your garden, wild rabbits will show up. But wild rabbit will only be able to get them a couple of months of the year, so the excess sugar will balance out.
There’s a bit of debate about the types of herbs that are good for rabbits. Parsley in particular can cause problems because it’s high in calcium, but a bit on occasion won’t hurt.
I used to give my rabbit’s coriander (cilantro) because they adore it, but since I got an Aerogarden (pricey, but game-changing if you want to grow your own herbs indoors) they’ve enjoyed thyme, dill, basil, Thai basil, and mint.
It’s amazing, because the different herbs grow at different rates, and being able to prune it back and give the clippings to the bunnies means no wasted herbs!
Herbs are one of the treats that my rabbits always seem to wolf down, even if they eat them regularly. They’re not great at concealing medicine, but great as a reward during training.
This is a dog-training trick, but it works. If you’re training your rabbit to, for example, go back into their pen on command, or even do tricks like standing on their hind legs, pellet food is the best thing to use. It’s high value (if you’re not over-feeding at mealtimes), recognisable to the bunny, AND you can shake the bag as a signal.
Just be sure to adjust the amount you’re giving at mealtimes if you’re also using pellet food for training.
As I mentioned before, dandelions are a great way to give Panacur. Obviously I’ve not tasted it, but it has a chalky scent to it that some human medications have, and I don’t think my rabbits rate the taste (unlike Meloxaid, which most LOVE).
The best way to give it is to smear it one a large dandelion leave, and then put another leave on top. The Panacur is quite sticky, and the two leaves will stick together easily. Bunnies practically inhale dandelion leaves, so they barely taste the medication.
Dandelions are one of those greens that people are either very for or very against, so I tend to reserve them for giving medication on.
Grass isn’t great for giving medication, but you can mix it in with hay to encourage your rabbit to eat hay, or you know, for a bit of fun.
Ok, this one is controversial, because flour has NO PLACE in a rabbit’s diet.
Rabbits freaking love toast. For birthdays and Christmas or when our rabbits deserve an epic treat, we give them a little bit (like 1cm) of toast crust.
Take the crust off before you butter it, because any hint of spread of any kind will RUIN the toast (I don’t know why, you’ll have to ask Holly).
It isn’t good for them, but we’ve given every one of our bunnies toast, and it never harmed them. It’s not something that should be given everyday, but if you need a SUPER high value treat, toast is the one.
Our toaster beeps when we turn it on, and Holly and Daisy get super excited when it beeps, because they know it’s treat time. We’re not cruel, so we sub in herbs or something (or coincide us having toast with them having their pellets), but it’s so funny that when the toaster beeps, the rabbit’s start running in circles like crazy fools.
Don’t have toast in the house but need a high value treat? Oats are a great one (also good for putting weight in a bunny), but Shreddies (I think the US equivalent is Chex) are a winner too.
I discovered this very randomly one day when I had a bowl of Shreddies, and my old boy George ran straight over to me.
We taught him (I don’t know why) to beg on his hind legs, and he ran straight over and stood up. He usually only begged on command but he CLEARLY wanted a Shreddie. He literally NEVER used to beg for food and we ate dinner everyday near him. I gave him one (from the box, so it had no milk on it), he crunched it contentedly and ran away.
I don’t normally eat Shreddies, but I’ve bought them to check to see if they had the same effect on other rabbits. Whilst not have been so 100% positive they needed a Shreddie as George, they’ve all enjoyed them.
I’ve heard similar reports about Cheerios.
Now, these aren’t good treats to give to a rabbit BUT sometimes you need something high value. Infrequent but stressful activities (such as going to the vets or moving house) can be made much easier on everyone if you have a couple of Shreddies up your sleeve.
I know that some of these foods won’t do your rabbit any good, but I’ve also been in situations when I’ve had rabbits that aren’t eating (usually post-surgery) and I’ve been desperately trying to think of things I can give them to encourage them to eat.
It’s all very well recommending critical care, but if you don’t have any and it’s 9pm on a Saturday it’s comforting to know you have some options.
I do recommend you keep some Critical care in your rabbit’s first aid box, but I also know that having critical care on hand isn’t something you typically think of until you’ve had a rabbit go into stasis – especially since it’s not cheap. Don’t beat yourself up about it – it’s 100% human nature.
By the way, I’ve had a lot of success with coriander/cilantro in post-surgery situations. Except, of course, for the rabbit that came back post-spay and ate an ENTIRE EGGBOX as if she’d just been on a trip to the seaside, not had major surgery.
This is the rabbit that had a massive tumour removed from her face when she was 10 and was trying to eat BEFORE she’s fully woken up from the anaesthetic. The vet said he could see her little mouth going so he moved the food towards her and she started eating it.
Mint and basil are a bit hit and miss in this situation – I think because of the strong smell – but it’ll vary from bunny to bunny.
Most of these aren’t foods that I’d recommend giving on even a weekly basis, but it’s nice to have a few ideas for special treats. A bit of toast crust at Christmas won’t hurt.