by Dr. Cayla Iske
Greens and veggies are loaded with incredible nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, not to mention water that provides essential hydration to your little ones. Thinking of a rabbit’s overall diet, the variety of greens and veggies available far outweighs different types of available hays and pellets. Thus, these greens and veggies are a perfect way to diversify the diet and provide mental and nutritional enrichment to keep your bun interested at mealtime. Like guinea pigs and chinchillas, about 70% of a rabbit’s diet should be high-quality grass hay paired with 20% species and age specific pelleted food, plus 8-10% greens and veggies. Dark leafy greens should make up the majority of the latter category and fruits should be offered infrequently in very small amounts.
What Does 8-10% Look Like?
Every animal is an individual and unique in their nutritional needs, so it is always best to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best diet for your individual pet. General feeding recommendations are around 1 cup of dark, leafy greens per 2 pounds of a rabbit’s body weight daily. You can also provide other vegetables besides leafy greens, such as bell peppers and cucumbers, but these tend to be higher in simple carbohydrates like sugar and starch and should be provided in smaller quantities. A good rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of non-leafy green veggies per 2 pounds of body weight per day. For example, a rabbit that weighs 3 pounds should get roughly 1/8 cup (2 Tbsp) pellets, 1.5 cups leafy greens, and 1.5 tablespoons of chopped veggies (non-leafy greens). A general feeding chart for various body weights can be found below. Providing 3 to 5 different types of greens and veggies daily is encouraged, rotating types and varieties each day or week. These greens and veggies can be offered all at once, but it is best divided into multiple daily feedings if possible, to provide more enrichment, interaction, and avoid rapid intake in a short period of time. If available, organic produce is preferred to avoid pesticides and produce should be washed before offering.
Benefits and Options
Greens and veggies are excellent sources of vitamins A, B, C, and K, not to mention soluble fiber and trace minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, and zinc. The truly unique contribution of these dietary items, however, are the phytonutrients which are only found in plants. There are more than 25,000 phytonutrients found in plant-based ingredients including flavonoids and carotenoids, to name a few. There is not a known requirement for most phytonutrients, but they help to protect the body from stress, boost the immune system, and mitigate some issues commonly associated with aging animals (joint, skin/coat, disease).
While not an exhaustive list, the following are bunny-approved greens and veggies to consider:
Gradual introduction of any new food item, especially greens and veggies, is important to avoid overwhelming and upsetting your bunny’s digestive tract. Even if a food is completely appropriate for an animal, a fast or lackadaisical transition can lead to gastrointestinal upset simply because the gut is not used to processing that food. Additionally, never introduce more than one new food item at a time. Start with very small amounts and slowly increase over time monitoring for any changes in attitude, appetite, or stool production.
As we discussed above, all animals are unique and therefore it is always imperative that you factor your fur baby’s medical history into their dietary decisions. Some veggies and greens have specific nutritional factors that might determine if they are appropriate for your specific pet. For example, parsley, spinach, mustard greens, and Swiss chard should be fed sparingly or avoided for animals with a history of bladder issues as they are higher in calcium and oxalates than other greens and veggies. As a quick reference, the charts below compare calcium and oxalate concentrations in selected greens and veggies to control, monitor, and balance intake of these nutrients as they are often of high consideration when making dietary selections for your bun.
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For others with particularly sensitive tummies, it should be considered that broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage may cause some gastrointestinal discomfort (gas, bloating). Examples such as carrots and parsnips, which include a higher concentration of calories and simple carbohydrates, should be fed sparingly or only as a treat. If you have questions about what is best for your pet it is always best to consult with your veterinarian before making dietary changes.
Many greens and veggies may have similar nutritional compositions but can be quite unique in aroma, taste, and textures so experiment with different kinds to find varieties your pet likes! These differences provide excellent mental and physical enrichment beyond even the nutritional benefits we have discussed. It is always important to do your research and consult with your vet before making dietary changes but providing a diversity and variety of appropriate greens and veggies can help keep you and your bun happy for years to come.