Why Rabbits Crave Treats

Just about anyone who has a pet rabbit knows that rabbits go crazy for their favorite treat, whether that be small piece of banana or a crispy, crunchy bunny cookie. The higher the caloric content it seems, the more that they crave it.

It reminds me of a two year old human child once they discover sweets. The classic childhood raiding of the cookie jar may just be part of growing up, but for a rabbit it is a part of their genetic make-up.

When rabbits were still wild creatures living in nature, the bunny who ate the most calories the quickest was the one who was also back to safety inside the burrow the fastest. Over time, natural selection or evolution coded that trait directly into a rabbit’s genes.

While you may think that your bunny is the only bunny who is absolutely in need of a 12 step program for his banana habits, actually it is inherent to the species. The key thing to remember is that given a choice, virtually all bunnies will chose the highest calorie food available to them at the time.

To explain in detail, if given a choice between pellets and hay, most bunnies will chose pellets. If given the choice between fruit and pellets, most bunnies will select fruit, first. Bunnies are fairly predictable that way and it is what makes a rabbit a rabbit.

What you need to know is that, just like raising a child, you cannot allow them to make important choices for themselves such as about their diet. We know that if given a choice between a breakfast of oatmeal or ice cream that virtually all children will choose the sweet treat. Bunnies are hard-wired to be the same way.

This is why as a bunny-savvy owner, we must make the correct choices for them and it is better to never introduce some of the sweeter treats such as fruit or sugary treats. A treat CAN be as simple as a sprig of fresh parsley or dill or even basil. I try and find healthy treat alternatives for my bunnies such as willow wreathes with the leaves attached, fresh apple sticks with leaves when possible, timothy hay cubes, treats where the main ingredient is hay, not flour and anything fresh from my garden including roses, leaves, stems, thorns and all.

My bunnies used to get some fruit every day, but since I took it away from them years ago, they have not missed it. They did for a few months but now they beg for different treats that I don’t feel so guilty giving them.

Rabbits are expert beggars, so whatever you do, don’t fall into the “treat trap”. They will learn how to make you squeal with delight as they push your “buttons” to get another treat. All kinds of special postures and dances will be done for your benefit to get that next one and mine do this all day long. If you cave in every time they do a dance, soon they will be dancing all day long and slowly gaining weight. Pretty soon, they learn how to get those treats without the dance and just guilt us into giving them.

What most folks forget is that the life expectancy of an overweight rabbit is dramatically lower than a slim and trim one. They hefty bunny will end up in the vet office constantly for GI stasis issues and worse. It is so important to keep your bunny trim and healthy. If you truly love him or her, you will deeply consider what I am telling you. Less is more when it comes to loving your bunny.

Your Rabbit And His Greens

Since St. Patrick’s Day is coming in March, it got me thinking about GREENs. Our Beach Bunny group even has a Green Salad Party every year for the bunnies at the beach. So I decided to write this article about salad greens and your bunny. Most green leafy vegetables are OK for rabbits, with very few exceptions, but that does not mean that you can buy him just anything at the supermarket. For a complete list of greens and vegetables that are OK for your rabbit, visit the House Rabbit Society list online.

Some bunnies do not tolerate certain vegetables very well and others cannot handle almost any at all. You must be careful about what greens you feed your pet rabbit, just like you must do with all of their other food. You should not suddenly introduce a strange new green into his salad, without watching to see how it will affect him.

It is best to only try one new green veggie at a time with your bun. Give just a small amount (a couple of 3″ squares) and then wait a day to see what happens. You will need to know what the signs for stomach distress are in rabbits.

If your rabbit is suddenly not active when he normally would be or if he is sitting in an unusual place for a long period. That should be a red flag. If he is constantly trying to get comfortable by stretching out and moving from one side to the other. This can be a sign of intestinal discomfort or gas. Being lethargic or lacking energy  or appetite can be another sign.

Any of these signals, should cause you to take notice. It does not mean it is time to panic, but you should now be aware that your bunny might have something wrong with him. You will want to start paying very close attention to him, at this point. If he is clicking his teeth loudly and sitting hunched over, that is a sign of extreme pain which needs immediate attention.

If I notice my bunny exhibiting any of these symptoms, I like to offer a healthy treat that I know my rabbit always likes, to see if he takes it. A rabbit who is sick will not eat.This is pretty universal among rabbits. It is always a bad sign when your rabbit refuses his favorite treat.

When you have given your rabbit an unusual (new) green vegetable in the last 24 hours, then you probably know the cause of this problem. This is why you only want to introduce one new green at a time, otherwise you will not know which green it was that upset your bunny’s tummy. You certainly don’t want to give it to him again, just to see which one it was.

If your rabbit is not acting normal and you feel that something is off, then almost always you are correct. Rabbits try and hide the fact that they are sick from their humans and when they break any of their routines, you should immediately be on the lookout for other symptoms that they are not feeling well.

Now that you know something could be wrong, you will want to check your rabbit’s litter box. Has he pooped in there, since you last cleaned it (hopefully you clean it everyday, otherwise this inspection is useless)? My bunny’s litter boxes are cleaned each morning, so if there is nothing in there in the afternoon, this is a sign of a possible problem. You should make a habit of checking your bunny’s box at least once a day. It is an important part of having a pet rabbit.

You should be extra vigilant if you think your rabbit is showing any signs of something being not right. Especially, if you gave him some kind of new food, green or treat in the last 24 hours. Stress is another factor that can cause these issues.

If you think your bunny is not feeling right, the signs will be subtle. You must be in very in tune with pet bunnies so that you know when it is time to take them to the vet. Waiting for something dramatic to happen, before deciding it is time for that car ride to the animal hospital is usually the difference between life and death. Enough said on that subject.

Even though more than 80 percent of your rabbit’s diet should be grass hays, one of the highlights of a bunny’s day is their salad time. With a little careful experimentation, you can find your rabbit’s favorite healthy green veggies to serve him. Just like other creatures, rabbits like variety. Sure they will gobble up some romaine lettuce every day, if you give it to them, but I have found they get much more excited over the little treats in their salad. Things like a sprig of dill or basil or a few squares of crinkly kale, along with their regular fare.

Be aware that rabbits can be fickle about their veggies. What may taste good to them one month, may not taste the same the next. Do not be surprised if your bunny’s favorite green does not change regularly.

Sometimes my bunnies are grabbing their green carrot tops first and other times it is the dandelion leaves or kale pieces that they are seeking first. I am sure that it is due to the variations of being grown on different farms with different seeds in different seasons or locations, etc.

This means that just because your rabbit turns down some kale or chard one time, does not mean he will never eat it. Just the other day someone offered some homegrown chard to my bunnies. They never liked it before, but readily ate this fresh stuff. It obviously had a different flavor than what I had been buying at the store.

Some people even go out and pick wild greens for their rabbits. I have a friend who goes out to large public parks, just to pick the dandelion leaves for her bunny. Just be careful not to pick anything that has been sprayed with any type of herbicide or pesticides.

If you have any question about whether something is safe or not for your rabbit, do not let them eat it until you have checked to see if it is on the “safe bunny foods” list. If you do not know what a plant is, do not give it to your bunny. Many wild plants are toxic for rabbits and domestic rabbits do not have the ability to distinguish safe from harmful plant species, like wild bunnies can. If you do not know for sure what a plant is and that it is safe, never give it to your rabbit.

Erin Go Bragh!

Getting Friendly With Your Rabbit’s Poop

litter box

A litter box works best when filled with fresh grass hay for your bunny to graze on. It encourages good litter box habits and gives busy bunnies something to do.

I thought I would start the new year by getting into a subject that all but a true bunny lover will find strange, your rabbit’s poop. People who don’t know much about rabbits may at first feel like us bunny lovers are obsessed with this topic. This is because when you truly are aware of your bunny’s health and well-being, your first and most obvious clue that something is amiss are his fecal droppings.

Rabbits are well-designed eating and food processing machines. They have evolved to where they have extremely efficient digestive systems, otherwise how could they live with such verve and energy on a diet of just grass (which is most of a healthy rabbit’s diet). As grazers, they need to be constantly eating. It can actually be fatal if their insides stop processing their food for even a day, which is a condition known as gastrointestinal stasis or GI stasis for short.

Cecotropes (cecal pellets)

Cecotropes (cecal pellets)


Cecotropes (Cecal pellets)

Knowing how your rabbit’s insides work are very important to keeping your pet bunny healthy. It is critical to understand that they are fermenters and that their food is digesting in their intestines by bacteria located there. This is why rabbits can often die when given the wrong antibiotic, because all the important good bacteria in their gut are killed. This is why you should never give any kind of antibiotic (or medicine) from another pet to your rabbit, without your vets express approval, but I digress.

Adding anything different or new to your rabbits fermentation system can cause an upset, until their body adapts to processing it. Us humans get a similar condition when we get Montezuma’s Revenge. Things like sugars and starches, which are not a natural part of a rabbit’s diet can cause this problem. I saw this when after not having been given fruit for many months, I gave some to my buns. They all got sick the next day. If they are getting sugars every day, then they do not get this reaction, but then that leads to other issues and problems, such as fatty liver disease and being overweight.

The best barometer of your bunny’s intestinal fortitude, so to speak, is their poop. It should be consistent and any daily variation with it is very telling. I recommend that you become very familiar with your rabbit’s little droppings daily. Every good bunny lover does this.

You want to see lots of firm but not rock hard round droppings each day in your rabbit’s litter box. They should easily smash between two fingers when fresh. It is a good idea to clean your rabbit’s box each day, because it gives you a chance to see how he is feeling by inspecting his poop. If you clean his box and there are not any in there, you now have a big red flag that should not be ignored. Rabbits are eating and pooping all the time, except for when they are sleeping. If you were to discover this, I would watch him for a couple hours to see if he goes, but if I offer him a treat or some green salad and he is not interested, it means that you have a sick bunny. Steps must be taken immediately or you possibly risk a very bad outcome. When it comes to GI stasis, time is of the essence.

If you are not cleaning your rabbit’s litter box every day, then it becomes a lot more difficult to know if he is using it or not. It is hard to tell if the piles of poop in the box are from today or yesterday or the day before, if it is not cleaned daily. Besides that, rabbits are very clean pets and tend to avoid a dirty box, not to mention that they eat more hay if you give it to them fresh in a clean box each day. Most people who have house rabbits put their rabbit’s hay into their litter box to encourage it’s use and to promote more grazing on the fresh hay.

One of the most important things you can do if you love your rabbit, is to learn to recognize when they are ill and take immediate steps to help them survive. Rabbits tend to have a very low survival rates for a lot of very common issues, simply because their owners are not paying enough attention to how their pet is feeling on a daily basis. When you think your rabbit is sick, almost 99 percent of the time HE IS.

You should familiarize yourself with what healthy good poop looks like and the difference between that and their cecotropes. Rabbits eat all of their food twice and the first time through their system, it comes out as cecotropes (or cecal pellets). They eat these and if your rabbit is healthy, you should very rarely find these, if ever. Finding cecotropes laying around or in his box are a sign that he may be getting too many treats or too much nutrition. This causes your rabbit to not feel the need to eat his cecotropes. Therefore,
finding cecal pellets from your rabbit on a regular basis should also be a red flag warning for you. I recommend taking appropriate action right away, should you begin to find these in your bunny’s area.

The most common reason for finding cecotropes is fruit, too many treats or too much green salad, or too many pellets. I would reduce the amount of these things that your rabbit receives until the problem goes away. I would start with the pellets and fruit first, since they are the highest calorie items. Rabbits do not ever need either one of those things and a very small amount goes a very long way, especially if your rabbit is of the smaller variety. A teaspoon or two is all that most bunnies need of pellets and I never give mine fruit, as I explained earlier.

It is possible to give your rabbit too much salad. He should only get an amount no more than twice the size of his head daily. That is the most he should have and he can certainly have less. Treats are also usually highly caloric and many store bought rabbit treats should never be given.

Never give your rabbit yogurt treats or anything with dairy, seeds, nuts, corn, beans, peas, legumes or popcorn. They are bad for your rabbit. Many of the rabbit treats sold in stores have one or more of these items and so beware. Just because a pet store sells them, does not mean that they are good or ok for your bunny. I would say that half of the items I see in our local pet stores should not even be sold to rabbit owners. I suggest that you give healthy green treats and compressed timothy (not alfalfa) hay cubes to your bunny. You can find some relatively healthy rabbit treats online, but avoid those that the main ingredients are flours and sugars, such as molassas or honey.

Timothy Hay Cubes

TImothy Hay Cubes are a good healthy treat for your bunny. Do not confuse them with Alfalfa Cubes, which are not the same.

One problem that you can see by looking at your rabbit’s poop is something called Mega-Colon. It is a deformation of your rabbit’s colon that causes his poop to become misshapen and egg-shaped. I have a rabbit who has this issue and her poop is sometimes small and sometimes very large, but very rarely round. This condition allows for a rabbit to easily get a condition called bloat, which is similar to colic in a horse. Bloat can be quickly fatal for a bunny. It puts intense pressure on their heart and lungs if it occurs high up in their intestines which can stop their heart or breathing. I have heard of
this happening in as little as 8 hours.

Bloat often appears to novices as GI Stasis, but can be more serious and more quickly. Your rabbit will appear to be in discomfort and will stop eating and pooping. He may keep shifting his position in an effort to relieve the gas that is building up in his abdomen. He may show signs of pain which is clicking his teeth loudly or sitting up hunched over. These are all signs that he is feeling discomfort.

To check for bloat, squeeze your rabbit behind his ribs in his belly area, gently. It should be squishy and soft, not hard and blown up like a balloon. You should do this when your rabbit is feeling fine, to acquaint yourself with how it should feel, normally. I check my Mega-Colon rabbit’s gut, every day to make sure that she is not experiencing any gas buildup, because I know that she is prone to it.

Mega-Colon poop.

Mega-Colon poop. Notice irregular size and egg-shape.

Mega-Colon poop.

Mega-Colon poop. Egg shaped and irregular.

You should not have to normally do this, unless your rabbit is having signs that something is amiss. Lack of poop in his box or signs of discomfort are good reasons to check for bloat. Not wanting his regular daily salad or a bunny treat are also signs that it would be good to check your bunny for gas.

Because they are fermenters, they are producing gas all the time and so a blockage or GI Stasis can be the reason for their bloat. It is not something to mess with and it requires an immediate visit to the vet. Do not wait, because hours can be life or death in a severe case.

Hopefully, you will already have a relationship with a rabbit specialist vet for your rabbit. When your bunny is dreadfully sick, is not a time to be out searching for the proper vet for your bunny. It is a waste of precious time. If you need help locating a rabbit specialist, visit the House Rabbit Society website (www.rabbit.org) and go to their recommended veterinarians list for your area.

The final thing I want to mention is the “string of pearls” that we often find from our buns. This is a sure sign that your rabbit is ingesting a lot of his (or his partner’s) fur and this issue will usually go away if you groom your rabbit by combing him. Rabbits cannot throw up fur balls, like a cat can. In fact, they cannot vomit at all and so once they have swallowed fur while taking one of their many daily baths, it must pass all the way through their system.

"String Of Pearls"

“String Of Pearls”

Generally, their system was designed for this, but they can get blockages if they swallow too much. This is especially true if they have low motility in their gut, which is slower than average movement or speed at which things move through. Low motility in a rabbit’s gut makes them more prone to fur blockage. It is best to regularly groom your rabbit and if you are finding these “string of pearls” in their litter box, then it is a sure sign that you need to “step up your grooming game”.

Every good bunny parent spends a lot of time examining and appraising their rabbit’s poop. It is part of doing it right. To the uninitiated, it may appear as if we are all a bit crazy for being into our bunny scat, but it is only because we truly love our buns and we care.

If you want to stay on top of what’s going on inside your rabbit, you too will want to learn about his poop. When you see that there is a lack of it or is has chanced in any way, you will want to find out why. Do not hesitate to call your vet and keep some of it for a sample. I have even gone as far as to email pictures of my bunny’s poop to her doctor. A rabbit’s poop tells a story, if you are savvy enough to understand what it is saying.

Gourmet Hay & Pellets For Rabbits

You can almost excuse the public for buying these carelessly thought out products that populate the shelves of virtually every pet store in America, but I cannot let the companies that produce this junk off the hook. They are not thinking of the health of our pets and I feel it is shameless that they produce and sell such terrible products, most of which are not good for your rabbit.

Anyone who knows ANYTHING about rabbits knows that they need to have a very high fiber diet that is about 80-90 percent grass hays. They also know that rabbits have a voracious sweet tooth and will gravitate to all the wrong foods, just like most children.

I am only going to discuss gourmet pellets and hay in this article, but most of the other treats produced by the large pet companies are awful for your bunny as well, including all treats with seeds and nuts, yogurt or dairy and those with lots of flour and sugar as main ingredients.

We as our rabbit’s quasi parents, need to gently guide them into eating what we know is best for them, just as we would our own human children. In that quest, many bunny moms and dads will wrongly turn to gourmet pellets and hay. They often think that by putting carrots, corn, dried peas, and all kinds of other unhealthy treats into the mix, that they will be eating more hay and therefore getting more of “the good stuff”.

In practice, it never works that way. Rabbits are foragers and will pick through every piece of hay to find the best pieces. Just watch a rabbit eat and you will see this. When giving them a mix with lots of treats inside, you will see your bunny eat every single treat piece first and leave all the stuff that you really wanted him to eat in the first place.

Only when every single treat piece is gone, will you see them turning to the relatively boring hay or pellets you gave them. While I can understand why some people try the hay varieties, the gourmet pellet varieties are just silly and illogical. Rabbits should not have very many pellets each day, if at all and making it even more potentially harmful for your pet by adding a bunch of junk does not make sense.

When I talk to people in the public about their rabbits during my educational efforts, you would be surprised to find out how many people out there buy and feed this stuff to their bunnies. They tell me that they love their pet and want to give him something extra special. What they do not know is that their loving gesture is in reality not a good thing.

I condemn the large pet companies who make this stuff, because they promote and sell it, knowing that most of it is not good for our pets. We assume because of their vast resources and marketing that they would never sell something that is bad or actually harmful for our bunnies. That general assumption could not be further from the truth.

These types of products have now spawned a new breed of less harmful merchandise where herbs and dried carrots, etc. have been inserted into bags of Timothy hay. This is probably due to the fact that many pet rabbits will not eat the pet store hay that these companies sell. It is too dried out and old and most rabbits like their grass hays fresh and somewhat moist.

Many rabbit owners confuse their rabbits not wanting old store bought hay into meaning that they do not like to eat hay. These people think that if they get a treat hay with all these things in there, that their rabbit will become healthier and eat more hay.

The truth is if the bunny’s parents sought out and provided fresher, tastier hay, that their bun would eat it non-stop. I have yet to meet a rabbit who simply will not eat aromatic fresh green hay, but they will always defer to tastier and sweeter foods like herbs and carrots if it is available. The problem arises when they eat so much of these other things and do not eat enough of their hay. The treats replace large amounts of hay that would normally otherwise be eaten.

I think a more healthy and logical strategy would be to find a source for tasty fresh Timothy hay or Orchard grass for your bunny and then supplement it with good healthy treats that you provide on the side, when it is appropriate. You can find fresh herbs or very small pieces of fresh carrots at your grocery store and control the amount that they get and the quality, too. Fresh foods are almost always better than dried and preserved varieties. If your bunny is getting a small variety of healthy leafy greens and herbs each day (equal to twice the size of his head), then he will be receiving the best possible diet, along with his unlimited fresh hay.

He does not even need rabbit pellets at all to be healthy and certainly not gourmet pellets. The gourmet hays are not the answer, either. While I do not feel that they are nearly as harmful, they are not the way to get your rabbit to relish his daily meals of hay. Find your local feed store and if you cannot use and store a whole bale of fresh Timothy hay, then ask them to sell you a couple of flakes or a large bag full. Most will do this and then you do not have to store a complete bale.

Be certain to keep it very dry and out of the direct sun. Moisture is the enemy of your rabbit’s hay because it can cause mold, which can be toxic for your bun. We use tight sealing plastic garbage cans that have never been used for trash to store our hay. There are some nice plastic bins available online for storing bales of hay, should you decide to go that route.

Each of my rabbits eats about 8-10 pounds of hay a month. So with my three rabbits it would take a little over three months to use a whole bale of hay. A person with just one bunny will probably find that it is not practical to buy and store bales of hay, unless they have other critters that are eating it, too.

We are lucky here in San Diego, because our local House Rabbit Society buys bales of hay and repackages it into boxes to sell to the public through several outlets around the county. It raises money for the organization to use to provide medical care for rabbits and the public get very fresh hay in manageable amounts to give to their bunnies. What a great win-win for us all!

If you have a rescue organization in some other area of the USA, you might find this is a great way to raise funds and provide a great service to the rabbit lovers in your area. Most people whose rabbit will not eat pet store hay, will suddenly eat tons of it when given fresh stuff. If the pet food companies would find a way to deliver fresher tastier hay to public, they could forget about having to produce the gourmet treat varieties to get rabbits to eat it.

Just the opinion of…
The Bunny Guy