Most rabbits are food driven in some way – treats, pellets, veggies, hay… (the latter being every owner’s dream). It can be really, really hard to say no when their little faces pop up approximately 0.5 seconds after breakfast telling you they’re hungry and look how cute they are.
There are some really great ways to maximise food time for your rabbits which, whilst they won’t guarantee they’ll stop being so food-crazed, can provide more stimulation, encourage natural behaviours and set expectations for when it’s food time.
1. Scatter feeding at dinner time!
That’s right – do away with the bowls! A lot of time, particularly with pairs and groups, bowls cause competition. Even if they have one bowl each, sharing is caring and one rabbit will usually get more than their fair share. There is no way to police bowls! Bowls can also lead – rarely but it does happen – to choking, particularly on pellets. The shape and restricted access to their content encourages rabbits to chase the pellets around the bowl and scoff them down as soon as possible.
Instead we’d recommend scatter feeding! Scatter feeding just means ‘scattering’ pellets on the floor/carpet/mat so that rabbits have to forage and eat them in a more natural way. Scatter feeding stops that level of competition between rabbits that bowls create and is a great way for rabbits to bond as they are eating side by side and sharing a meal.
2. Treats, you say?
Treats, treats, treats. The bane, some would say, of a rabbit’s life. Firstly, it’s important to distinguish what is a good treat and what is a bad treat. Sadly, a lot of pet shops and online retailers sell ‘treats’ that are just not rabbit-friendly despite their branding; anything with corn in, cereal type bars, milk-based or yoghurt drops should be avoided. The best treats to look for are hay based and where you can find a full list of ingredients from the maker (some venders do not even provide this) – and don’t be afraid to ask questions about their suitability. Pellets also count as treats – but again, make sure you’re using a good rabbit pellet as a lot of them just aren’t suitable: muesli is a big no. The best rabbit pellets currently are Burgess Excel, Science Selective and Oxbow.
Treats are a great way to bond with your rabbits. They can also be used to blackmail your rabbit into forgiveness… If you have a rabbit needing part time or permanent medication, then treats can be your best friend when it comes to making the experience far easier and less painful. Rabbits thrive on routine – it only takes a few times for them to realise that once you put them down after doing all those heinous things to them (how dare you put that syringe in my mouth) that they get a treat.
Treats can also be used to stimulate, entertain and have fun with your pets! Try incorporating treats/pellets into foraging creations: the old cardboard toilet tube stuffed with hay with a couple of treats inside is a good one! There are lots of exciting, original ways you can make treat time fun and encourage your rabbits to work for their prize. Scattering them in forage from the garden, into their hay and into games can be a really fun way of seeing your rabbits play.
If you want to build that connection with your pets, it’s a great idea to use treats to show them that you love them, don’t mean any harm and are willing to bond with them at their pace. Try sitting on the floor next to them and crumbling the treat up into bits so that you can feed it to them bit by bit, sitting next to them. With flighty, nervous rabbits this can really be a life saver for encouraging them to interact with you and trust you.
3. Hay girl, haaaaaay!
Hay is so important in a rabbit’s diet. It should make up 80%+ of what they’re eating… and yet there’s always one. If your rabbit doesn’t seem enthusiastic about hay then there are a few things you can do about it.
Firstly, a vet check. Sometimes eating less hay and focussing on other foods such as pellets and veg can be a sign of dental disease. It’s good for rabbits to have regular health checks to keep an eye on this.
Secondly, give ‘em a range! If they’re saying no to one type of hay it doesn’t mean they’ll say no to all types of hay. We’re lucky that we have access to lots of different hay vendors in the UK – HayBox, TimothyHay and HayAndStraw are three such companies which provide great cuts of hay. Some provide sample boxes so you can try several different types on your bunnies to see which goes down best. Grass is also an excellent substitute, although their poos will be far darker and you may never see the golden poo we all strive to see, grass effectively does a great job of working down their teeth and keeping them healthy.
If none of the above works, look at the rest of their diet. Are they waiting out for the good stuff? Do they get too many pellets or treats? How much veg do they get? Make sure they have a balanced diet whilst encouraging them to eat hay when they have time between meals. Back to the routine thing – if they have breakfast and dinner, then the hours between should be for hay if they get hungry!
Food is undoubtedly the way to a rabbit’s heart, but it’s so important to resist the temptation of overfeeding and giving in to big, shiny eyes and twitchy noses when they give you ‘the look’. Instead, focus on giving them the healthy diet they should have, and maximise the times they do get treats or pellets – and have fun with it!