The feeding pattern of newborn rabbits is imposed by the dam. A Rabbit doe feeds her young only once every 24 hours (although some does will nurse their young twice). Suckling lasts only two or three minutes.
If there is not enough milk the young try to feed every time the doe enters the nest-box, but she will hold back her milk. This behavior signals insufficient milk production in the doe.
Diet for Young / Baby Rabbits
What you feed you rabbit has a big impact on their health and well-being. Feeding the correct diet to a young rabbit will support their growth and help them form good eating habits, which in turn will help avoid many diet related issues in adulthood.
Although young rabbits eat the same types of foods as adults, we need to take into account the different nutritional needs of their growing bodies and the extra sensitivity of their developing digestive system.
Baby rabbits’ diet
Like all mammals rabbit’s initial diet is their mother’s milk, which they’ll continue to drink until 6-8 weeks old. They first start nibbling on solids (usually hay from around the nest) between 2-3 weeks and by 3-4 they’ll be eating the same foods as their mum (plus milk).
As rabbits are weaning between 6-8 weeks their digestive system is adjusting from milk to adult solids, which is a particularly sensitive time and why rabbits should stay with their mother for a minimum of 8 weeks. If your rabbit is younger than 8 weeks: one, never get a rabbit from that source again they shouldn’t be selling them, and two, you’ll need to be particularly careful about your bunny’s diet and try to avoid any changes.
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Consistency on Rabbit Feeding
One of the key points in feeding any young rabbit is consistency. Baby’s digestive systems are much more sensitive to changes in food and they are more susceptible to digestive related problems and can go downhill more quickly if they do get sick. Moving home is already a stressful time for a young rabbit so it is best to avoid changes to food at the same time.
When you get a rabbit you should ask exactly what food your baby has been eating and make sure you get a supply of the same brand food to start you off. In most cases it will do less harm to continue temporarily with a bad diet e.g. low quality pellets or mix, rather than make a sudden change to a ‘good’ diet.
If you don’t know what your rabbit was fed prior to you getting it or you can’t get hold of a supply then the safest option is to start with just hay and water. You can then introduce the other components to their diet gradually.
Ideal diet for young rabbits
The diet of young rabbits and adults is very similar. Hay is the most important component and this is supplemented with dry food (pellets) and fresh foods. There are a few extra considerations for young rabbits though.
Hay as Rabbit Food
Like adults, hay should play an important role in young rabbit’s diet. Grass hay (e.g. meadow or timothy) is the one food you should introduce from the start, even if your rabbit isn’t already eating it. This is the gentlest food on the gut and will provide the fibre needed for the digestive process to function.
Young rabbits can also have alfalfa, which looks a bit like chopped up hay but is made from lucerne rather than grass. It is higher in calcium and protein than grass hay, which is ideal for growing rabbits but too rich for adults.
If you are feeding alfalfa it’s a good idea to feed it mixed with grass hay. This stops your rabbits getting so hooked on alfalfa that it’s difficult to make the transition to grass hay when they reach adulthood. You should phase out alfalfa at around 4-5 months old.
Dry Food as Rabbit Food
Baby rabbits have higher protein requirements to support their growth, so whilst an adult requires dry food around 12-14% protein, for a baby rabbit around 16% protein is ideal. Many manufactures offer junior versions of their foods specifically formulated with this in mind.
From the third week of life the young rabbits begin to move about, taking a few grams of mother’s milk and a little drinking water if available. In a few days the intake of solid feed and water will exceed the milk intake.
During this period the changes in feeding behavior are remarkable: the young rabbit goes from a single milk feed a day to a large number of alternating solid and liquid feeds distributed irregularly throughout the day.
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