Hop to it: what do wild rabbits eat?
Whatever may be your case:
- you unexpectedly became an adoptive parent of a wild baby rabbit;
- planning to adopt a wild rabbit;
- you frequently see a wild rabbit in your yard and you want to feed him (though, it is important to know if you should try to feed him at all);
- you want to better understand your pet rabbit’s ancient lifestyle and diet.
Browsing through this article, you may also discover some new and interesting curiosities about your pet rabbit’s eating behavior.
Spotting the rabbits. More than half of the world’s rabbit population exists in North America. Here we can observe fifteen different species of rabbits and hares. They are all herbivorous. The European rabbit is the only rabbit to be widely domesticated.
Understanding wild rabbit’s lifestyle and eating habits
Wild rabbits eat different foods during different seasons of the year but they maintain a plant-based diet. They have a wood-based diet in the cold season (gnaw tree bark, twigs, pine needles), but they usually feed on green plants during the rest of the time (clover, forbs and leafy weeds, dry and green grasses, shrubs or tree seedlings).
While it seems like they eat almost any types of vegetables and flowers that are available in the wild, wild rabbits are picky when it comes to food. Rabbits prefer fresh foliage than stems or dry plants. Most wild rabbits are known for climbing tree trunks in order to access fresh leaves or dew-laden vegetation. They prefer to eat plants that are delicate therefore easily damaged.
Wild rabbits typically graze for food at dawn and dusk. Crepuscular times are the safest times of the day to get out from their hole, graze and be free. Rabbits graze heavily in the first half-hour, followed by a more selective feeding if the environment is safe. During this time, rabbits also excrete hard fecal pellets, that will not be re-swallowed.
Rabbits reingest up to 80% of their droppings (cecotropes or “night feces”). Opposing to hard fecal pellets, cecotropes are vital nutritious ingredients, hence, rabbits are able to meet their nutritional requirements. This practice allows wild rabbits to survive the insufficiency of food during winter.
The lifespan of wild rabbits is very short. The average longevity of an eastern cottontail, for instance, is less than one year because they deal with disease, starvation, and predators. Domestic rabbits usually live between 8-12 years.
Life in Captivity for Wild Rabbits
In captivity, wild rabbits should adhere closely to the diet of those in captivity but not to the often pelleted diet that pet rabbits are often fed.
Although rabbits are seen as intruders by farmers and gardeners due to their destructive habits, most wild rabbits don’t have access to lots of vegetables. Wild rabbit’s primary source of nutrition remains fresh grasses but you can also feed him:
- all sorts of hay (excepting alfalfa):
- leafy greens such as collard greens, watercress, and swiss chard
- a few pellets (especially the ones with seeds – they can keep chewing on them all the day long)
- plenty of water
* barley hay;
* barley straw;
* Bermuda grass;
* clover hay;
* oat hay;
* timothy hay;
* prairie hay and rye grass hay
It is advisable that you keep the wild rabbit away from foods that can cause gas or bloat, even if it’s just for a while, till he is more accustomed to his new life. Rabbits cannot:
– pass gas and this result in stomach discomfort;
– vomit due to the anatomy of their digestive system.
Try to avoid, at least at the beginning, vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli. In general, avoid all the rest of the foods that are not beneficial for a pet rabbit.
What about pellets, grass, and hay?
Pellets are rich food sources, and therefore should not be fed excessively. Furthermore, wild rabbits run around 3 miles each day, so you should maintain the same balance between activity and high caloric foods for your adopted wild rabbit.
The best way to feed a wild rabbit is to cut him grass. Use scissors, not a lawn mower. The cutting action of the mower crushes the grass, which causes it to begin to fermenting, and could upset your rabbit’s stomach. Also, check for the grass to be free of pesticides. The pesticides could make any rabbits very sick.
An idea! Hay should always be freely available, but it is not a bad idea to get into the habit of feeding your wild rabbit once in the morning and once in the evening, during their active times. Because they are crepuscular animals, they are most active during mornings and evenings. They sleep all day when you are at work and are ready for fun when you are around. All you have to do is to wake up early in the morning and feed him. That’s how you keep his natural habit alive.
From the category “do not” this cottontail was kept for 7 months, in a pet carrier, fed lettuce, and carrots. He became completely blind from nutritional deficiencies.
Baby rabbits in the wild
Rabbit mothers nurse their baby rabbits twice a day for only a few minutes. Unless they are physically injured, leave them where you find them. Their mothers may not come that often, but they know where they are. Don’t even touch them. If they are injured, please contact a local vet.
What do wild rabbits eat is slightly different from what do pet rabbits eat, but you can adapt easily. Whether wild or domesticated, grass and hay are necessaries in a rabbit diet. In addition, wild rabbits need to be given wide open spaces or at least special time dedicated to exercise and movement.