As you are feeding your bunny at home, you may be wondering what a rabbit eats out in the wild. After all, they don’t have a constant source of hay and fresh fruit like a domestic rabbit does. You may even wonder how to help feed these wild rabbits in case they’re not eating enough.
What do wild rabbits eat? Wild rabbits eat a variety of foods like berries, grass, vegetables, and branches and bark. You can help feed wild rabbits by growing a garden of rabbit-friendly foods.
What’s the Difference Between Wild and Domestic Rabbits’ Diets?
Rabbits in the wild and rabbits that live in a home have diets that are similar but different. While they come from the same ancestors, domestic rabbits often are given higher quality food and are fed more sugary fruits and vegetables. Wild rabbits eat a very simple diet that is high in fiber and low in sugar. Domestic rabbits also tend to eat more food because more is available. Wild rabbits are often smaller as well as skinnier than domestic rabbits because of this lack of food. However, overall the core of the two diets is the same: lots and lots of fiber.
Lots of Grass
What is the number one source of a wild rabbit’s fiber? Grass. While domestic rabbits are usually given hay to eat, wild rabbits have much easier access to grass and will eat it every day and almost constantly. Wild rabbits will tend to eat grass in shaded or hidden away areas, as well as right outside the entrance to their warren. This keeps them safe from predators by allowing them a hiding place in case anything comes close.
The reason wild rabbits eat this much grass is to keep their digestive system moving constantly, and to break up any blockages. When rabbits clean themselves, they sometimes accidentally eat fur, and fur balls form in the rabbit’s digestive tract. Eating fiber breaks these balls up and helps the rabbit pass them out the other side. Eating fiber is very important to keeping the rabbit healthy and alive, which is why you might see wild rabbits eating grass pretty much all day!
Weeds and Flowers
If you have a garden with wild bunnies nearby, beware! Rabbits love both weeds and flowers quite a bit. They will eat both of them indiscriminately, usually munching them all the way down the stem to the ground. Rabbits love weeds like dandelions, thistle, nettles, and wild mustard, and will look for these in your lawn to snack on. This may seem like a good way to control your weeds, but wild rabbits will eat just as much grass as they do weeds and you’ll probably just end up with lawn damage. Rabbits also love flowers like wildflowers, petunias, morning glories, and lilies. They will happily break into a garden and eat the petals, leaves, and stems until they can’t reach any more of the plant.
When wild rabbits want a treat, they don’t have the luxury of a human to give them sweets. Instead, they have to go find a berry bush for themselves and hope the berries are ripe for the picking. Wild rabbits can’t eat berries that are too ripe or not ripe enough, so they’re most likely to eat berries in the summer months when they are all perfectly ripe. Wild rabbits enjoy berries like:
Wild rabbits will also eat other parts of the plant to balance out the sugary fruit, such as the leaves and flower buds. This ensures the rabbit is eating enough fiber to pass the fruit through its system.
Wild rabbits don’t have very much access to vegetables because not that many of them grow in the wild. If they are lucky, a human nearby might grow vegetables that the rabbit wants to eat, such as peppers, lettuce, broccoli, and tomatoes. Wild rabbits will eat the vegetables as well as the stems and leaves of the plant to get the maximum amount of fiber and food out of them. Vegetables aren’t the main part of a rabbit’s diet, so they don’t eat a lot of them – usually only a cup or two a day if they have access to that many vegetables. Unlike domestic rabbits, they typically don’t get to eat that much a day and are happy with just grass and other plants.
A surprising vegetable that rabbits will not eat is actually carrots! While rabbits will enjoy the leaves and tops, they don’t dig up root vegetables the way some other animals do. This means that they can’t access the root of the carrot, the orange part that we think rabbits eat. However, if another animal digs up the carrot and the wild rabbit finds it, the rabbit will happily eat as much as it can. It will then eat plenty of fiber to help wash the carrot down, as carrots are high in sugars and starches.
Wild rabbits also love to eat all sorts of herbs in the wild and from gardens. Herbs provide a lot of fiber as well as a break from the monotony of just grass, so they’re a good treat for a wild rabbit without being too unhealthy. Herbs that wild rabbits like to eat include:
Most herbs even have healthy vitamins and minerals for a rabbit, which adds important supplements to the rabbit’s diet. For example, parsley has vitamins A, C, and K, as well as iron and potassium, and basil is rich in all these same vitamins plus calcium. Mint is shown to have calming properties, so if you see a rabbit that seems very calm and relaxed, it may have found mint out in the wild. However, most rabbits can survive without these extra vitamins, so herbs aren’t a necessary part of the rabbit’s diet.
Rabbits love to eat the leaves of fruit bushes and especially of vegetables, sometimes even more than the fruits and vegetables themselves. That’s because the leaves have most of the same vitamins and minerals but are higher in fiber. Rabbits will also eat the leaves and tops of root vegetables that they can’t reach such as beets, carrots, and radishes. Rabbits can also eat the prickly leaves and stems of plants like rose bushes without any danger. Rabbits typically won’t eat the leaves from trees even if they fall to the ground because most tree leaves aren’t good for rabbits. Conifer needles like pine and cedar are also too sharp for a rabbit to eat and may hurt them.
Twigs and Branches
When the weather gets cold and food gets scarce, wild rabbits will sometimes eat twigs and branches to survive. Some types of tree branches that are good for wild rabbits include hazelnut and oak, as well as certain types of fruit trees. Trees that grow pitted fruits are generally toxic to rabbits, while trees that grow seeded fruits are good for rabbits. Wild rabbits also eat willow, maple, birch, and spruce tree branches. These types of trees contain chemicals known as tannins, which prevent certain diseases and keep the rabbit healthy through the difficult winter months.
While they may not always eat branches, rabbits will chew on twigs and branches all year round because they need to grind down their teeth. Rabbit teeth are growing constantly and need to be ground down naturally by chewing on hard objects. In this process, the rabbit may end up eating some of the stick accidentally, which isn’t an issue. However, if you think you see a starving rabbit chewing on a stick in the summer months, they probably aren’t that hungry and are just trimming their teeth the natural way.
If a rabbit is particularly hungry in the winter months, it may eat bark in order to survive. You might notice signs of this on your trees in the winter, as rabbits will leave teeth marks on the tree where they have eaten the bark. It will be easy to tell the difference between rabbits and deer eating your tree bark because rabbits can only reach about 1-2 feet high at the most. While this may seem like a cute behavior and you may want your rabbit friends to survive the winter, this is actually very bad for the trees. Damage to the tree from rabbit chewing can potentially kill it, especially during the winter months, so you may want to put up wire mesh to deter the rabbits. They will find other sources of food during the winter, and your trees will be healthier.
What Can I Feed Wild Rabbits?
For the most part, wild rabbits don’t need help. They have plenty of grass to eat, and especially in the country they usually have lots of wild fruits and vegetables as well. In the suburbs, it may be more difficult for them, especially if there is a lot of competition between rabbits for food. If you have wild rabbits on your property and want to help them, perhaps through the winter, your best bet is to put out fresh hay in a secluded place where they can reach it and deer cannot. Try to only visit this place during the day, when the rabbits aren’t active, to avoid scaring any of them away.
Giving rabbits fruits and vegetables, especially during the winter, isn’t a great idea. Fruits and vegetables may end up freezing or rotting if you leave them out for too long or in the wrong place. If you want to give the wild rabbits a good dose of calories to build up fat for the winter, try high-calorie pellets instead of fruits.
Should I Make a Garden for Wild Rabbits?
Your local rabbits would love a garden to browse in, but you may be surprised how quickly everything gets eaten. Before you make a garden, make sure you do your research and only put plants that are safe for rabbits in the garden. Some unsafe plants include any plants that grow from bulbs such as tulips, any plant in the nightshade family, and iceberg lettuce. Try to fill your garden with leafy greens to give the wild rabbits a healthy dose of fiber along with the treats. You can also put herbs in your garden, as the rabbits will happily eat these too. You may want to protect your garden from deer, as these plants will also attract other herbivores.
What Foods are Bad for Wild Rabbits?
Bread, fatty foods, starchy foods, and meat are all bad for rabbits. You shouldn’t feed wild rabbits too much fruit and you should be careful with vegetables. Wild rabbits are used to a simple diet and may get an upset stomach from rich foods like these. Always check plants and leaves before feeding them to wild rabbits, and never use pesticides or other chemicals on foods offered to rabbits.
Do wild rabbits eat meat? No, rabbits are strict herbivores, which means that all rabbits can only eat plants and certain fruits and vegetables. Rabbits can’t digest the proteins in meat and will become very sick if they eat it.
Can I tame a wild rabbit? In most places, taming wild animals and keeping them is illegal. You may be able to become friends with a wild rabbit, but they are very slow to trust and will likely never fully trust you. A wild rabbit also will not adjust to domestic life very well and will always be skittish and difficult to care for.
How do I care for a hurt rabbit? If the rabbit is seriously injured, you should take it to a vet or a rabbit rescue. Caring for an injured wild animal by yourself isn’t a good idea. Sometimes it’s best to leave the rabbit alone and let it get over its injury naturally, as car rides and being handled by humans can kill rabbits due to shock and stress.