Feeding takes place mainly in the early morning, evening and at night – this is because in the wild this is when the rabbit is safest from predators, and many owners notice this pattern in their pet rabbits. Rabbits will spend about 6-8 hours a day eating and the rest of the time they will be safe from predators underground digesting the food.
While feeding, a rabbit is potentially always alert and on the look out for predators, so along with its acute hearing it uses its large eyes on the side of its head to get a wide field of vision. It can’t actually see what it’s eating under its nose and instead relies on smell and feel to detect its food. The characteristic long powerful hind legs and lightweight skeleton mean it can make a sudden rapid sprint to the safety of the burrow to escape a predator if needed.
Rabbits do not need lots of variety from day to day and sudden changes in diet must be avoided, as this can upset the delicate balance of bacteria in the hindgut and lead to diarrhoea due to the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Any change in diet should be made gradually over several days or weeks, starting with small amounts of the new item and gradually increasing them, at the same time making a corresponding decrease in the unwanted item if necessary.
When purchasing a rabbit it is important that the rabbit’s past diet is known so that any changes can be introduced gradually. A sudden change in diet and a lack of fibre, combined with the stress of movement, is a significant cause of disease and death in young rabbits over the period of weaning; for example, when moving to a pet shop or a new owner.