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What Do Rabbits Eat in the Wild?

Last Updated: 28.02.20


Any owners looking to find out more about their rabbits can check it out here. Even though wild rabbits certainly live a tougher life than their domesticated counterparts, their diet is well-balanced and consists of large quantities of grass combined with any other delicacies they may find like fruits and vegetables.


Bunny story

Rabbits are small mammals with short and fluffy tails and special long ears which allow them not only to hear predators from far away but also to have better blood circulation. Around the world, there are more than 30 different species while the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) recognizes no more than 40 official rabbit breeds.

While originally encountered in Europe and Asia, rabbits have adapted to live in all kinds of environments and can now be found all over the world except for certain parts such as the West Indies, Madagascar, areas of South America, and most of the islands located southeast of the Asian continent.

Furthermore, even though bunnies were originally absent from places like South America, Australia, and even New Zealand they were steadily introduced there over the centuries and have adapted very well. 

A common mistake that many people make is mistaking rabbits for hares or the other way around. Even though they are part of the same overall family called Leporidae, the two are still very different. The Leporidae family has eleven total genera and only one of them, called Lepus, consists of actual hares, while the rest of them can be generally classified as rabbits.



How big can rabbits get?

Judging by size only, rabbits can be some of the most diverse creatures in the world. While some of them are the size of a small cat and can even weigh an adorable 4.5 pounds, the largest rabbit ever is a Continental Giant called Darius which measures an overwhelming four feet and four inches and weighs an astonishing 49 pounds of rabbit awesomeness. 

Small ones such as the Britannia Petite, the Netherland dwarf, and the pygmy rabbits can be as little as eight inches and if you’re the proud owner of one of those, you’ve really got to pay attention around the house. The largest breeds by general dimension are the checkered giant, the giant papillon, and the Flemish Giant.


Rabbit diet

Rabbits are herbivorous mammals which means they have adopted a plant-based diet and do not eat any kind of meat. Their diet choices include grasses, clover, and plants such as Brussels sprouts and broccoli. However, they are very opportunistic beings especially when it comes to their choice of food so they won’t say no to soft stems, fruits, seeds or even tree bark.

In fact, even before they learned to adapt all around the world and could be found in places like woods, tundra, and wetlands, rabbits were already following a seasonal diet. During warmer seasons, they prefer weeds, grasses, wildflowers, and vegetable plants while cold weather brings a turn toward twigs, bark, conifer needles, etc. 

Out in nature, a wild rabbit’s diet consists of mainly grass that they can find on and around their warrens. Based on where exactly you are in the world, you may find seeing a group of rabbits happily munching away on lush grass a very common sight. Since there’s not much nutrition in it, wild rabbits need to eat a lot of grass if they are to survive.

They have therefore adapted their bodies to consume high volumes of grass so that’s why you can see wild bunnies gulping down a lot of it in a short amount of time. Pet rabbits, on the other hand, will not be able to eat this amount every day so their diet will need to be supplemented with dry food, vegetables, and hay in order to accumulate the required calories to survive.

As such, the diets of wild rabbits and household ones are very similar because humans have adapted their products to mimic what their long-eared friends would eat if they were out, living the free life, and choosing their food as their wild cousins are doing. 

The digestive system of a rabbit has not changed that much since they were domesticated a long time ago so their bodies are still adapted to what they were eating before. Therefore, a good owner will try to keep a pet rabbit’s diet as close as possible to a wild rabbit’s.



Rabbits and hares

Rabbits and hares look very similar so it’s only natural that people often mistake them for one another. The easiest way to tell them apart, however, is by their physical appearance. Hares have longer ears and even though both species often have brown coats, hares also have black tips.

Furthermore, most rabbits, except for cottontails, live underground and dig the necessary tunnels in order to have a shelter. Hares, on the other hand, live in aboveground nests due to the different way their children are born. 

While rabbits are altricial, meaning that they are born hairless, blind, and helpless, hares are precocial. What this means is that they are born with the ability to see and their hair already grown. Proof for this is the fact that even though most rabbits are ready to take care of themselves after two-to-three weeks, hares can hop within a few hours of their birth!

The two species are also quite different when it comes to their diet choices. While bunnies would rather have soft stems, vegetables, and grass, hares often go for harder food such as bark, buds, and even small twigs. 

Another difference is how sociable both of them are. While rabbits are extremely social creatures which, even in the wild, prefer to live in colonies, hares are mostly individual creatures that only come together for mating purposes. As a result, there are far fewer fights between hares than rabbits, where males will often clash with one another for female privileges.


Feeding a pet rabbit

When you are the proud owner of a cute bunny, remember that your friend thoroughly enjoys fresh fruits and vegetables as a regular part of its diet. The main part, however, should consist of an unlimited amount of fresh hay, grass, and clean water available anytime. 

Rabbits, be it household ones or wild ones, are all different when it comes to what their stomach can tolerate and what it cannot. As such, both of them may be unable to tolerate certain foods so any owner who wants to introduce any new one should do so over a few weeks to avoid any digestive upsets.

Only give a small amount then wait for 24 hours and watch if your rabbit produces soft poo to analyze if the food is good or not. If it does, you should withdraw it immediately and only try with something else after it’s back to business as usual. 

Another important thing to remember is that wild rabbits are still more tolerant than their household cousins so anything that ends up as your bunny’s meal should be washed before serving. Also, don’t feed plants from roadsides as they could prove fatal due to the possible pesticides.

One of the most problematic things for rabbits is the fact that they have strong tastebuds and they will pretty much try anything, even if it is poisonous. This is causing a lot of fatalities for wild bunnies as well as domesticated ones. If you’re an owner, a rule of thumb would be that if you have any doubts whatsoever, don’t let them eat it!


Some less-known facts

Wild rabbits live in communities which often reside in underground, extensive and complexly-engineered burrows to escape from predators. When being chased, certain species of rabbits will run in zigzag formations in order to confuse, rather than outrun their enemy.

Before choosing a grazing location, wild rabbits like to do some scouting and scope out ‘bolt-to’ locations just to be on the safe side. When they are out in the open fields or yard, they will sit perfectly still to avoid drawing the attention of any predators.

Another gross but worth-knowing information about the wild rabbits is that they produce two types of droppings. One is a hard, light-colored pellet composed of regular feces while the other is soft, dark, undigested food material.

To gain the nutrients they are missing from feeding on so much grass, wild rabbits will re-ingest the droppings so as to continue the digestion process and benefit as much as possible from them.




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Irina Ionescu

As a long-term learner and animal lover, Irina helps her readers find the best products and accessories for their pets, as well as the latest training techniques, tips & tricks on how to handle animals.

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