Have Fun with Food!
There are lots of nutritious treat foods available for pet rabbits for no or very little cost
If you are on a budget, it can be the little things that matter most. If you own a pet rabbit, using items and methods that encourage natural bunny behaviour can keep your pet’s mind active whilst keeping the budget low. This series of articles looking at behavioural enrichment in pet rabbits gives lots of helpful suggestions on how to do this. The article below focuses on budget friendly food for your rabbit.
You will find many healthy and delicious ‘wildfoods’ free for picking in and around even an urban neighbourhood. As long as you can be certain you know what it is, and it has not been treated with pesticide or weedkiller, why not take a carrier bag (recycled of course) when you walk the dog or go to fetch your morning newspaper, and fill it full of treats for your rabbits. You can offer these fresh that day once washed, or if you have a garage or utility room you can tie them together with twine and hang them to dry to make crunchy treats later on. Why not tie a bunch of fresh or dried wildfoods together and hang them from the roof of your rabbit’s enclosure or on the door of their hutch?
Dandelion flowers and leaves can be picked and washed to give to your rabbit – just make sure that they have not been treated with weedkiller
Unless you are an educated botanist, stick to the things you know, as some wildfoods can be dangerous.
Wildfoods which are safe and readily available include:
- Long hedgerow grasses
- Hawthorn leaves
- Dandelion leaves and flowers
- Sticky weed (with sticky balls)
You may wish to remove thorns from hawthorns and ‘shave’ the spikes off bramble leaves before offering. If you are lucky enough to have an apple or pear tree (not a pitted or stoned fruit) your rabbits will love to have the whole lot – the fruit with pips removed, the green or dried leaves and the branch to strip – great for their dental health as well as being great brainfood. Other trees safe and readily accepted by bunnies are birch and willow. If you have a big enough tree, or a kind enough neighbour, why not put a large willow or apple branch in your rabbit’s enclosure as this diverts the attention from the hutch and is safe!
There are many healthy and delicious wildfoods free for picking
If you have a local farm shop, greengrocers, market or are lucky enough to know someone who works in a supermarket or kitchen, see if they will give you their ‘waste products’. Often the items that turn up on the reduced shelving are in perfect condition – they just have to tick the food sales law boxes by reducing stock on the date instructed. Most local market traders will be happy for you to take their ‘waste’ cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli leaves and carrot tops etc away as it saves them from having to take it back with them. There is often absolutely nothing wrong with them, but traders find they can sell the vegetables easier if they look a little neater! Why not take a reusable shopping bag so the traders don’t even have to give you a carrier bag!
Grow your own
For a couple of pounds on the internet marketplace, and particularly on sites aimed at tortoise owners, you can buy grass and hedgerow seeds of different varieties, and also chickweed and dandelion and of course windowsill herbs. These are a great idea to save money – rabbits love the different flavours that herbs offer and you can also dry these if you grow an excess. Why not have a root around to see what you can plant seeds in – maybe Chinese takeaway tubs that stock up in our cupboards, or old pots and pans. For house rabbits and those whose owners don’t have gardens, try normal grass seed as well as specialist varieties so that your pet doesn’t miss out on the good stuff – plain old simple grass! A well potted grass tray will re-grow time after time if cut at the base with enough left on, so provided your pet can be patient for re-growth, it is definitely recommended!
Your pet’s ancestors who came from the Mediterranean to the UK in the 11th Century did not have a bowl full of pellets in their field at 7pm every evening. Wild rabbits spend a large amount of their waking time foraging for low grade nutritional food – meaning they have to eat a lot to gain the benefits and get that full feeling. It is estimated that wild rabbits will actively seek out food up to 6 times a day.
Wild rabbits spend most of their waking time foraging. It’s a good idea to split up the daily food ration for your pet rabbit to increase the amount of times you offer food
So we can already see that a bowl at bedtime is not adequate ‘brain food’. Why not split up their daily ration around your own routine and increase the amount of times you offer food, for example; first thing in the morning, home-from-work time and your bed time. Rabbits are a ‘crepuscular’ animal, which means they are neither nocturnal or diurnal (daylight dwellers). They are most active at dawn and dusk, as in the wild they adapted to avoid predators during these times. You could say they like to burn the candle at both ends, partying late and rising early!
Foraging including digging is one of the main behavioural traits your bunny is born with, and we can have a lot of fun with this:
- Layered forage trays – use baskets, litter trays, plastic cat beds, cardboard boxes, washing baskets etc from discount stores, charity shops or car boot sales; as forage trays. Place a layer of pellets or veggies in the box and cover with a layer of hay then a layer of shredded paper, then another layer of hay so that bunny has to work to find the reward. It’s fun to watch them digging and snuffling around!
- Try the same with egg boxes, paper carrier bags (particular fast food chain or discount clothes shop ones are very good), tissue boxes, beer boxes, cereal cartons and shoe boxes.
- Digging trays – local rescue centres often have the plastic dog and cat beds for sale in their fundraising shops, and many owners know someone with a child who has outgrown their sturdy paddling pool or sand pit, or someone with a greenhouse full of large redundant seedling or potting trays. Any of these can be filled with compost and during dry times can be placed in runs or gardens for digging in, either on its own or with treats thrown in. You will also find that in the summer, many bunnies like to flop over and lie in the compost as it keeps them cool.
- Brown parcel paper – why not wrap up a handful of readigrass or dried leaves, or veg, or a mixture – into a parcel of brown paper for bunny to unwrap.
- Hay dispensers: Hanging baskets, magazine racks, wooden or wicker wine racks, waste paper bins and similar, make great hay dispensers and keep the hay off the ground so it doesn’t get soiled before being eaten. Again, get to the car boot sales!
In the final
part in this series, we look at top tips on how you can enrich your rabbit’s enclosure with budget-friendly toys.