A salad is much more than food. Salads enrich your rabbit’s life. A salad provides new scents, new sights, and new tastes. If you are clever, it can offer puzzles to solve and several hours of entertainment.
In the wild, rabbits will graze for up to 6.5 hours per day. Imagine your bunny grazing along the verge of an open field. There is grass for the taking; sometimes it is fresh, but often is is dried, like hay. Every now and then, a low growing plant with deep roots will offer green food. For many wild rabbits fresh greens are a major source of water. So fresh greens are prized. Wild rabbits that remember where to find green food will thrive. But green food needs time to regrow after grazing and can be subject to seasons. So finding the right food is a puzzle to be solved.
Our house rabbits usually receive a pile of salad greens once or twice a day in the same place. And, if your rabbits are like mine the salad is gone in less than 30 minutes. What can we do to make our salads more exciting?
Some of my rabbits have problems with calcium making stones in their bladders. So I start my salads with low calcium vegetables: romaine and red leaf lettuce, chard, cilantro, and cabbage or cauliflower. I set aside one serving of low calcium salad.
For the other rabbits I add kale, which is rich in calcium. Spinach and turnip greens, which are rich in iron, also get added - for a bunny that is anemic. Finally I check the fridge for trim from brussel sprouts, celery, carrot tops and etc. If you have a bunny with special dietary needs, go to the US Department of Agriculture to find the food your bunny needs: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list Just type in the vegetable’s name to find its food values.
Rabbits’ sense of smell is much better than ours. In fact they identify the stuff under their nose by scent, because they can’s see in front of their noses. So add some lovely smelling stuff to the salad. I like cilantro, fennel, mint and basil. But you can add any herb or a sprinkling of dried herbs from your spice cabinet.
Don’t forget the greens in the field. Our May 2016 newsletter had an article on some common wild greens. Wheat grass is an easy way to offer fresh grass. You can pick and serve fresh grass, but don’t let it sit to long or it will start to compost.
Raid the Garden
Unlike Peter Rabbit, your bunny can’t raid the Farmer Brown’s garden - but you can. Rabbits love strawberry and raspberry leaves - which are also a tonic for an upset tummy. Carrot, beet and turnip tops are great. Rose petals and leaves are favorites. Try some other edible flowers: lilacs, pansies, geraniums, lavender, marigolds, cornflowers and chrysanthemums. Edible bouquets make lovely gifts for your rabbit owned friends.
Climb a Tree
Tree leaves can be an added treat for any salad. Citrus and willow leaves can be found locally. Snap a branch from a pine tree for a yummy treat.
Have a Treasure Hunt
Free ranging bunnies have more fun, especially if you put the salad in different locations. At first put half the salad in the regular bowl and the other half in a favorite napping place. Then divide the salad into thirds or quarters. Add salad to regular hang outs or along a favorite path. Change the locations of the food - daily if you can - so that the bunny has to check several spots. If you, like me, are bunny obsessed you can add time as a dimension. Put half the salad out in the regular spots. Then later in the day, after nap time, put the rest of the salad in still other locations. Consider hanging a lettuce leaf or a pine branch so that the bunny has to stretch up to reach it.
You needn’t do everything every day, but don’t bet stuck in a rut. Challenge yourself to try something different every day or every week. When you are on a walk, gardening or buying plants at a nursery keep an eye out for interesting foods for your bunny. Ask for trim at the grocers or farmers market. You will be surprised at how many new things you notice and your bunny will love you for it!