Once you've discovered the joys and benefits of feeding a natural diet to rabbits, you're feeling ready to jump straight in and offer your precious bunnies a feast of natural healthy food - but wait! Any changes to a rabbit's diet need to be done gradually to prevent stomach upsets. Rabbits have a huge amount of gut flora (good bacteria in the cecum that helps digest food), they need time to adjust to diet changes in order for this gut flora to establish. The steps below need to be followed in order to ensure that your rabbit can make a smooth transition to a more natural diet, there is no set time for each step but they will generally take between 2 and 4 weeks.
Step 1 - building beneficial bacteria
I'm going to start by assuming your rabbit is currently on a hay and pellets diet, but this will work just as well if you currently feed a muesli mix (although make sure you are also offering unlimited hay). If you already feed regular weeds/veggies to your rabbit this step will be quicker, if not, take your time.
To start with you need to be providing your rabbits with fresh greens daily (about a cup full per rabbit), the key here is to offer variety. Make sure each portion is made up of mainly foods they have tried before and introduce 1 or 2 new items each feed. The main purpose of this step is to introduce your rabbit to the different varieties of greens and vegetables that you will be feeding, so make sure to include what is most available to you and what you plan on using for your natural diet.
If your rabbit refuses to eat something offered make sure you offer it again about 4 days later and again 4 days after that. Usually after the 3 offerings most rabbits will accept foods, however they do have their own preferences and tastes. It is natural for rabbits to just take a small nibble the first time they encounter a new food. In the wild this would allow them to wait a few days to ensure that the food has no negative affects on them before returning to consume it in larger quantities.
If you rabbit has soft poo during this process slow back down and only offer the food that has been well tolerated before, then slowly start introducing the different feeds one at a time, you may need to offer a very small amount for a few days then slowly up the amount offered.
Once your rabbit is accepting a wide range of foods well, it's time to move onto step 2.
Step 2 - increasing fresh quantities
Now your rabbits have built up the good bacteria in order to digest all the fresh green foods you are planning on offering, the next step is to get your rabbit used to eating larger quantities of fresh food and to pace their eating habits as they would in the wild rather than gorging on the food as soon as it is provided.
Start by offering 2 cups of greens a day (one in the morning and one at night), do this for a couple of weeks, then introduce a 3rd serving between the two. Again continue for a couple of weeks then add in a 4th serving.
Once you are providing 4 cups of greens a day at different times during the day, the rabbits will be getting used to having multiple meals during the day (in the wild rabbits will eat around 30 small meals over the course of the day, so we want to encourage them to graze a small amount multiple times a day).
Next start increasing the amount of fresh food offered at each serving, slowly increase it bit by bit until when you go to feed the next portion they still have some of the previous feed left over. This indicates that the rabbits are beginning to pace their feeding throughout the course of the day.
Step 3 - removing processed feed from the diet
Continuing offering 4 feeds of fresh food a day for another 2-4 weeks and over this time you will also want to wean your rabbits off their pellets or mix.
If you are choosing to remove prepacked food from the diet completely, simply reduce the amount of food offered gradually over about a 3 week period until you no longer offer any.
You may choose (for convenience reasons) to continue to feed a prepacked (such as grunhopper which we feed), in this case over the course of about 3 weeks, start to offer slightly less of your pellets and introduce a small sprinkle of the new feed, decrease the pellets each day while increasing the new feed until at the end of the period you will just be offering the new feed.
Use this time frame to start gauging how much fresh food your rabbits will eat during the course of the day.
Step 4 - combining feeds
The final step is to get your new feeding schedule to line up with your own daily routine, while rabbits will appreciate 4 feeds a day, this is usually not practical for most keepers. Now your rabbits are used to pacing their feeding throughout the course of the day you can providing simply one or two feedings a day.
At this point it is a good idea to start introducing a seed mix or similar supplements that you intend to use, again start by adding just a tiny sprinkle over the feed and increase gradually over about 2 weeks.
Start by combining your first two feeds and last two feeds together, do this for a couple of weeks and then switch over to your preferred feed schedule. Personally I feed fresh food and grunhopper mid morning and top up hay and dried herbs on an evening, if they have no fresh food left over at this time I will also add a bundle of fresh grass.
Congratulations, you have now successfully converted your rabbits to an all natural diet.