Role of Carbohydrates in Rabbit Nutrition


Carbohydrates provide energy for the rabbit.


  1. Simple sugars (a.k.a. monosaccharides): glucose, fructose (fruit sugar), corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose
  2. Complex sugars (a.k.a. polysaccharides): starch
  3. Grains – Concentrated Starch
  4. Pellets – Concentrated Starch
  5. Fruit – Fructose



Carbohydrates are the primary energy source in the rabbit’s diet. Therefore, the rabbit’s need for carbohydrate is dictated by their energy level. Rabbits with higher energy demands, such as nursing mothers, growing bunnies, rabbits with some types of cancer, and those on certain drugs, may require more carbohydrates in the diet. Spaying and neutering decreases the need for energy and intake should be modified accordingly.


Too much starch or sugar can contribute to obesity because the rabbit will convert the excess energy to fat.
Enterotoxemia can be caused by too much carbohydrate in the diet. This is because the excess carbohydrate travels to the cecum where the extra energy can cause the wrong populations of bacteria to grow and produce toxins.

Feeding Considerations

Mature house rabbits

Smaller rabbits have a more rapid metabolism (their heart beats faster, they breathe faster, etc.) than larger bunnies. Therefore, on average a 2-pound dwarf will need more food per pound than a 10-pound lop. Also, dwarfs have a smaller cecum and cannot process food quite as efficiently as larger rabbits. Weight should be monitored closely; overweight bunnies should receive less while underweight bunnies can receive a higher proportion of carbohydrates in the diet. Specific diet recommendations can be found at Diet Recommendations.

Angoras and other long haired rabbits

These animals may need slightly more carbohydrates than the normal short haired rabbit. Growing those lovely coats of hair requires lots of energy and protein. Too little protein or energy and the rabbit will start to use its own muscle to make fur. However, weight should be monitored closely to prevent obesity due to too much energy.

Growing rabbits

Young, growing rabbits do have a high carbohydrate requirement, however, their cecal bacteria can be more sensitive to a high carbohydrate diet than that of more mature rabbits. Therefore, grain and a fruit intake should be closely monitored in young rabbits and caretakers should watch for enterotoxemia problems. Fiber has a protective function against enterotoxemia; therefore pellets do not have the enterotoxemia risk that whole grains do.

Sick rabbits

Sick rabbits have a higher energy requirement than do healthy rabbits. Energy is needed to support immune function and support a fever. It is very important that a sick rabbit be getting some nutritional support when the appetite is decreased. Rabbits who are not eating are at high risk for liver disease (hepatic lipidosis). HRS Educators have invented a number of different recipies useful for syringe feeding rabbits who for one reason or another cannot eat the normal diet.