Role of Protein in Rabbit Nutrition


Protein is essential to make a bunny.

  1. Proteins help make bone and muscle and fur, they also are responsible for turning food into energy.
  2. Proteins are important for the proper functioning of the cecal bacteria


Proteins are composed of amino acids. There are 20 common amino acids, some of which are synthesized by rabbits and others that are not. Those which bunnies cannot make are called essential amino acids. The diet provides a significant portion of these amino acids. However, the cecal bacteria can make the essential amino acids and thus the cecal pellets are also an excellent source of high quality protein for the rabbit. (And for you, but we don’t recommend eating your rabbit’s cecal pellets.)

Source (% of total food weight that is protein)

  1. Grass hay: 8-15% protein
  2. Alfalfa hay: 17-23% protein
  3. Pellets: 13-20% protein
  4. Grains: 10-18% protein
  5. Cecal pellets: 25-38% protein
  6. Short haired adult rabbits: 10-12% protein
  7. Long haired adult rabbits: 13-15% protein

Needs (% daily calories that is protein)

Bacteria in the cecum can synthesize protein, and cecal pellets provide at least 10% of a rabbit’s amino acid needs. Rabbits that cannot eat cecal pellets and have an impaired appetite may need more protein than the average rabbit.


  1. Too much protein can put a strain on the kidneys, since they are responsible for excretion of excess nitrogen.
  2. Excess protein can also cause overproduction of cecal pellets by overfeeding the cecal bacteria.

Feeding Considerations

Mature house rabbits

The daily pellet allotment along with freely available hay is probably sufficient protein.

Older rabbits

Some older rabbits have difficulty reaching around to ingest their cecal pellets. This decreases their daily intake of protein, and this should be considered when formulating diets for them.

Angoras and other long haired rabbits

Require more protein than short haired rabbits. This is because all that extra hair is protein and it takes lots of energy and protein to make it. Angoras will take protein from their own muscle tissue and use it to grow fur. The normal pellet ration and freely available hay are sufficient for most angoras. However, if a healthy rabbit with a normal appetite and is still losing weight you may want to consider increasing the protein in the diet. The simplest way to do this is to increase their daily allotment of pellets. If there is a reason the amount of pellets cannot be increased, then a small amount of high protein pellets (22-24% protein) can be mixed in with regular rabbit pellets. Another way to do this is to add alfalfa (or other legume hay) into the diet

Growing rabbits

Require more protein because they are still building bone and tissue. Increasing the pellet allotment should supply the extra protein they need. Supplementing the diet with alfalfa hay will increase the protein content.

Sick rabbits

Illness may cause a temporary increase in protein requirements, to support immune function. Sick rabbits who cannot consume their cecal pellets may also need extra dietary protein. Certain drugs, like steroids, will increase the bunny’s need for protein and the diet should be modified to compensate. Protein is important for fighting infections; bunnies with a fever will need extra protein and calories. Bunnies with tumors may also need more protein and calories. Diabetic rabbits have an increased need for protein. Pregnant and nursing rabbits also need more protein. The supplementary feedings listed in the syringe feeding section should contain sufficient amounts of protein. However, if a higher protein level is desired, then higher protein pellets can be used.