Beware of letting pet rabbits nibble on those rhubarb leaves growing in your garden! While the tart, juicy stalks of rhubarb make a delicious pie filling, the leaves and roots are extremely poisonous to rabbits. Just a few bites can lead to serious kidney damage or even death. Rhubarb contains oxalic acid, a toxin that quickly causes kidney failure in sensitive species like rabbits. Don’t take chances with rhubarb. This in-depth article explores which parts of the rhubarb plant are safe versus dangerous for rabbits. You’ll learn how to identify rhubarb, prevent access to it, and respond if ingestion occurs. The life of your bunny may depend on it!

What Is Rhubarb?

Rhubarb is a vegetable that is commonly used in pies, jams, and other desserts. It has a tart, sour taste and a stringy, juicy texture. Rhubarb plants have large, triangular leaves and thick, edible stalks that range in color from bright red to pale green.

Botanically, rhubarb is categorized as a vegetable, though it is often prepared and eaten like a fruit. It is a perennial plant that grows best in cooler climates. The stalks are harvested while the leaves are still intact, and only the stalks are eaten. The leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid and are toxic.

Rhubarb stalks are crisp and juicy with a puckery, tart flavor. They can be eaten raw or cooked and sweetened with sugar. When cooked, the stalks soften and take on a jam-like texture. Popular ways to prepare rhubarb include baking it into pies, cobblers, crisps, and other desserts. It also makes a tasty jam, sauce, or compote.

Rhubarb needs a period of cold weather to grow properly. The roots store energy over the winter and produce new growth in the spring. In temperate regions, the rhubarb stalks are ready to harvest between April and June. One rhubarb plant can continue producing for 10-15 years when cared for properly.

This hardy vegetable does best in loamy, well-draining soil kept consistently moist. Though it tolerates partial shade, rhubarb thrives best in full sun. It spreads aggressively via the roots, so plants should be spaced well apart or grown in containers to restrict spread. The leaves and roots contain toxins, so care should be taken when handling and cutting rhubarb. Only the stalks are edible.

Why Can't Rabbits Eat Raw Rhubarb?

Rabbits should not eat raw rhubarb stalks or leaves because they contain substances that are toxic to rabbits. The main toxin in rhubarb is oxalic acid, which is found in very high concentrations in the leaves. The stalks contain less oxalic acid, but still enough to make them unsafe for rabbits to consume raw.

Oxalic acid binds with calcium to form calcium oxalate crystals, which can build up in the kidneys, leading to kidney damage and even kidney failure in rabbits. Rabbits have very delicate renal systems and are unable to process these crystals properly. Even a small amount of raw rhubarb stalk or leaf can be harmful.

In addition to oxalic acid, rhubarb leaves contain anthraquinone glycosides. These act as a laxative and irritate the gut lining. Eating the leaves could give a rabbit severe diarrhea. The stalks contain lower levels of anthraquinones, but still pose a risk when eaten raw.

Cooking rhubarb helps to reduce the oxalic acid content to a safer level. However, the leaves should never be eaten, even after cooking. Only the fleshy stalks of rhubarb should be considered edible and only after being cooked. Rabbits should not nibble on raw rhubarb leaves or stalks from the garden due to the health risks.

Can Rabbits Eat Wild Rhubarb?

Wild rhubarb refers to the rhubarb plant (Rheum rhabarbarum) that grows uncultivated in nature. It has robust, spreading green leaves and thick red stalks similar to cultivated garden rhubarb. However, there are some key differences between wild and domesticated rhubarb when it comes to safety for rabbit consumption.

Most importantly, wild rhubarb tends to contain higher concentrations of oxalic acid and other toxic compounds like anthraquinones. Since wild plants are not bred for lower toxicity, their chemical defense mechanisms against pests are usually more potent. This makes the risks of oxalate poisoning and diarrhea greater if rabbits eat wild rhubarb.

In addition, wild plants may be more difficult to identify conclusively. There are other woodland plants, like poison hemlock, that can appear similar to rhubarb and would be very dangerous for rabbits if ingested. Without being able to examine the plant closely, wild rhubarb is best avoided.

If you can positively identify wild rhubarb, the stalks may be safe for rabbits to eat if cooked thoroughly. However, the risks are still higher compared to stalks from garden-grown rhubarb cultivars. The leaves should always be avoided, even if cooked. It is safest to keep pet rabbits away from any wild rhubarb while foraging.

How To Identify Rhubarb

Being able to conclusively identify rhubarb is important before offering any part of the plant to rabbits. Here are some tips for identifying key features of rhubarb plants:

Rhubarb Stalks

  • Thick, crunchy, and juicy stalks resembling celery. Most often deep red but sometimes green or pale pink.

  • Smooth exterior texture with stringy, fibrous interior when raw. Soft, mushy texture when cooked.

  • Distinct sour, tart, acidic flavor. The tartness is strong and puckering raw.

  • Stalks emerge directly from the ground with leaves extending from top.

Rhubarb Leaves

  • Large, triangle or spade-shaped leaves up to 2 feet wide. Deep green color.

  • Soft, tender, and somewhat fragile texture. Wilts easily after cutting.

  • Toxic oxalic acid gives leaves a salty or bitter taste.

  • Prominent network of thick veins branching through leaves. Leaves have crinkled edges.

  • Leaves emerge from base of plant on long reddish-green leaf stalks.

Rhubarb Flowers

  • Clusters of small greenish-white flowers on tall, branched flower stalks. Emerge after stalks.

  • Individual flowers are star-shaped with 5-6 delicate petals each.

  • Flowers have yellow centers containing pollen and many thin stamens.

  • Flowers have a sweet, light fragrance.

  • Flowers mature into branched seed heads containing small red seeds.

Is Rhubarb OK for Rabbits?

Whether or not rhubarb is OK for rabbits depends on which part of the plant is being considered:

Rhubarb Greens and Stalks

The leaves and leaf stalks of rhubarb plants are very poisonous to rabbits due to their high oxalic acid content. Rabbits should never be allowed to eat the leaves or leaf stalks of rhubarb.

Rhubarb Leaves

Rhubarb leaves contain high concentrations of oxalic acid, as well as compounds called anthraquinones. These toxins can cause kidney damage, gastrointestinal distress, convulsions, and even death in rabbits when ingested. The leaves should never be fed to rabbits.

Raw Rhubarb Stalks

While not as toxic as the leaves, raw rhubarb stalks still present a risk to rabbits due to their natural oxalic acid content. Rabbits should not eat raw rhubarb petioles or stems.

Cooked Rhubarb Stalks

Cooked, stewed rhubarb stalks are the safest part of the rhubarb plant for rabbits to eat. Cooking helps decrease the oxalic acid content to safe levels. Sweetened, stewed rhubarb can be offered to rabbits in moderation as an occasional treat.

So in summary, only the fleshy edible stalks of rhubarb can be made safe for rabbits if cooked thoroughly. Greens, leaves, and raw stalks should be avoided completely. Monitor for any signs of GI distress or toxicity after feeding cooked rhubarb.

What To Do If a Rabbit Eats Rhubarb

If you suspect your rabbit has ingested any part of a rhubarb plant, take action right away. Here are important steps:

  • Remain calm but act quickly. Toxins work rapidly in rabbits.

  • Remove any remaining rhubarb immediately so they cannot eat more.

  • Estimate how much may have been eaten and which plant parts. Watch for immediate signs of distress.

  • Contact your exotic veterinarian, emergency vet clinic, or Pet Poison Helpline if after hours.

  • Follow vet’s recommendations for how to make the rabbit vomit or administer treatments.

  • Bring a sample of the plant for identification and toxin testing if unsure it’s rhubarb.

  • Monitor rabbit closely for next 24 hours for signs of toxicity like diarrhea, lethargy, or seizures.

  • Never wait and see if a rabbit gets better. Rhubarb toxicity can progress rapidly to kidney failure.

  • Provide supportive care like fluids, pain medication, and probiotics as directed by your vet.

Rhubarb toxicity is highly dangerous for rabbits, but prompt veterinary treatment greatly improves chances of recovery if addressed in time. Don’t take any chances.

Symptoms of Rhubarb Poisoning in Rabbits

If a rabbit ingests any part of a rhubarb plant, it’s critical to watch for these common signs of rhubarb poisoning:

  • Excessive drooling or frothing at the mouth

  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing normally

  • Dilated pupils and disorientation

  • Abdominal pain, nausea, and intestinal cramping

  • Profuse diarrhea that may be watery, bloody, or mucoid

  • Dehydration from fluid loss in diarrhea

  • Reduced urination or bloody urine from kidney damage

  • Muscle tremors, seizures, collapse, or coma in severe cases

  • Oral irritation like pawing at the mouth if leaf stalks eaten

  • Loss of appetite and lethargy due to feeling unwell

Any combination of these signs warrants an immediate veterinary visit. The sooner treatment begins, the better the prognosis. Delayed treatment can result in kidney failure, GI obstruction, or even death in severe rhubarb poisoning cases.

Rhubarb Toxicity Treatment

There is no antidote for rhubarb poisoning specifically. Treatment focuses on providing supportive care and preventing further toxin absorption while the toxins leave the body. Here are the main treatments vets may use:

  • Inducing vomiting if ingestion was recent to empty stomach contents

  • Gastric lavage under anesthesia to flush stomach directly

  • Activated charcoal to bind toxins in GI tract to prevent absorption

  • Aggressive IV fluid therapy to counteract dehydration and support kidney function

  • Electrolyte solutions to replenish depleted blood salts and minerals

  • Pain medication to relieve abdominal cramping

  • Anti-seizure medication if seizures develop

  • Laxatives or enemas for severe constipation

  • Blood work and urinalysis to check kidney values and function

  • Dialysis in advanced kidney failure cases

With aggressive decontamination, fluid therapy, and organ support, the prognosis for rabbits poisoned by rhubarb can be good. However, kidney damage may be permanent in severe cases. Strict cage rest during recovery is essential.


In summary, it's clear rabbits should not eat any part of the rhubarb plant due to toxicity concerns. Only cooked, stewed rhubarb stalks may be safe in very small amounts. Always supervise rabbits around rhubarb plants and remove access immediately if ingestion occurs. Prompt veterinary treatment is imperative for the best chances of recovery from rhubarb poisoning in rabbits.


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