Bunny owners – beware! Many common foods can actually be fatal for rabbits if consumed. Avocados, chocolate, rhubarb – even a small amount of these seemingly harmless items can cause everything from digestive issues to full blown heart attacks in your sensitive little hoppers. You may think you’re being nice by sharing treats or offering new veggies, but you could inadvertently be signing your rabbit’s death warrant. Read on to discover the 8 foods that should absolutely never, under any circumstances, be fed to rabbits. I’ll also share safer food alternatives so you can keep your fluffy friend happy, healthy, and hippity hoppiting for years to come!
What Foods Are Rabbits Not Allowed to Eat?
Rabbits have very sensitive digestive systems and there are many foods that should never be fed to them. Some foods can cause gastrointestinal stasis, which is a dangerous condition where the digestive system slows down or stops completely. This can lead to a buildup of gas, bloating, and potentially death if not treated quickly. Here are some of the most common foods that rabbits should avoid:
Avocados contain persin, which is a fungicidal toxin that can be fatal to rabbits. Even just a few bites can cause serious damage to a rabbit's digestive system and heart. All forms of avocado should be avoided – fruit, leaves, pit, etc.
Fruit Pips and Seeds
The pits and seeds of fruits like apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, and plums contain amygdalin, which releases deadly cyanide when ingested. Even just a small amount can be toxic to rabbits. Be sure to core and seed fruits before feeding them to bunnies.
Both rhubarb stalks and leaves contain oxalic acid, which is poisonous to rabbits. Oxalates bind with calcium to form crystals, leading to kidney damage. Even a small amount of rhubarb can be fatal.
Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, both of which are toxic to rabbits. As little as an ounce of dark chocolate can cause heart attacks, seizures, internal bleeding, and death in rabbits. All chocolate must be kept away from bunnies.
Vegetables in the allium family like onions, shallots, leeks, scallions/green onions, and chives contain compounds that can irreversibly damage rabbits' red blood cells, leading to hemolytic anemia. Even small amounts can be toxic over time.
Iceberg lettuce has very little nutritional value for rabbits and is made up of mostly water. Eating too much of it can cause diarrhea. Romaine, green leaf, and red leaf lettuces are healthier options.
Potato Leaves and Sprouts
All green parts of potatoes, including leaves, stems, and sprouts, contain solanine. This glycoalkaloid toxin can cause digestive upset, neurological issues, and even death at high doses. Tubers should be peeled and cooked well.
Sugary Processed Foods
Foods high in sugar like candy, cookies, cake, cereal, chips, and sugary yogurt drops disrupt the delicate balance of good bacteria in rabbits' digestive tracts. This allows harmful bacteria to proliferate, leading to illness.
Foods Rabbits Should Avoid Eating
In addition to the foods above that are toxic to rabbits, there are many other foods that rabbits should only eat in moderation or avoid altogether. Here are some other items to limit or remove from bunnies' diets:
Muesli mixes contain nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and other ingredients that are unhealthy for rabbits. The fat, carbohydrates, and calories can lead to obesity. Pellets and hay are healthier staple foods.
All nuts are high in fat and calories. While a small amount of certain nuts like walnuts or almonds is okay as an occasional treat, they should not be a regular part of a rabbit's diet.
Dog or Cat Food
Dog and cat foods contain high amounts of protein, fat, and other ingredients that rabbits' digestive systems are not designed to handle. They can easily lead to obesity and health issues in rabbits.
Cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, and cabbage may cause gas and bloating issues in some rabbits when fed in large amounts. Introduce them slowly and feed cooked vs. raw.
Like potatoes, parsnips have a high glycemic index, meaning they cause sharp spikes in rabbits' blood sugar levels. This can lead to diarrhea and weight gain. Feed parsnips sparingly, if at all.
Raisins and Dried Fruit
Raisins and other dried fruits are concentrated sources of sugar that overwhelm rabbits' digestive systems. They can lead to obesity, dental issues, gastrointestinal problems, and other health issues over time.
What Can Rabbits Eat?
While there are many foods rabbits can't eat, there are still plenty of healthy and safe options to provide them with proper nutrition. Here is an overview of some of the best diet staples and occasional treats for bunnies:
Importance of Fiber for Rabbits
Rabbits require a high fiber diet to keep their digestive systems functioning properly. Their diet should consist of at least 75% hay, which provides constant fiber intake to move food through the digestive tract. Grass hay like timothy or orchard grass is ideal.
What Vegetables Can I Feed My Rabbit?
Leafy greens like romaine lettuce, kale, chard, cilantro, parsley, basil, dill, and mint are great low-calorie vitamin sources. Carrots, bell peppers, bok choy, celery, broccoli, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peas can also be fed in moderation.
Rabbit Pellet Portion Size
A small amount of plain, timothy hay-based pellets can supplement vitamins and minerals. Give 1/4 to 1/2 cup pellets per 5 lbs. body weight for adult rabbits. Limit alfalfa pellets to young rabbits under 7 months old.
Healthy Treats for Rabbits
Occasional treats like a small piece of banana, strawberry, melon, apple, carrot, or berry can be given for variety. Ensure treats make up no more than 10% of total diet. Good chew toys provide mental stimulation.
What If My Rabbit Won't Eat Hay?
If your rabbit is refusing hay for some reason, try different varieties like oat hay or botanical hay with herbs. Cut back on pellets and treats to encourage hay eating. Check teeth to ensure there's no underlying dental issue.
Changing a Rabbit's Diet
When transitioning a rabbit to a new diet, always do so slowly over 2-4 weeks. Abrupt changes can disrupt delicate digestive balances and cause health issues. Monitor portions and weight to prevent obesity. Vary vegetables for nutrition.
Here are some tips for changing up a rabbit's diet safely:
Gradually mix in new hay and pellets with old to help rabbits adjust to new textures and flavors
Slowly increase vegetables by 1-2 every few days, watching for any diarrhea or digestive upset
Reduce treats and monitor weight to avoid obesity as new foods are introduced
Check with a rabbit-savvy vet before making major diet changes if health problems are a concern
Be patient and expect the transition to take a month or more to allow the digestive system to adapt
With proper introductions of new foods, rabbits can adjust well to dietary changes when needed.
Food Safety Tips for Rabbit Owners
Properly handling and storing foods is important to keep rabbit diets safe and avoid contamination or spoilage:
Wash hands before preparing foods
Wash all vegetables and fruits thoroughly
Store leafy greens in breathable containers like a paper bag in the refrigerator
Discard leftover fresh foods within 24 hours
Keep dry foods like hay and pellets in sealed containers away from humidity
Do not feed foods that are old, wilted, or spoiled
Avoid cross-contaminating rabbit foods with human foods during prep
Clean food and water bowls regularly with soap and hot water
Monitoring portions and providing a varied, balanced diet comprised primarily of hay and vegetables will help keep rabbits healthy and safe from gastrointestinal issues. Avoiding foods toxic to rabbits and introducing new foods gradually is also key. With proper nutrition and care, rabbits can live happy, long lives as house pets.