General

Can rabbits eat bread?

Can rabbits eat bread?

I love bread. All types of bread.

Farmhouse loaves, french baguettes, ciabatta, focaccia, granary, sourdough – you name it, I eat it.

And it’s good for us! Bread is full of vitamins and fibre that help to keep us healthy.

But if it’s good for us, you may be wondering whether it’s good for your bunny. Perhaps you’ve got some of a loaf left going a bit stale, and are wondering whether it could feed your rabbit.

I’ve researched this thoroughly, to get a comprehensive answer.

Read on to find out the full details, but here’s the summary:

Can rabbits eat bread?

Rabbits should not eat bread. You should not feed bread to bunnies because it has the wrong balance of starch, fibre and other nutrients for their guts. Giving rabbits too much bread could lead to serious, even fatal gut problems like GI stasis. Bread isn’t toxic (poisonous) to rabbits, but it does not suit their digestive needs at all. You should mainly feed rabbits hay and fresh water.

Bread, nutrition and rabbits

IngredientsBread
(per 100 g)
Rabbit requirements
(per 100 g)
Comments
Energy258 kcalHigh in calories for rabbit food
Protein9.68 g12-17 gToo low in protein
Fat6.45 g2.5-5 gToo high in fat
Carbohydrate45.16 gLess than 20 gMuch too high in carbohydrates (like starch)
Fibre6.5 g14-25 gToo low in fibre
Iron2.32 mg3-40 mgA good source of iron
Based on whole wheat bread. Values of bread from USDA

Rabbits have delicate digestive systems. The wrong food in their guts can have awful consequences. And bread, in large amounts, is the wrong food.

You can see why in the chart. Rabbits in the wild eat grass and other vegetation. This is high in fibre and low in starch and other carbohydrates. But bread is high in carbohydrates, and, compared to what rabbits need, low in fibre.

This is why hay is the best food for rabbits, and should make up the bulk of their diet. Hay is high in fibre and low in starches, and is the healthiest food a bunny can eat. You can find out more about Timothy hay here, and about rabbit nutrition in general in our post here.

Why is eating bread bad for rabbits?

Eating bread has two effects on rabbits. Long term, it means that the bunny will be getting too many calories. And, just as if we eat too much we get fatter, so do rabbits. And a fat rabbit is an unhealthy rabbit.

But in the short term, too much carbohydrate and not enough fibre can mess with the digestive system. It can lead to a condition called gastrointestinal stasis (also called GI stasis) – basically food starts moving too slowly or stops altogether in the gut.

Bacteria then start growing, releasing gas, and causing the poor bunny stomach pains. The rabbit may stop moving around, and stop eating or only eat a little. The rabbit may also have some diarrhoea, or runnier than usual or smaller than usual stools.

The technical term for this is enterotoxaemia. Anaerobic bacteria in the rabbit’s caecum grow too much, releasing enterotoxins. These in turn cause the diarrhoea and other problems.

If you suspect your bunny may have GI stasis, contact a vet immediately for advice.

But you thought bread was good because it had fibre?!

Bread is good for humans – and gives us the fibre we need to keep things healthy in our intestines.

But rabbits are designed to eat grass and other plants full of tough cellulose. Bread just doesn’t have enough fibre for bunnies.

Help – my bunny ate some bread – what should I do?

It happens. Some food drops to the floor, and a nippy bunny zooms in and takes off with a chunk. What if it’s a roll, or part of a load? What should you do if your rabbit eats some bread?

If it’s a small piece of bread, then don’t worry too much. Your furry friend has just had an unhealthy snack.

While bread isn’t good for bunnies, it’s not toxic either. A small amount of bread is unlikely to harm an adult rabbit.

But if your rabbit has eaten a substantial amount of bread, then make sure to keep an eye on them for the next day. Make sure they’re moving around normally, eating as usual, and their poos look normal.

As always, if you have any concerns, contact a vet.

What diet should rabbits have?

The best diet for a rabbit is plenty of fresh hay (unlimited amounts) and fresh water.

Alongside this, you can add a handful of fresh greens every day, and up to an eggcup-full of rabbit nuggets.

Every now and again you can add a small treat, like some fruit (bits of apple are one of our rabbits’ favourites).

Conclusion

Bread is great for humans (just as well, given how much I like it), but not so great for rabbits. The high starch, low fibre mix is bad for their digestive systems and too high in calories. While bread won’t poison your bunny, it’s no good for them either. The best advice is don’t feed bread to rabbits.

Other posts you might enjoy…

If you’re interested in the right food to feed your bunny, you might also like these other posts on similar topics.

You can find out more about Timothy hay here.

We also have a comprehensive guide to the vitamins and minerals that rabbits need.

You can check which fruit are safe to give to your rabbit here (along with portion size).

And we also have a post on which herbs are safe for bunnies.

And we have posts on whether rabbits can eat swede, rocket (arugula), iceberg lettuce, radishes, apple cores, and mange-tout.

Posted by Jonathan in General
Can rabbits eat iceberg lettuce?

Can rabbits eat iceberg lettuce?

Do you have a friend like mine, who turns up their nose if offered a salad to eat? “I don’t eat rabbit food” is their response.

But is everything in a salad good for rabbits?

Many salads contain iceberg lettuce. It adds a bit of crunch to the dish.

But should you feed iceberg lettuce to your bunnies? Is iceberg lettuce rabbit food?

There are a lot of myths on the internet about feeding iceberg lettuce to rabbits – I set out to discover the truth, using scientific journal articles, the experience of owners, and what veterinary experts say.

Here’s what I discovered.

Can rabbits eat iceberg lettuce?

You should not feed iceberg lettuce to rabbits. While rabbits can eat iceberg lettuce in small amounts, the lettuce provides little of nutritional value to bunnies, with low levels of minerals, vitamins and fibre (iceberg lettuce is mostly water). Iceberg lettuce, like many other lettuces, also contains lactucarium, a milky fluid that in large quantities acts on the nervous system, causing sleepiness and reducing pain sensations. In extreme doses, this could lead to diarrhoea or other gut problems, but a few leaves won’t affect your bunny, despite internet myths.

What is the nutritional value of iceberg lettuce?

IngredientAmount per 100g of iceberg lettuce
Calories12 kcal
Fat0 g
Carbohydrate2.35 g
Fibre1.2 g
Sugars1.18 g
Protein1.18 g
Sodium12 mg
Calcium24 mg
Iron0.35 mg
Potassium141 mg
Vitamin D0 mg
Water93.9 g
Sourced from USDA

Iceberg lettuce is mostly water, and is low in minerals, and without significant quantities of any vitamins that rabbits needs.

Iceberg lettuce is also low in fibre, which bunnies need as part of their diet both to keep their teeth in good condition, and also to keep their guts healthy.

In other words, iceberg lettuce provides almost nothing that bunnies need except water.

Iceberg lettuces are not going to keep your rabbit healthy.

Find out more about what rabbits do need in their food in our post here.

What is lactucarium?

Lactucarium is a milky fluid produced by some lettuces, mainly from the stem. It’s a chemical agent that causes both sleepiness and some pain relief (analgesia).

Because it looks a bit like opium, and because of its effects, lactucarium is sometimes called ‘lettuce opium’.

In the past, doctors would prescribe lactucarium as a treatment for insomnia. It was also used as a cough medicine.

What is the effect of lactucarium?

Lactutcarium can cause sleepiness, hallucinations, and pain relief. In wild lettuce (not cultivated iceberg lettuce), you can relatively large amounts.

As an example, eight people in Iran found some wild lettuce and ate loads of it. All of them needed to be admitted to hospital (one to intensive care). Their symptoms included agitation, nausea, dizziness, hallucinations, and blurred vision. All of them recovered fully within 48 hours with no lasting effects. You can read the medical write up here.

This sounds pretty worrying – but wild lettuce and cultivated lettuces like iceberg lettuce are different. Cultivated lettuces don’t have the same levels of lactucarium. And iceberg lettuce isn’t any different from other lettuces you can buy.

You can find many rabbit websites that suggest that romaine lettuce is good for rabbits, but iceberg lettuce is bad because of lactucarium. But romaine lettuce also contains lactucarium. In fact, scientists in Korea used romaine lettuce to extract lactucin and lacucuopricin (compounds found in lactucarium) to see if the chemicals made mice fall asleep more quickly (they did). You can find the study here.

Romaine lettuce is better than iceberg lettuce for rabbits – but it’s nothing to do with lactucarium. Both types of lettuce contain it. Romaine lettuce just has more nutrients – and that’s why it’s a better choice for bunnies.

Peter Rabbit, the Flopsy Bunnies and the effects of lettuce

A hundred years ago, lettuce (not just iceberg – all lettuce) had a reputation for being good for sleep. You can see this in Beatrix Potter’s famous tales.

Here’s an extract from the beginning to the Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies:

It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is “soporific.”
I have never felt sleepy after eating lettuces; but then I am not a rabbit.
They certainly had a very soporific effect upon the Flopsy Bunnies!

Illustration of flopsy bunnies eating lettuce leaves.
Image from The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, 1909 edition

The flopsy bunnies did stuff flowering lettuces down themselves – which is not a good idea with any food for bunnies except hay.

Should I worry if my rabbit eats some iceberg lettuce?

You do not need to worry if your rabbit eats a few leaves of iceberg lettuce. It will do your rabbit no harm.

If you feed your rabbit large quantities of iceberg lettuce and nothing else, then your bunny may have problems – but not because of lactucarium. It will be because the rabbit has eaten lots of a food that is low in fibre and nutrients and high in water. Not surprisingly, this could cause diarrhoea.

Still worried? One of the foremost vets specialising in rabbits includes lettuce in a list of foods that are safe to buy for your bunny, saying lettuce ‘is not harmful although lettuce is mostly water.’ This vet literally wrote the book about rabbits (US version here).

Conclusion

Rabbits can eat a few leaves of iceberg lettuce safely. However, iceberg lettuce contains so few vitamins, minerals and fibre that it is a poor choice. It won’t do any harm, but neither will it do your bunny much good.

Other posts

If you’re concerned about your rabbit’s diet, check out our post on what nutrients rabbits need.

We also have posts covering what fruit bunnies can eat, and which herbs you can safely give your rabbit.

Want to give your furry friend a treat? Check out our post about cheap toys for bunnies.

Posted by Jonathan in General
What vitamins and minerals do rabbits need?

What vitamins and minerals do rabbits need?

When you go to the supermarket and pick up a tin of soup (or a sandwich, or a pizza…) you can check what the ingredients are. And (at least in the UK), you’ll also usually be told how much this food provides of your recommended daily allowance, also called your reference intake.

It’s handy – you can check if you’re likely to be eating too much salt, or if this will help towards enough vitamin C.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get some of that information for rabbits?

So I did some research to find out what the recommended daily allowance is for pet rabbits – how much vitamins, minerals, calories and other nutrients bunnies need, and why they need them. Here’s what I found – I hope you find it helpful.

What nutrients do rabbits need?

Rabbits need the following nutrients: fibre, protein, small amounts of fat, a variety of minerals (but not too much, especially of calcium), and vitamins A, D and E. Bunnies don’t need any of the vitamin B complex, and rabbits also don’t need any extra vitamin C. A 2kg (4.4lb) adult bunny needs about 168kcal a day. A diet of hay, fresh greens and water supplies all these nutrients. Read on for more detailed information on each nutrient.

NutrientRecommended daily allowance per kg of feed for adult rabbitRecommended daily allowance per kg of feed for growing rabbitSafe upper limit of nutrient per kg of feed
Crude fibre140-250g140-160g
Fat25-50g30-50g
Starch<200g<135g
Protein120-170g150-180g
Macro-minerals
Calcium5g5g10g
Phosphorus4g4g9g
Sodium1g1-2g8g
Magnesium0.3-3g0.4-0.7g3.5g
Potassium6g2-6g16g
Chloride1.7g1-5g4.8g
Micro-minerals
Copper5-20mg3-6mg25mg
Zinc50-150mg40mg
Manganese8-15mg20-40mg75mg
Iron30-400mg100mg
Iodine0.4-0.5mg2mg
Selenium0.05-0.32mg0.1mg
Cobalt0.25mg0.1-1mg
Vitamins – fat soluble
Vitamin A10,000-12,000 IU6,000-10,000 IU
Vitamin D800-1,000 IU500 IU2,000 IU
Vitamin E50-160mg50mg
Vitamin K1-2mg
Vitamins – water soluble
Vitamin B complex (Thiamin/B1,Riboflavin, Niacin, Biotin, Pantothenic Acid, Pyridoxine/B6, Folic Acid, B12, Choline)Not required (rabbit’s body manufactures these)Not required (rabbit’s body manufactures these)
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)Not required (rabbit’s body manufactures these)Not required (rabbit’s body manufactures these)2,000mg
Nutritional requirements for adult and growing pet rabbits

How many calories does a rabbit need?

An adult pet rabbit of about 2kg (4.4lb) needs 168kcal daily to maintain their weight. Growing rabbits need roughly double the calorie intake of mature rabbits. The following table gives values for different weights.

Weight of rabbit (kg)Weight of rabbit (lb)Daily energy requirement for adult rabbit (kcal)Daily energy requirement for growing rabbit (kcal)
0.51.159118
12.2100200
1.53.3136272
24.4168336
2.55.5199398
36.6228456
3.57.7256512
48.8283566
Daily energy requirement for adult rabbit to maintain weight (based on metabolisable energy)

Some of you may prefer this in graph form (this also goes to higher weights, if you have a large rabbit breed like a Flemish Giant, which can reach 10kg).

Chart showing calorie intake for adult pet rabbit plotted against weight of rabbit.

These figures are all for the metabolisable energy. That’s the energy in feed that the rabbit actually uses. It’s the energy in the feed minus the energy that gets pooped out and minus the energy that’s in urine.

Why do rabbits need protein?

Rabbits need protein to build their muscles, other parts of the body, and enzymes which their bodies use. Rabbits (like other mammals) use chemicals called amino acids to make the proteins they need. They get these amino acids from breaking down proteins in food they eat. If a rabbit can’t make enough of the right proteins, it will struggle to grow and be healthy.

Rabbits need ten amino acids (so called ‘essential’) that their bodies can’t make themselves:

  • arginine
  • histidine
  • leucine
  • methionine
  • lysine
  • isoleucine
  • phenylalanine
  • tryptophan
  • threonine
  • valine

Rabbits also need these in the right balance. Their bodies can’t store proteins (they are broken down quickly and the excess turned into glucose or fat), so getting both the balance and enough amino acids is important.

Ever wondered why a pure cereal diet isn’t good for rabbits? Besides not being good for their teeth (important for all sorts of health reasons), cereals don’t have much lysine or methionine. Without these two amino acids, your bunny will struggle to grow or stay healthy.

Diets intended for other animals (especially dogs or cats) are unsuitable for rabbits partly because carnivores need a different balance of amino acids from rabbits in their diet.

The need for these amino acids also explains why mixing up the diet with some fresh greens (and an occasional treat) is a good idea for feeding rabbits.

Providing a variety of greens increases the variety of amino acids in the diet, ensuring your bunny can make all the muscles, tissue cells and enzymes that they need to be healthy and happy.

Why do rabbits need fibre?

Just like humans, rabbits need fibre in their diet to help food move down the intestines before it is pooed out. But bunnies need a lot more fibre (for their size) than we do.

The digestive system of rabbits is sensitive – without enough fibre, it clogs up. The fibre helps keep everything moving through.

While in a human constipation might be uncomfortable, for a rabbit it can be fatal. The condition is called ‘gastrointestinal stasis’. If you suspect your bunny may have this, contact a vet immediately.

Fibre is also good for your bunny’s teeth. Rabbit teeth never stop growing. Every week, another 3mm long. But eating high fibre diets like hay helps wear the teeth down, so they stay the same size.

Without enough fibre, the teeth grow faster than the rabbit can grind them down.

And long teeth is really bad for your rabbit. It can lead to breathing difficulties, as the teeth affect the nasal cavities. And the teeth can develop sharp points (spurs) that aren’t smoothed down, leading to pain for your rabbit.

This then leads to more problems, as the rabbit starts using the other side of their mouth, which then affects the muscles and ligaments around the mouth.

In other words, make sure your rabbit has enough fibre (for example by using Timothy hay – find out more here). It’s good for their gut and good for their teeth.

Why do rabbits need fat?

Rabbits need energy for their bodies – and fats are high in energy (there’s over twice as much energy in fat compared to the same weight of carbohydrates).

Bunnies also need fats to help absorb some of the vitamins they need. Vitamins A, D, E & K are all soluble (they dissolve) in fats, so having a little fat in the diet helps the body to get these essential vitamins.

People who show bunnies also like a little fat in the diet as it is said to make the coats shinier.

While having some fat is good, too much fat leads to problems (just as it does in humans!). If bunnies eat too much, and can’t use all the energy, they store it in their bodies (as fat). So just like us, too much fatty food can lead to obesity.

Why is too much starch bad for rabbits?

Too much starch is bad for rabbits because it can be bad for their intestines which can lead to serious problems. It can also lead to your bunny becoming too fat, which can cause longer term health problems.

Starch is a form of carbohydrate – one of the energy sources for rabbits. However, it needs to be kept in balance with the amount of fibre in the diet of rabbits.

Too much starch leads to a ‘starch overload’. This is when there is too much starch in the intestines.

Rabbits can then develop enteritis. Symptoms of enteritis include constipation and the rabbit going off their food. This is followed by watery diarrhoea, and then further diarrhoea and dehydration.

Enteritis can be extremely dangerous for rabbits – even fatal. So if you suspect your rabbit is suffering from this, get in touch with a vet as soon as possible.

Rabbits are most likely to get a starch overload if fed a high grain diet without enough fibre. The easiest way to avoid this is to make sure that the main component of your bunny’s diet is fresh hay (with plenty of drinking water, and some greens).

Why do rabbits need macro-minerals (calcium, sodium and others)?

Rabbits need some minerals in relatively large quantities (grams per day instead of milligrams per day). These include calcium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. Because they are needed in larger quantities than others, they are called macro-minerals.

Rabbits need macro-minerals for bones, energy metabolism, muscle metabolism, blood regulation and a host of other needs.

Why do rabbits need calcium? And can rabbits have too much calcium?

Rabbits need calcium to create bones. Bones are a mixture of collagen (a protein) and calcium phosphate (which helps make bones hard). Growing bunnies need more calcium than mature rabbits, as their bodies and bones are still growing.

If female rabbits are pregnant or feeding their young, then they will also need more calcium (rabbit milk is particularly rich in calcium).

Rabbits also need calcium for a range of other purposes. Calcium is involved in how muscles contract, in how blood clots, and in making sure that the balance of electrolytes in the body is right.

But rabbits can easily have too much calcium. The more you give rabbits calcium in the diet, the more their bodies absorb it, whether they need it or not.

That means that if they have too much, they need to pee it out. If you see white, chalky stuff, it might be because your bunny has too much calcium.

And long term this can lead to health problems. Anyone who has ever had kidney stones will tell you how painful they are (these are little lumps of calcium oxalate that get trapped in the urinary system). Rabbits can get the equivalent of kidney stones too (urolithiasis), and it is just as painful for them.

That’s why you need to be careful and make sure your bunny does not have too much calcium (for instance, alfalfa hay is too high in calcium for a mature rabbit – timothy hay is much better, having only a third as much calcium as alfalfa).

Why do rabbits need phosphorus?

Rabbits need phosphorus in their diet to help build bones – a major part of bones is calcium phosphate. Generally, bunnies need about two-thirds to half the amount of phosphorus compared to calcium.

Why do rabbits need sodium and potassium?

Rabbits need sodium and potassium to help ensure that there’s the right amount of fluids in the bunny’s body. They balance out the fluids in the cells with the fluid around them. Sodium and potassium work together as electrolytes.

Bunnies also need potassium and sodium for passing nerve signals along the bodies. Molecular pumps in our cells move potassium onto one side of a cell wall, and sodium on the other.

Sodium potassium pump
Created by Clod94. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.

The imbalance creates the effect of a chemical battery – enabling electrical nerve impulses to pass through the body from and to the brain, and telling muscles to contract or relax.

Why do rabbits need magnesium?

Rabbits need magnesium because their parathyroid glands need magnesium – and the the parathyroid glands help make bones, and control how much calcium is in the body through creating hormones.

The more calcium in the diet, the more magnesium a bunny needs. So make sure that your rabbit is not getting too much calcium.

One sign that your bunny might not have enough magnesium in their diet is fur chewing (though this can also be caused by not enough fibre in the diet, or by other non-diet related reasons, like stress).

Make sure that you are giving a balanced diet to your rabbit if you see this happening, and if you are worried check it out with a vet.

Why do rabbits need micro-minerals (copper, iron, and others)?

Rabbits need micro-minerals like copper, iron, manganese, zinc, selenium, cobalt and iodine for a whole range of different purposes, including blood production, growth, hair formation, enzyme production, and energy metabolism. Let’s take each in turn.

Why do rabbits need copper?

Rabbits need copper to help make hair, collagen and to regulate how the body uses iron and creates energy. If bunnies don’t get enough they may suffer from anaemia, dermatitis and bone marrow problems.

Why do rabbits need iron?

Rabbits need iron to help make blood. Red blood cells are made up of haemoglobin, a complex protein connected to an iron complex.

When rabbits breathe in, oxygen goes into their lungs, then sticks to the iron ion in the haemoglobin. The blood then takes the oxygen all around the body so it can be used.

If bunnies don’t get enough iron, they can suffer from anaemia. The rabbit may be lethargic, or weak and dizzy.

Other illnesses and conditions can also cause anaemia, so if you suspect your rabbit is anaemic, speak to a vet.

The normal amount of iron in rabbit’s blood is 33-40 mmol/litre.

Why do rabbits need manganese, zinc, iodine, cobalt and selenium?

Rabbits need the minerals manganese, zinc, iodine and selenium for a whole variety of reasons.

Many enzymes use zinc, and it is also involved in cell division. Amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) need manganese.

The thyroid gland (that looks after energy production) needs iodine. Without it, the thyroid gland gets bigger to try to compensate – goiter.

Rabbits need selenium in very small amounts. Most mammals use selenium to mop op peroxides (free radical compounds which are by-products of your body working) which could otherwise damage cells. But bunnies mostly use Vitamin E to do this.

Finally, bunnies need cobalt to enable them to make Vitamin B12.

Why do rabbits need vitamin A?

Rabbits need vitamin A (a fat-soluble vitamin, also called retinol) to keep their bodies healthy. It is important for their skin and immune system. Bunnies also use vitamin A to keep their eyes healthy and able to see in poor light (find out more about how rabbits see the world). Bunnies can’t make vitamin A themselves, so they need it in their food.

Foods that contain vitamin A include dark, green, leafy vegetables. Grass and hay also contain vitamin A (though the drier the hay, the more likely it is to have lost some). This is why it’s a good idea to give your bunnies some greens every now and then along with hay and fresh water.

Why do rabbits need vitamin D?

Rabbits need vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, because it controls how they absorb calcium and phosphorus, both of which bunnies use for bone growth. However, rabbits differ from other mammals in how they use vitamin D because they are unique in how they process calcium. Rabbits can get vitamin D both from hay and from daylight.

Most mammals need a special protein that latches onto calcium in the diet, and vitamin D helps make this protein. But rabbits are different. They don’t need this protein, but extract highly efficiently all the calcium in the diet.

This is why you need to be careful that your bunny doesn’t have too much calcium – the extra that isn’t needed can form a sludge in their kidneys, and lead to painful kidney stones and chalky urine.

But if the diet doesn’t have enough calcium, then the vitamin D kicks in and helps to increase how much calcium your bunny can get from the food.

Vitamin D still helps make sure that rabbits have the right amount of calcium in the blood stream, and whether there is too much that needs to be excreted.

Vitamin D also controls phosphorus uptake. A major component of bones is calcium phosphate, so vitamin D is vital for proper bone growth.

You can make sure that your bunny has enough vitamin D in two ways.

First, some foods contain vitamin D. This includes hay, which should always be the main part of any rabbit’s diet. Grass contains ergosterol, and when this dries to hay in the sun, the ergosterol is converted to vitamin D.

Rabbit outside
Peach outside getting her vitamin D fix

Secondly, just like humans, rabbits can get vitamin D from being out in the sun. In particular, it is UVB rays that help bunnies manufacture vitamin D from the action of the UV rays on their skin.

Some bunnies spend most of their time inside. If that’s true of your rabbit, just make sure that they have a varied diet including hay that will provide vitamin D.

However, you also need to make sure you don’t give too much vitamin D to your rabbit – too much is toxic to bunnies.

If rabbits overdose on vitamin D, it can lead to them losing their appetite, kidneys and arteries hardening, and poorer movement.

Because of this, it is usually best not to use a vitamin D supplement, but to rely on vitamin D naturally occurring in a balance diet (unless you have been specifically told otherwise by a vet).

As always, if you have any concerns, check with a vet.

Why do rabbits need vitamin E?

Rabbits need vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin, to keep their muscles and immune system healthy. Their bodies (and ours) produce dangerous types of molecules called free radicals when they make energy (eg to move muscles). left alone, these free radicals react with cells in the body, damaging them. Vitamin E, an antioxidant, helps mop up these free radicals and keep bunnies healthy.

If rabbits don’t get enough vitamin E, it affects their muscles (muscular dystrophy). This can include their heart muscles.

why do rabbits need vitamin K?

Rabbits need vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin, to keep their blood clotting. Without vitamin K, a cut could continue to bleed. Bunnies produce most of the vitamin K they need themselves, but occasionally (for example if a bunny is pregnant) they may benefit from additional vitamin K.

If rabbits have too much vitamin K, it can affect their kidneys (nephritis).

Do rabbits need vitamin B?

Rabbits do not need any of the vitamin B complex in their feed. Bunnies can produce all the different types of vitamin B themselves. When they eat their food, the processes in their intestines create vitamin B. Bunnies then create a special type of poo (caecotrophs, which are shiny, soft, smelly small poos joined together). They eat this straight away (which is why you rarely see this type of poo), and so can absorb the vitamins they need.

Do rabbits need vitamin C?

Rabbits do not usually need any vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in their feed. Bunnies can make vitamin C in their livers.

Rabbits only benefit from additional vitamin C when they are in stressful situations – for example, if it is extremely hot.

What is a healthy diet for a rabbit?

A healthy diet for a rabbit consists mainly of good quality hay (like Timothy hay) and fresh water. You can give rabbits as much hay as they want. Fresh water is important – if rabbits don’t have enough water, they won’t eat enough hay.

Additionally, bunnies benefit from a handful of fresh greens each day. Our bunnies love coriander, but it is good to mix it up.

You can also give your rabbits a small amount of rabbit pellets each day – typically about an eggcup-full.

Occasional treats are also fine, such as cut up apples, bananas, and small amounts of carrots.

A varied diet like this should supply all the fibre, protein, energy, vitamins and minerals that your bunny needs for a healthy life.

Should I give vitamin supplements to my rabbit?

You should not need to give vitamin supplements to your rabbit unless you have been told to by a vet for a specific reason. A healthy diet should provide all the vitamins and minerals that your bunny needs.

Giving vitamin supplements unnecessarily may be bad for your rabbit. Having too much of certain vitamins (eg vitamin A and vitamin D) can be toxic for your bunny, leading to a variety of health problems.

And rabbits do not normally need vitamins B or C at all.

How can I tell if my rabbit is overweight or underweight?

The easiest way to tell if your rabbit is overweight or underweight is looking at their body shape from above. The Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association have produced a handy visual guide to download.

Check out these other posts…

As you’re interested in your bunny’s nutrition, have a look at these other posts:

References

The information in the nutritional table comes directly from the FEDIAF, which is the European pet food manufacturers’ association. The guidelines were drawn up by a range of veterinary professors working in a range of European universities and other experts. It is the most authoritative list in Europe.

The calorie requirements are based upon a formula within their guidelines. The intake refers to metabolisable energy.

Daily calorie intake (kcal) = 100 x (rabbit weight in kg)0.75

This energy intake is doubled for growing rabbits.

The guidelines are specifically for pet rabbits (you may come across some tables which are for people breeding rabbits for meat).

Other information comes from a range of sources, including:

Amy E. Halls (2010) Nutritional Requirements for Rabbits. Shur-Gain.

Lebas, F. (2000) “Vitamins in Rabbit Nutrition: Literature Review and Recommendations.” World Rabbit Science 8 (4): 185-192.

Pellet, S & Thompson, L. Hypovitaminosis D in rabbits.

Claire Speight (2017) “The nutritional needs of rabbits”. Veterinary Nursing Journal 32:144-46. DOI: 10.1080/17415349.2017.1284578

Posted by Jonathan in General
Can rabbits eat swede (rutabaga)?

Can rabbits eat swede (rutabaga)?

I quite like shopping in supermarkets (my partner is the opposite). I find it relaxing (assuming I’m not in a hurry) wandering up and down the aisles. 

In our local supermarket, the first one you come to is the vegetable aisle. And as I stroll along, eyeing up the variety of goods, I often ask myself – ‘would that be a good treat for my bunnies?’.

One of the vegetables on display is swede (also called rutabaga if you’re in the States), a large root vegetable that’s a bit like a large, sweet turnip. 

So, if you too wander the aisles with your fluffy friends in mind, here is the answer to whether rabbits can eat swede safely as a treat.

Can rabbits eat swede?

Rabbits can eat swede, or rutabaga, safely. It is not toxic (poisonous) to rabbits. However, swede should only be fed in small portions occasionally to bunnies, as part of a varied diet mainly based on hay. The peel, stem and leaves of swede are also safe for rabbits to eat. Swede is high in carbohydrates, so should only be an occasional treat for rabbits. The main diet for a rabbit should be hay, with a handful of greens each day, and water. A daily portion of swede for a rabbit is about a tablespoon for a 6lb adult rabbit. 

How much swede should I give my rabbit?

You should only give swede as a treat to your rabbit – it should not be their main food (see below for some of the reasons why). 

Hay should always be the main part of your bunny’s diet.

You can give up to about a tablespoon of swede to your bunny daily. 

If you have younger rabbits, it’s best to introduce foods one at a time to ensure that their developing digestive systems can adjust to the new food.

It’s best to wait until rabbits are at least twelve weeks old before introducing any foods like swedes. 

It’s also a good idea to rotate which vegetables and greens you feed your rabbit. The variety is good for their diet and health, ensuring your rabbits get all the minerals and vitamins they need.

It also makes sure that they don’t get too much if a particular vegetable is high in one mineral or vitamin.

Is swede good for rabbits?

IngredientAmount per 100g of swede / rutabaga
Calories155kJ; 37 kcal
Fat0.16g
Carbohydrate8.62g
Fibre2.3g
Sugars4.46g
Protein1.08g
Thiamine (B1)0.09mg
Riboflavin (B2)0.04mg
Niacin (B3)0.7mg
Vitamin B60.1mg
Folate (B9)21µg
Vitamin C25mg
Calcium43mg
Iron0.44mg
Magnesium20mg
Manganese0.131mg
Phosphorus53mg
Potassium305mg
Zinc0.24mg
Water89.4g
Sourced from USDA

Swedes do contain some helpful nutrients to rabbits. But the main contribution is carbohydrates (with a high sugar content).

You might think that the high levels of vitamin C would be good. But bunnies are able to manufacture vitamin C themselves.

Swedes aren’t poisonous (toxic) to rabbits – it’s just that they’re not very healthy for them. 

What are the risks in feeding swede (rutabaga) to rabbits?

Feeding swedes to rabbits is risky if you give them too much.

Swedes should only be a small-sized treat, not a major part of their diet.

If you give bunnies too much swede or rutabaga, you risk two dangers:

In the short term, your rabbit may have trouble digesting the swede (their digestive systems are delicate). This can lead to bloating, and GI stasis (a bit like constipation). 

This can be extremely dangerous to rabbits – if you think your rabbit has GI stasis, contact a vet straightaway.

In the longer term, swedes are high in calories, and with the wrong mix of nutrients for rabbits. If rabbits eat mainly swedes, they may become fat and unhealthy, and not live as long.

Also, rabbits need plenty of fibre found in hay to keep wearing down their teeth (rabbits’ teeth never stop growing).

If bunnies are fed mainly on food like swedes, their teeth get too long. This can lead to all sorts of problems, including with their ears and their balance.

So you should think of swedes as being a little like sweets for toddlers – a small amount every now and then is fine as a treat, but it shouldn’t be the main part of their diet.

What if my rabbit doesn’t like swede?

If your rabbit doesn’t like swede – no problem. Just don’t give them any!

Just like humans, rabbits have likes and dislikes. Not all people like swedes, and neither do all bunnies.

Where swede comes from, and a few other fun facts about swedes

Swedes come from a cross between turnips and cabbages. The earliest reference we have (from the early seventeenth century) comes from a botanist finding the vegetables growing wild in Sweden.

The king of Sweden (Gustav III) sent some seeds to a Scottish banker called Patrick Miller around 1791-2 – and that’s why these vegetables earned the name ‘swedes’ in Britain.

Why was the king giving presents to a Scottish banker? 

Because Miller created plans for a super-warship. Other countries didn’t show any interest, but Sweden did. Miller sent them the prototype – the Experiment of Leith.

The ship arrived too late to be used in war, but Sweden was still grateful, and so the king sent his gift.

The swede seeds came in an illustrated snuff-box, now owned by the Victoria and Albert museum in London. You can see more about it here.

The name rutabaga comes from the Swedish word ‘rottebagge’, which literally means ‘thick root’.  

Have you tried swede and found it too bitter? 

You may be a ‘supertaster’ – genetically more sensitive than the rest of us. 

Some people have a specific gene (a variant of TAS2R38), which makes them more sensitive to certain foods. (This also applies to horseradish, broccoli and some other foods).

People with the gene find swedes twice as bitter as the rest of us – so may find it difficult to eat. [Source]

You’re not fussy – you’re sensitive.

Conclusion

You can safely give swede to your pet bunny, but only as an occasional treat. This hybrid cabbage/turnip is too high in starchy carbohydrates to be a significant part of a rabbit’s diet.

Other posts

If you’re thinking about what you can feed safely to bunnies, check out these other posts:

And if you want to keep your bunny entertained, check out the cheap rabbit toys we like (and so did our fluffy friends).

Posted by Jonathan in General
Can rabbits eat radishes?

Can rabbits eat radishes?

I have mixed feelings about radishes. I always think I don’t like them much, then they crop up in a salad and I find myself enjoying the crunchy texture and the peppery taste. 

But if you’re like me, you also start eyeing up your plate, and wondering, ‘could I feed these radishes to my bunnies?’. 

I did lots of digging around, and here are the results (including a guest appearance by Peter Rabbit). Hope you find it helpful. 

Can rabbits eat radishes?

Rabbits can eat radishes safely – they are not toxic to bunnies. But you should not feed radishes to your bunny in large amounts, as radishes are high in starch which can cause stomach upsets, gas and bloating to rabbits. 

Radish tops (the leaves) are healthier for rabbits, and you can give radish tops to rabbits as part of their fresh greens every day. A rabbit’s main food should always be hay.

Can rabbits eat radish tops and leaves?

Bunnies can eat radish tops safely. The leaves are good for rabbits so you can feed radish tops to them. 

A healthy daily diet for a medium-sized rabbit includes mainly hay and water, maybe an egg-cup full of rabbit nuggets, and a handful of greens. The radish tops can be included as part of the handful of greens.

How much radish should I give my rabbit?

You should only give a small amount of radish to your rabbit – a couple of small radishes (about 25g or 1oz).

In larger quantities, the starchy composition of radishes can cause problems (see below). 

What are the nutritional benefits of radishes for rabbits?

Radishes
IngredientAmount per 100g of radishes
Calories66kJ; 16 kcal
Fat0.1g
Carbohydrate3.4g
Fibre1.6g
Protein0.68g
Thiamine (B1)0.012mg
Riboflavin (B2)0.039mg
Niacin (B3)0.254mg
Vitamin B50.165mg
Vitamin B625µg
Vitamin C14.8mg
Calcium25mg
Iron0.34mg
Magnesium10mg
Manganese0.069mg
Phosphorus20mg
Potassium233mg
Zinc0.28mg
Water95.3g
Nutrients in radishes

Radishes do contain some helpful nutrients to rabbits. But the main contribution is water (radishes are over 95% water) and carbohydrates. 

Radishes are also relatively high in vitamin C, but rabbits don’t need that vitamin in their diets (their bodies can manufacture vitamin C themselves).

So nothing in radishes is toxic – it’s just not that useful for rabbits’ health.

And in large quantities, the high amount of starch could lead to GI stasis (see below). 

What are the risk factors for rabbits eating radishes?

Eating too much radish can be dangerous for rabbits In two ways. 

The high calories can help lead to fat bunnies – and obesity is not healthy for rabbits. 

More urgently, too much radish could lead to gut problems. 

Rabbits’ digestive systems are quite delicate, and require high amounts of fibre to keep them moving and pooing healthily. 

Lots of starchy food can interfere with this, causing gas (which is painful for rabbits) and in extreme may lead to gut stasis. This is a type of constipation for bunnies, and it is potentially fatal. 

If you suspect your rabbit may be suffering from this, contact a vet immediately. 

So the main risk in rabbits eating radishes is if you feed too much to your bunnies.

Do rabbits eat radishes in gardens? Peter Rabbit did…

Rabbits certainly do eat radishes in the garden, so you if you have a vegetable patch try to protect it. 

Beatrix Potter knew what rabbits were like. 

In her classic tale, she recounts the adventures of a naughty little rabbit.

Here’s what Peter Rabbit got up to…

Peter Rabbit eating radishes
Peter Rabbit overdoing it with radishes

But Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and squeezed under the gate!

First he ate some lettuces and some French beans; and then he ate some radishes;

And then, feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley.

Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, retrieved from Project Gutenberg public domain

Clearly, Peter Rabbit overdid it on the radishes, and suffered for it. Make sure your bunny doesn’t make the same mistake!

What if my bunny doesn’t eat radish?

I always think of our bunnies as being a bit like toddlers. Little children sometimes like new foods, and sometimes (for any or no reason) will turn up their noses, turn their heads to the side, and refuse to open their mouths.

Rabbits have their own food preferences too. Some buns will gobble up radishes and look at you wondering if there might be seconds (don’t give in – only give radishes in small quantities). Other buns will sniff at a radish, then turn away and ignore it.

Our bunnies aren’t fans.

They looked, they sniffed, they turned away.

Fussy little creatures…

So if your bunny doesn’t like radishes, don’t be surprised or worry. Just find them food they do like (so long as you ensure that most of their diet is hay – you can read more about why this is important here.

Conclusion

Rabbits can eat radishes, but only as a small treat from time to time. Radishes are not particularly healthy for rabbits, and too much can cause problems for bunnies. 

You can also safely feed radish tops to rabbits – these leaves are healthier than the radishes themselves, and can make up part of the greens that rabbits get in their diet every day.

Other posts

If you’re thinking about what you can feed safely to bunnies, check out these other posts:

Posted by Jonathan in General
Can rabbits eat rocket (arugula)?

Can rabbits eat rocket (arugula)?

In the summer, I love having salad to accompany a barbeque. There’s something refreshing about the mix of salad leaves and other food. 

But not all salad… let’s face it, iceberg lettuce is a bit dull. I prefer rocket (also known as arugula). The peppery taste from the dark green leaves is just more interesting, livening up a dish. And not just in salads – I also love it on pizzas.

But will your rabbit also love rocket? And even if your bunny does, is it good or safe for them?

Can rabbits eat arugula? Can rabbits eat rocket?

Rabbits can eat arugula, also called rocket. Rocket, or arugula, is safe to feed to bunnies as part of a varied diet mainly based on hay. Rocket provides a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, and with other vegetables and hay is part of a healthy diet for a rabbit. A daily portion is about a handful of rocket for a medium sized rabbit.

How much rocket should I give my rabbit?

As with most leafy greens and vegetables, about a handful of rocket (or two cups) is enough for a mature rabbit of about 6lb, as part of a daily diet based mainly on hay.

Younger rabbits will need less. And if your bunny is under one year old, you can start introducing them to the delights of arugula from about 12 weeks. It’s a good idea to introduce greens one at a time to ensure that their developing digestive systems can adjust to the new food. 

It’s also a good idea to rotate which vegetables and greens you feed your rabbit. The variety is good for their diet and health, ensuring your rabbits get all the minerals and vitamins they need.

It also makes sure that they don’t get too much if a particular vegetable is high in one mineral or vitamin.

Why is rocket good for rabbits?

Rocket (or arugula) is good for rabbits because it contains a variety of minerals and vitamins. For example, it contains vitamins A, E and K, which rabbits need from their diet (though vitamin A is also found in hay, which should always be the main part of the diet).

Rocket is also high is vitamin C, but this is less useful for rabbits, as their bodies can produce this by themselves.

Minerals are also vital for rabbit health. For example, phosphorus is involved in energy metabolism (how the body converts food into energy for muscles), and magnesium is needed for bone structure. 

And the moisture content is also helpful – rabbits require a lot of water, either through drinking it or it naturally occurring in their food.  

Rocket as part of the diet helps ensure your rabbit has all the right vitamins and minerals they need.

IngredientAmount per 100g of rocket
Calories122 kJ; 29 kcal
Fat< 0.5g
Carbohydrate1.5g
Fibre2.5g
Protein3.6g
Folic Acid170µg
Vitamin A119µg; 2373 IU
Vitamin C15mg
Vitamin E0.43mg
Vitamin K108.6µg
Calcium160mg
Copper0.076mg
Iron1.46mg
Magnesium47mg
Phosphorus52mg
Potassium369mg
Sodium27mg
Zinc0.47mg
Water91.7mg
Ingredients in Rocket (arugula)

Are there any concerns about feeding rocket to rabbits?

You may find warnings on the internet about the calcium content of rocket. If a rabbit has too much calcium this can cause urinary stones, which are painful and dangerous.

Some suggest you have to be careful with rocket because it has relatively high levels of calcium (160mg/100g), as the chart above shows.

But you can relax – this level is still much lower than the hay which should be the main diet for a rabbit. 

Timothy hay has a calcium level of 400mg/g, which is over twice as high, and is good for your rabbit.

Bottom line – you don’t need to worry about your furry friend getting too much calcium from rocket. 

What if my rabbit doesn’t like rocket?

If your bunny sniffs and turns their nose up at rocket, don’t be surprised or upset. 

Just like humans, rabbits have their own preferences. Just as some of my friends find rocket too strong and peppery a taste, perhaps so will your bunny. 

Just give your bunny a different salad or vegetable instead.

Where rocket comes from, and a few other facts

Rocket is salad leaf native to the Mediterranean, and popular throughout this region. One common use is as a pizza topping (added just after the pizza comes out of the oven. (I like it with goats cheese as a topping).

It is an annual plant, known to the ancient romans, who thought rocket was an aphrodisiac (thank Virgil for that). They also thought that lettuce calmed you down, so you should mix the two. So those mixed salad bags with rocket and lettuce are balanced in every way.

The name ‘rocket’ comes from the Italian ‘ruchetta’ or ‘rucola’.

In the USA and Canada, it is known as arugula, which probably also comes from ‘rucola’. Same root, different words. 

A little coincidence – the poem by Virgil which references rocket (also known as colewort in the poem’s translation I linked to) also has the phrase ‘e pluribus unus’ (out of the many, one) which ended up being the motto of the USA. In the poem, it refers more to the herby paste (pesto) being cooked up.

Conclusion

You can safely give rocket to your pet bunny. The dark, peppery leaves will provide your bunny with water, vitamins and minerals, and also provide some variety in the taste and smell of their food. As part of a varied diet based mainly on hay and water, rocket (arugula) is fine for your rabbit.

Here are some of the sites I consulted, to make sure that the advice above is OK:

RSPCA advice about diet for rabbits

House Rabbit Society (a non-profit rabbit rescue and education organisation) advice about vegetables and fruit

The PDSA (a leading veterinary charity) advice about safe vegetables for rabbits

The PDSA also have this download about feeding rabbits (opens pdf file)

The Rabbit Welfare Association has a page on recommended vegetables and herbs

If you’re concerned about what food to give your bunny, you might also want to check out our post on what herbs are safe for rabbits, and what fruit you can give your bunnies.

We also have posts on rabbits and apples, and bunnies and mangetout.

And if you want to keep your bunnies’ minds healthy, check out what toys we found kept ours entertained and interested.

Posted by Jonathan in General
Can rabbits eat apples safely?

Can rabbits eat apples safely?

Imagine a big pile of apples. Really big. Not just five, ten or twenty.

Imagine having over a hundred apples stacked up in front of you. 

Would you give all of that in one go to your bunny?

Neither would I, or anyone. It’s far too much – the pile of apples would be much larger than the bunny.

Unless you are crazy enough to give over a hundred apples all at once to your bunny, giving apple to your rabbit friend is safe.

Rabbits can eat apples safely, including the core, pips (apple seeds) and stem. Apple is a great treat for rabbits. As with all fruit, the portion size should be small as too much of the sugar found in fruits is unhealthy. A portion size for a rabbit of 6lb (3kg) is about half of a small apple.

You might have come across a myth that apple cores and stems are dangerous for your bunnies. 

Sites on the internet warn of all sorts of potential nasty symptoms and even death. 

These sites are well-meaning, but not based on any science (and often just repeat the same warnings found on other sites).

Why is there a myth that apple seeds are dangerous to rabbits?

apple core and seeds (also known as pips)

The myth that apple seeds are dangerous to bunnies has come about because they contain a substance that breaks down into cyanide.

Cyanide?! But that’s a deadly poison, isn’t it??

We react strongly and emotionally to this chemical, because it makes us think of James Bond, and spies, and deadly poison.

Bond and M face up to nasty effects of cyanide in Skyfall

But quantities matter, and you need 144 apples to have seeds for the quantity of cyanide to be dangerous to a rabbit.

The Science – how dangerous are apple seeds to rabbits?

If you’ve ever bitten into an apple seed, you’ll know how sour and bitter it tastes.

That bitter taste is cyanide. (Yes – you’ve tasted cyanide and lived). 

It comes from a chemical inside the seeds called amygdalin.

More formally, amygdalin is a cyanogenic glycoside. That’s a posh term for a chemical that breaks down, forming hydrogen cyanide as a result.

And hydrogen cyanide, in enough quantity, is dangerous. It can cause nausea, convulsions, heart problems and in extreme cases death.

To find out how many apples might be dangerous to a rabbit, we now need to find out three things:

  • How many apple seeds in an apple
  • How much amygdalin in an apple seed
  • How much amygdalin is dangerous to a rabbit.

How many apple seeds in an apple

I’m going to use 8 apple seeds in an apple as a reasonable average. 

Of course, each apple may vary (and each type of apple), but 8 is reasonable.

Each apple contains on average 8 apple seeds

How much amygdalin in an apple seed

Apple seeds contain, on average, 2.96 mg/g of amygdalin (research paper here). But apple seeds weigh less than a gram. On average, a typical apple seed weighs about 0.7g.

So each apple seed contains about 2.072mg of amygdalin.

How much amygdalin is dangerous to a rabbit

No-one (to my knowledge) has actually fed amygdalin to rabbits to find out what the lethal dose might be (thank goodness).

But scientists have done this with rats, who are similar enough to give us a good idea of what a lethal dose would be. (I’m glad I’m not this kind of scientist, but you can find the research paper here.)

For rats, the lethal dose of amygdalin is 880mg/kg. Let’s assume that it’s about the same for rabbits.

Now, bunnies come in all sorts of sizes, from Netherland Dwarfs through to Flemish Giants. Our bunnies, minilops, fall somewhere in the middle.

So I’m going to assume that the rabbit is about 4lb, or 2kg in weight.

This means that the lethal dose of amygdalin would be 1,760mg.

The maths

Maths of how many apples would be needed to be dangerous to a rabbit

Number of apples to be dangerous = lethal dose / (apple seeds in apple x amygdalin in seed)

Number = 1,760/(8×2.072)

Number = 106.2

So you need to eat all the apple seeds from over a hundred apples to reach a lethal dose for an average bunny.

Can cyanide build up over time in a rabbit?

The short answer is, no. Cyanide is extremely reactive. While that makes it dangerous (in enough quantity), it also means that it breaks down quickly. Cyanide can’t build up inside the body.

But I heard that far fewer seeds were dangerous?

You may come across calculations that imply that far fewer seeds are dangerous for rabbits. These are based on the theoretical amount of cyanide that amygdalin could, in absolutely ideal lab conditions, produce. (A gram of amygdalin can theoretically produce 59mg of hydrogen cyanide).

And you can then carry out calculations based on lethal doses of hydrogen cyanide for rabbits (sadly, these experiments have been carried out – it’s 0.66mg/kg of bodyweight).

But this is much less useful or applicable than experiments carried out directly with amygdalin, which is the chemical actually found in the apple seeds.

Could an even higher number of apples be safe?

Short answer – yes.

I’ve taken an extremely conservative approach, by assuming that all the amygdalin in the apple seeds gets extracted by a rabbit.

But how often have you swallowed an apple seed by accident?

Apple seeds have evolved to be eaten. The hard, shiny, smooth shell is there so that it can pass intact through animals’ intestines to be left elsewhere. That’s how the seeds spread. And if it was dangerous to animals, it wouldn’t have succeeded. 

In real life, very little amygdalin is likely to be released from the apple seeds. You would need to extract the apple seeds and grind them into fine powder to get anywhere close to the result I gave above (clearly – I don’t recommend you do this).

Are there any cases of rabbits being poisoned by apple seeds?

To the best of my knowledge, there are no known cases of rabbits being poisoned by apple seeds (not surprising, given the above). 

And that’s not just me – it’s also the opinion of a vet who specialised in dealing with rabbits.

There are no reported cases of a rabbit dying from eating apple pips. In the autumn, wild rabbits feast on windfalls, including the pips, with no ill effects.

Frances Harcourt-Brown FRCVS, author of Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, European and RCVS Recognised Specialist in Rabbit Medicine and Surgery

How do apples fit into a rabbit’s diet?

Apples make a great treat for rabbits. But the bulk of their diet should always be hay (see our post on Timothy hay for more information on why this is the best food).

It’s best if bunnies have unlimited access to hay.

You can also give rabbits a handful of greens a day, and a small amount of nuggets a day (about an eggcup). 

Always make sure that your bunny has plenty of water to drink.

Don’t give too much apple to your pet bunny – not because of any worries about the seeds, but because apples, like most fruit, contain fruit sugars.

This is why apples taste sweet. They contain fructose, and in lesser amounts glucose and sucrose.

Just as too much sugar is bad for us humans, too much sugar is bad for rabbits.

That’s why apples should be a treat, and portion size controlled for your bunny.

A suitable portion size is about half a small apple for a medium sized rabbit.

Can rabbits eat apple skin? 

Rabbits can eat the skin on apples (and it’s good for them – extra fibre). 

Can rabbits eat apple leaves or twigs?

Rabbits can safely gnaw away at apple leaves and twigs.

Conclusion – can rabbits eat apples?

Rabbit eating slice of apple
Peach enjoying a slice of apple as a treat

Rabbits can eat all parts of an apple safely. Don’t believe myths about apple seeds that are not based on science.

You can check out what other fruit are safe for rabbits to eat at our comprehensive post covering this.

We also have an article checking out which herbs are OK to give your bunny.

If you’re worried about your rabbit’s health, make sure that you have insurance so you can cover any vet bills. For UK readers, I did a comparison of the pet rabbit insurance providers.

And if you want to keep your bunnies entertained, check out our favourite toys for rabbits.

Posted by Jonathan in General
Can rabbits eat mangetout?

Can rabbits eat mangetout?

We all love to give our bunnies food that they both enjoy and is good for them. And you probably already know that green vegetables can be a healthy part of a rabbit’s diet. But are all vegetables OK?

In particular, what about mangetout? 

Mangetout (sometimes called snow peas) are types of garden peas that are picked for eating whilst still young. The small peas are left in the flat pod, and the whole pod can be eaten (mangetout is the French for ‘eat all’).

Sugar snap peas are similar to mangetout (you eat the whole pod) but have a rounder shape and are crunchier than mangetout (they have a ‘snap’ to them).

Rabbits can eat mangetout safely, and also sugar snap peas. These green vegetables provide both vitamins such as vitamin K, minerals such as iron and manganese, and fibre, which is good for your rabbit’s teeth and gut. Rabbits can have up to about a couple of tablespoons a day as part of a mixed diet that is mainly hay based.

How much mangetout should I give my rabbit?

You should give a mature rabbit (over 1 year old) about 2 cups of vegetables a day. For mangetout, this means about 200g, or 8oz. You should mix up which vegetables you give your bunny, so don’t give your furry friend mangetout every day. They need the variety.

If you have a younger bunny, this may need adjusting.

Very young rabbits (kittens) won’t need any vegetables until they are 12 weeks (3 months) old. Introduce them one at a time. So no mangetout for the youngest.

From 3 months to 6 months old, you should be slowly increasing the amount and variety of vegetables in your bun’s diet. And this then continues over the rest of the year.

If you introduce mangetout into your rabbit’s diet this way, and keep it as part of a varied diet of some vegetables but mainly based on hay, then you can know that you are doing your best to keep your rabbit healthy.

If you want to see further advice about rabbit diet, check out the advice from the House Rabbit Society, or from a vet who specialised in rabbits, Francis Harcourt-Brown.

Why is mangetout good for rabbits?

Mangetout, like most green vegetables, is a good choice as part of your bunny’s diet. 

This is because it contains a variety of fibre, protein, and minerals that rabbits need to be healthy.

ComponentAmount per 100g
Fibre2.6g
Protein3.6g
Vitamin C54mg
Thiamine (B1)0.15mg
Vitamin K25μg
Iron2mg
Magnesium24mg
Manganese0.244mg
Phosphorus54mg
Zinc0.27mg
Mangetout nutritional information (sources: Wikipedia, Sainsbury’s, Tesco)

These different components all help your rabbits to grow and keep their bodies healthy. 

Fibre is critical in a rabbit’s diet (which is why hay should always be the main part of the diet). Fibre helps keep the gut moving – rabbits can suffer badly if food starts piling up inside (gut stasis). If your rabbit ever stops eating and pooing, contact a vet straight away.

Protein enables the rabbit to make its own protein (which is used, for example, to build and repair muscles and skin).

Minerals are needed in small quantities too – hay and vegetables ensure that the bunny gets enough for a healthy body.

Rabbits also need some vitamins – in particular A, D and E (see more here).

However, mangetout are not high in these vitamins, but in vitamin C, B1 and K.

Rabbits don’t need these in their diet because they can produce them themselves – for example, the rabbit intestines make vitamins B and K from microbes.

Some other vegetables are higher in the vitamins that the rabbits need. This is why we need to give a variety of vegetables to our pet bunnies to ensure that they end up with a balanced, healthy diet.

What if my rabbit doesn’t like mangetout?

Should you be worried if your bunny turns up their nose at mangetout? 

No.

Just like you and me, rabbits have their own food preferences. Most bunnies love bananas – one of ours (Peach) isn’t bothered at all, and turns away.

In the same way, not all bunnies will like mangetout.

Neither do all humans – confession time – including me. 

If I won’t eat mangetout I can hardly complain if my rabbit won’t.

Just try other vegetables until you hit on some that your bunny loves.

What about sweet peas?

You should avoid giving your rabbit decorative sweet peas or dried peas.

Decorative sweet peas are poisonous. 

While your bunny is likely to be fine if they nibble a small amount, in large quantities the leaves can produce lathyrism, with effects similar to scurvy, affecting collagen production. (Find out more on the research, done on rats, here).

Conclusion

You can safely give mangetout or sugar snap peas to your rabbit as part of a varied diet. The rabbits can ‘eat-all’ of it.

As you are interested in food for your rabbit, check out our other posts in this area:

Happy reading!

Posted by Jonathan in General
How fast can rabbits run?

How fast can rabbits run?

If you’re like me, the first time your rabbit sprinted around the house or garden, you were amazed at how fast they zoomed around, from a standing start, turning corners sharply, before coming to an abrupt halt. It seems like they go from 0 to a million miles per hour in a nanosecond. So I investigated how fast rabbits do run, and how they get so fast. And then, I measured how fast one of my rabbits can run.

How fast can rabbits run?

A rabbit can run at speeds of up to 35 mph (56 km/h). Some breeds of wild hare can run even faster – the jackrabbit can reach speeds of 45 mph (72 km/h). Domestic bunnies can run faster than humans – a human’s top speed (Usain Bolt while breaking the world 100m sprint record) is 27.78 mph (44.72 km/h). Rabbits (unlike hares) can’t sustain their speeds for very long – they are sprinters, looking for a quick getaway to a nearby burrow or shelter from a predator. 

But how fast is your bunny likely to be? How do they run? And how do they get to be so speedy? Keep reading to find out more.

How fast do domestic rabbits run?

Wild rabbits may run faster than pets – their survival depends on it. But how fast can your pet rabbit go?

I saw a few figures bandied around the internet, but I couldn’t track down any reliable source for most of them (many just seem to copy the same initial information). 

Can a pet rabbit really run as fast as 30mph? 

I decided to find out by measuring one of my bunnies.

How I measured the speed

To measure speed, you need to measure how long it takes a rabbit to cover a known distance. But how do you go about this?

You could try to use a stopwatch, but if your rabbits are like mine, they don’t run to order, and it’s difficult to start and stop at the right time.

Fortunately, many modern mobile phones can help out through videoing your bunny in slow motion. Here’s what I did.

  1. I took a video of one of our rabbits (Yoshi) zooming around the garden (Yoshi likes doing this for fun).
  2. I then measured the distance between two spots that Yoshi had sprinted past. I did this after I had taken the video – it means you don’t have to hope that your bunny runs past specific areas or markers.
  3. I checked out the video. On my phone, the video takes 30 frames every second. Yours may be different, so check your phone’s settings.
  4. I calculated how many frames it took for my rabbit to travel between the two spots I had measured. This gives me the time Yoshi had taken to cover this distance (you could also check this in a video program like iMovie).
  5. Speed is distance divided by time. So I divided the distance between the spots by the time Yoshi had taken to travel that distance.

My results

Results
Distance1.6 metres
Time0.2 seconds
Speed (Distance/time)8 metres per second
or…29 km/h
or…18 mph

This was a young bunny just playing in the garden, not going flat out. So your own rabbit, scampering around, is probably also doing about 20mph.

Do rabbits run, or hop?

Rabbits hop, rather than run. 

When sprinting, both back feet push off the ground together, lifting the rabbit forward, and then the front paws are used in turn (not together) for extra momentum. 

You can see this in action by watching this slow-motion of Yoshi running forward.

This is actually similar to how some other fast animals run, like the cheetah, who use their hind legs nearly simultaneously.

The hop is so powerful that bunnies can cover up to 10 feet (about 3m) in a single hop.

How do rabbits run so fast?

Rabbits can reach these speeds despite their small size because of their powerful hind legs. Rabbit also have muscles that have evolved to enable them to sprint fast. 

Rabbit muscle fibre

Muscle fibre can come in two types – fast twitch and slow twitch.

  • Slow-twitch muscle fibre is good for endurance and tasks needing stamina. (These types of muscle fibres would help a marathon runner – up to 80% of their muscle is slow-twitch).
  • Fast-twitch muscle fibre is good for speed and acceleration. (These types of muscle fibres would help a sprinter – up to 80% of their muscle is fast-twitch).

But there are two types of fast-twitch muscle – red ones which use oxygen (fast-twitch oxidative) and white ones which don’t (fast-twitch glycolytic). The fastest type of all are the fast-twitch glycolytic. [Source].

Rabbits (unlike hares) have a high proportion of fast-twitch glycolytic muscle fibre (up to 50% of fibres are fast-twitch glycolytic – source).

Hares are the opposite – they are built for greater endurance, with up to 55% more fast-twitch oxidative fibres.

This means bunnies can reach their top speeds quickly because their leg muscles can generate tremendous force near instantaneously, but they can’t run very far.

Rabbits have more powerful muscle fibre than cheetahs

Incredibly, rabbit muscle fibres are even more powerful than those of the fastest land animal, the cheetah. Researchers isolated fast-twitch muscle fibres from a cheetah, and compared experimental results with those of muscle fibres from rabbits.

The cheetah’s muscle fibres could generate 92.5 W/kg (a measure of how much force the fibres could produce.

Rabbit muscle fibres could generate 119.7 W/kg – over 29% more powerful.

So your bunny has (relatively speaking) more powerful muscles than a cheetah! [Source]

How rabbits use their speed

In the wild, the fast turn of speed enables them to reach a burrow or other place of safety quickly if they sense a predator nearby.

How fast are rabbits compared to other animals?

Rabbits are one of the faster land animals, about matching the speed of greyhounds, and horses, but some other animals are faster. Cheetahs can reach speeds of around 70mph. 

But if you really want speed, go for the peregrine falcon, which can reach a velocity of over 200mph when diving (stooping) [source].

Domestic rabbits have similar turns of speed as cats, dogs and foxes.

Why do rabbits seem so fast?

Rabbits seem to zoom around so fast for a few reasons. Here are some of them:

  1. They are fast – 30mph is faster than any human could manage
  2. Compared to their size, their speed is even more impressive.
  3. Rabbits not only run fast, but can accelerate quickly. 

Humans take a while to reach our top speeds. When Usain Bolt broke the world record in 2009, he took 60m to reach his top speed. Rabbits can get there in a couple of yards or metres. 

And rabbits can not only accelerate quickly, but also turn on a dime. You may have seen this yourself – bunnies can corner and change direction really speedily.

This quick turn of speed and ability to zigzag also helps them to evade being caught by any predators.

Have a look at how quickly rabbits accelerate, turn and jump in this video:

Conclusion –  how fast do rabbits run?

Rabbits are fast runners. Your pet bunny may be able to hop at up to 35mph, and reach that speed within a few yards. 

Rabbits don’t only rely on their speed to evade predators, their eyesight and hearing are also specially adapted. Find out more about how rabbits see the world and hear the world.

Rabbits enjoy being stimulated, and get bored easily. See what toys our bunnies enjoy playing with.

Posted by Jonathan in General
Bunny Eye Care: Rabbit Eye Problems & Treatments

Bunny Eye Care: Rabbit Eye Problems & Treatments

By Kristin Woodbury, Education Director at the San Diego House Rabbit Society

The vast majority of people would agree the bunnies are among the cutest pets you can have. Their fluffy fur, floppy ears, and big eyes captivate young and old alike. Interestingly, the placement and size of rabbits’ eyes enable them to see predators coming from both sides. Rabbits are also usually farsighted, so they can glimpse a danger coming from far away. Unfortunately, because of the eye anatomy rabbits are susceptible to the whole array of eye conditions. Here we’ll discuss bunny eye care, including common treatments and solutions.

Bunny Eyesight

Regardless of being able to see danger coming from afar, rabbit eyes have blind spots directly in front of them, directly behind them and under their chin. Moreover, their eyes are so big it makes them quite open to injuries. Rabbits are also partially colour blind and their eyesight considerably decreases in very bright environments. That’s why, sadly, so many rabbits die when they get blinded by the headlights of cars.  

Common Eye Issues

The most frequent eye problem among the rabbits is associated with their tear ducts. Rabbits’ tear ducts are prone to inflammation and they can get watery. There’s also a sticky discharge that gathers around the eye and fur around it. To make matters worse, tear duct issues are connected to poor dental health. The reason for this is the fact that rabbit tear ducts run just above their top teeth. Overgrown front teeth press the tear ducts, making them closed and infected. 

If you think your floppy-eared friend may be suffering from this, take him or her to your veterinarian, who will flush out the ducts with saline solution and drive the pus and infected substance out. Rabbits are also susceptible to foreign bodies in their eyes, like pieces of bedding, food or anything else that doesn’t belong inside or around the eye. These are usually small and light, so they easily get stuck. To treat a foreign body you will need cotton wool and cooled boiled water. If the soreness persists after you cleaned your rabbit’s eye, you should consult your vet. 

Serious Eye Issues

Physical wounds around the eye can cause serious distress in the eye area. The most common form of eye damage is swelling directly under the eye which forms an abscess as a result of the wound around the eye. The abscess appears in the form of a bump that suddenly appears. On the other hand, rabbit eye ulcers happen when something gets stuck in the rabbit’s eye, or the eyeball suffers some form of trauma to the cornea, the clear, outermost layer of the eye. 

An ulcer is a defect in the cornea and it’s usually very painful. If you see your bunny scratching the eye or holding it shut, that’s the indicator the eye is painful or irritated. Conjunctivitis, or “pink eye” is the inflammation of the pink tissue around the rabbit eye. Rabbits can catch conjunctivitis from an environment rich in bacteria, such as dirty water, or a dirty cage. Proptosis is the worst and thankfully the rarest rabbit eye problem. Basically, proptosis is the eyeball popping out of your rabbit’s head, and it usually takes severe trauma to happen.

Eyes, Teeth, and Health 

Close up of rabbit
Photo by Colter Olmstead on Unsplash

If you notice that your bunnies have bright and healthy eyes with equal pupils and without any discharge, you can make sure that their teeth are in good condition too. The best way to keep your rabbits’ teeth healthy is through feeding your pet a diet rich in fibre, such as hay, grass and raw vegetables. High fibre is the best rabbit food for teeth health. Chewing high fibre food will prevent bunny teeth from growing too long and blocking tear ducts. Generally speaking, if rabbits eat well they will be healthy.

Prevention and Treatment

The best way to maintain your rabbit’s eye health is to feed them with proper levels of roughage and long fibre, such as grass and hay. That way you will prevent teeth from overgrowing and blocking tear ducts. Just in case, examine your rabbit’s eyes frequently for any anomalies. Keep your bunny in spacious living quarters with access to open space where it can run. A lot of room to run around will keep your bunny fit and happy. 

Don’t forget to clean out your rabbit repeatedly. That way you will decrease bacteria and ammonia levels built from soggy paper, sawdust or straws, which is usually used for lining. If you have more than one bunny, they will help each other clean their eyes by grooming and licking the fur around their companions’ eyes. It’s also very important to keep your bunnies vaccinated. Some serious conditions, such as myxomatosis, can be mistaken for an eye condition. And it goes without saying that you should always seek the vet’s help whenever you are worried about your bunny’s eye health. 

Conclusion

Bunnies are really cute, but also prone to various illnesses. Their eyes are especially sensitive because of their size and position. There are many ways in which bunnies can hurt their eyes, from light to severe ones. Thankfully, there are many ways to help and treat your fluffy friends’ eyes and to prevent bad things from happening by taking good care of them. 

More articles…

Take a look at our article on how rabbits see the world.

You might also like to find out more about how rabbits hear the world.

We also have a look at when and how rabbits sleep.

And if you’re looking for some boredom busters for your bunnies, we’ve tried ten different toys that were a success.

The main feature image on this page was by Gary Bendig on Unsplash.

Posted by Jonathan in General
How rabbits hear the world: in-depth guide

How rabbits hear the world: in-depth guide

Everyone knows that rabbits have distinctive ears (what shape are your bunny’s ears?) – but how well do bunnies hear? You can find out below detailed answers to your questions, based on scientific research. But here’s a quick summary of how rabbits hear:

Rabbits can hear in a range from 96Hz to 49,000Hz (humans can hear lower-pitched noises, but rabbits can hear much higher-pitched noises). They hear noises best whose pitch is between 1,000-16,000Hz. But rabbits don’t only use their ears for hearing – they also use them to communicate, to help them stay the right temperature, and to keep their balance.

This post covers:

The range of frequencies that a rabbit can hear – from low to high notes

Rabbits can hear a different range of frequencies from us humans (though with much overlap).

The frequency of a sound is its pitch – low frequency sounds are low-pitched noises like the bass on a guitar, or the lowest note on a piano, or the rumbling of thunder. High frequency sounds are high-pitched noises like a whistle, or the top note of a piano, or a mosquito buzzing around.

Rabbits can hear very high pitched sounds better than humans (they can hear sounds that are beyond our ability to detect).

But humans can hear very low notes better than rabbits.

Rabbit hearing range
Rabbit hearing range compared to humans

The range that rabbits can hear is 96Hz to 49,000Hz [source].

Humans can hear from 12Hz to 20,000Hz.

How well can rabbits detect low pitched sounds?

The pitch of a sound (whether it sounds high or low) depends on its frequency (measured in Hertz or Hz) – how fast it is making the air vibrate as the sound travels. Low sounds have low frequency – high sounds have high frequency.

Rabbits can hear sounds as low as 96 Hz. [Source]

You can check here what this sounds like:

This is about the lowest sound your bunny can hear

This is better than most other mammals, but it isn’t exceptional. For example, it’s about the same as cats. 

But humans can detect even lower sounds – in laboratory conditions down to 12 Hz. [Source]

This may be partly to do with us having bigger heads! As the frequency of a sound wave gets lower, the wavelength gets longer. 

It becomes an advantage to be able to have more distance between your ears as the pitch gets lower and the wavelength gets longer. 

Humans have more distance between their ears than rabbits, so find it easier to hear low pitched noises.

This is part of a pattern in mammals – the smaller the mammal, in general the worse their hearing at low frequencies.

How well can rabbits hear high-pitched sounds?

Rabbits can hear sounds as high as 49,000 Hz.

This is much better than us. Most humans struggle to hear anything above about 20,000 Hz. 

You can check out how high a frequency you can detect here (and compare yourself to your bunny!)

See how high a sound you can here – your bunny can go beyond 40,000Hz!

So our bunnies can hear high-pitched noises that we can’t detect.

What is the best range of sound for rabbits to hear?

Although rabbits can hear noises as low as 96hz, and as high as 49,000Hz, they hear best between the range of 1,000 to 16,000Hz. These are the frequency ranges that they are most sensitive to.

How do their ears help rabbits hear?

Rabbits have large ears – this helps them to hear better. The ears funnel sound waves into their ear canals, and into the middle and inner parts of the ear, which transform these vibrations into signals to the rabbit’s brain.

This is just like humans – except our ears are shaped differently. 

You can get some idea of the advantage of a bigger ear by standing some distance from a friend and asking them to whisper. It’s easier to hear them if you cup your hand behind your ear. This mimics having a larger ear.

It’s a bit like if you imagine trying to collect rainwater – you’ll collect more with a wide bucket than a narrow bottle. In the same way, larger ears can collect more sound waves.

What is the structure of a rabbit’s ear?

Rabbits have three main parts to their ears – the outer ear (the bit we can see); a middle ear (inside their head) and an inner ear (also inside their head). This is similar to humans.

Diagram of ear structure
Ear structure in mammals
Sunshineconnelly at en.wikibooks / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

Outer ear

The outer ear is called the pinna, and it directs the sound into the ear canal. This starts off vertical, and becomes more horizontal as it gets closer to the skull.

The ear canal leads to the ear drum (also called the tympanum or tympanic membrane).

Sound waves make the ear drum vibrate.

Middle ear

Three small bones are attached to the ear drum. These small bones (also called ossicles) are called the malleusincus and stapes, which is the Latin for the hammeranvil and stirrup (because the bones look a little like these). 

The vibrations in the ear drum are passed from one to another – from the malleus to the incus to the stapes.

The middle ear is filled with air. If a sound wave hit a fluid directly, much of the energy might be dissipated. Having these three small bones in an air cavity means that the energy of the sound isn’t lost as it’s transferred.

You want to be able to keep the air pressure the same on both sides of the ear drum. Rabbits and humans both have a tube that connects to the throat – the eustachian tube. It allows air to come or go to the middle ear cavity to keep the pressure the same. 

This is why going up to a high altitude quickly (or down) can hurt our ears – the air pressure on either side of the ear drum is different, stretching the ear drum. Swallowing can help as it enables air to flow in the tube to the middle ear, bringing everything back into equilibrium.

Inner ear

The stapes or stirrup bone connects to the cochlea, a fluid filled spiral tube. The cochlea has a membrane running along it (the basilar membrane) that gradually changes in its stiffness and thickness as you travel along it. This means that each part of the basilar membrane reacts to a different frequency (just like different lengths of string will vibrate at different pitches).

The vibrations enter the cochlea and travel along it. Certain parts of the basilar membrane will vibrate if they match the frequency of the vibrations (low frequencies near the middle or apex of the spiral, higher frequencies towards the outside of the spiral). 

Little hairs (called cilia) on the basilar membrane move and trigger nerve cells, sending electrical signals along the auditory nerve to the brain.

The whole process is the same as in humans (and most mammals).

Rabbits can move their ears independently

Rabbits can move their ears, unlike humans (though some of us can waggle ours a tiny bit). But not only can they move their ears, bunnies can also move each one independently of the other. 

This helps them to hear better (just like if you turn towards a noise you can hear it better). 

So if the rabbit either hears a noise, or sees something (you can read more about how rabbits see, including how they can see all around them, in our post here), they can move an ear so it can pick up what’s going on better.

In the wild, this helps them to hear any predators who may be trying to sneak up on them.

What else do bunnies use their ears for, besides hearing?

Rabbits don’t only use their ears to hear the world better. They also use them for three other purposes: to communicate, to control their temperature, and as part of their sense of balance.

Rabbits communicate with their ears

Lid up on hutch
A curious bunny…

Bunnies also use their ears to communicate – and if your rabbit isn’t a lop, you’ve probably seen this yourself. Even with lops, you can still see similar movements of the ears near the head.

If a rabbit is frightened, the ears go back, almost flat along their back. Their body will also tense up.

However, the ears can also go back if your bunny is relaxed.

If a rabbit is curious or interested, the ears prick up and forward.

Rabbits control their temperature with their ears

Rabbits don’t sweat. Their only sweat glands are in their mouth, and bunnies mainly breathe through their noses, so the sweat glands aren’t much help.

Unlike dogs, rabbits don’t pant much either (though they will in hotter weather, along with licking their face and forelimbs to try to keep cooler).

With their thick, warm fur coat (see our article on whether rabbits feel the cold at night), rabbits need a way of cooling down (getting too hot, also called hyperthermia, is dangerous for rabbits).

Rabbits use their ears for this. The ears provide a large surface area that also isn’t too furry.

The ears have a large blood supply going to them.

In hot weather, more blood is pumped around the ears, where it can be cooled down in contact with the air around them. In cooler weather, less blood is sent to the ears.

So the ears provide a main way that rabbits can lose heat and maintain the right temperature in hot conditions.

In fact, rabbits can lose up to 50% of their heat just through their ears [source]!

Rabbits aren’t the only mammals that use large ears for air conditioning – this is also why elephants have such large ears.

Rabbits’ sense of balance is linked to their ears

How rabbits balance is also part of their ears – but not the part you can see. Of the three parts (outer, middle and inner), the inner ear controls balance.

Alongside the cochlear, the spiral tube that converts vibrations to electrical signals for the brain, lie three semi-circular canals at right angles to each other – these are part of what is sometimes called the vestibular organ. 

These canals help detect rotational movements. As your bunny moves their head, fluid in the canals swoshes around. This move hairs in the canals, which then send electrical signals via nerve cells to the brain.

Rabbits (like humans) also have otoliths. These help them detect how fast or slow they are going. Little bits of calcium carbonate move in fluid in the vestibule. As they move, they trigger more hair cells, which then trigger signals through nerves to the brain.

The entire inner ear structure – cochlea, vestibule and semi-circular canals – are sometimes called the labyrinth.

Head tilt

If the inner ear of a rabbit gets infected, then it can affect their balance. The signals being sent from the semi-circular canals or otoliths are being scrambled.

The result can be that a rabbit keeps trying to tilt their head to one side.

Inner ear infection is only one possible cause of head tilt.

If your rabbit shows signs of head tilt, take them straight to a vet.

Conclusion

Rabbits are famous for their ears – and rightly so. 

  • Their ears help them to hear, including high pitched noises beyond human hearing. 
  • Their ears help them to communicate.
  • Their ears help them to control how hot or cold they’re getting.
  • And their ears help them to balance.

So next time you stroke your bunny, take a moment to appreciate how much they use their ears.

You can find out how rabbits see the world from our article here. (We also have an article on bunny eye care.)

We also have an article on how and when rabbits sleep.

And if you want some suggestions for some toys to keep your bunny happy and busy, take a look at our top ten.

References

Heffner, H., & Masterton, B. (1980). Hearing in Glires: Domestic rabbit, cotton rat, feral house mouse, and kangaroo rat. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 68(6), 1584-1599. doi:10.1121/1.385213

Kluger, M., Gonzalez, R., & Stolwijk, J. (1973). Temperature regulation in the exercising rabbit. American Journal of Physiology-Legacy Content, 224(1), 130-135. doi:10.1152/ajplegacy.1973.224.1.130

Posted by Jonathan in General
Compare pet rabbit insurance UK [2020]

Compare pet rabbit insurance UK [2020]

In this post, I compare the five main insurers for pet rabbits in the UK, so you can make a better informed choice, and see what is the best pet rabbit insurance for you.

If our bunny is poorly, we want to make sure they get the best veterinary help. But medical costs can be high – hundreds or thousands of pounds. That’s why pet insurance is a good idea.

But when I looked into pet insurance for our rabbits, I was surprised.

I wanted to know how much pet rabbit insurance costs, but the comparison websites didn’t give any choice or comparisons. They just directed you to one company. I had to dig around to find what options and what differences there were between the providers.

You can see here the five main UK pet rabbit insurers: what they offer, how much they cost, and which to get quotes from. It should make your search for rabbit insurance easier.

But here’s my quick summary:

Best budget option for pet rabbit insurance:

Agriapets.co.uk – Get a quote here

Best all-round option for pet rabbit insurance:

4Paws.co.uk – Get a quote here

What the article covers:

Comparison of pet rabbit insurance providers

ProviderSample quote
1 yr old
Cost per month
Sample quote
4 yr old; (4 yr old with
KT18 postcode)
Vet coverExcessMultipet discount?
Agria
(Lifetime with 10% excess)
£10.10£10.10
(£9.42 for KT18)
£1,500£65 + 10% of claim5% discount
Agria
(Lifetime no 10% excess)
£12.20£12.20£1,500£655%
Agria
(Lifetime Plus with 10%)
£15.12£15.12
(£14.06 for KT18)
£2,500£65 + 10% of claim5%
Agria
(Lifetime Plus no 10% excess)
£18.19£18.19£2,500£655%
4Paws
(NCI & Insureandgo)
£12.79£12.79
(same for KT18)
£2,000£55?
Petplan£12.86£15.57
(£19.47 for KT18)
£2,000£55
(20% of claim once rabbit over 7 yrs old)
Yes
Exotic Direct£12.80£12.80
(same for KT18)
£2,00065Yes
Helpucover£13.71£17.41
(£18.85 for KT18)
200050
(25% of claim once rabbit over 5 yrs old
8.33%

How I carried out the comparison

I carried out the searches on 26th February 2020, asking for cover from 1st March 2020 for a 1 year old mini-lop, a 4 year old mini-lop, and a 7 year old mini-lop, for a Manchester (M14) postcode. For the 4 year old mini-lop, I also asked for a quote for a different postcode (KT18) located in Surrey, to see if being in the South East would give a more expensive quote.

I also checked whether a different breed would give a different quote. None of the insurers gave different premiums for the different breeds I checked (mini-lop, Netherland Dwarf, mixed, Angora), but if you have an uncommon one, that may make a difference.

No insurer would give an online quote for a rabbit over 5 years old.

In the individual reviews, all sample quotes are for a 1 year old female, mini-lop rabbit based on an M14 postcode.

Agria – best budget choice

Agria are my best budget choice. But they offer a range of cover options.

They are also the company that we chose to insure our rabbits.

Agria are an award-winning specialist pet insurance company that are Swedish in origin. They have been operating in the UK since 2009, and have a UK based team.

All their insurance is offered on a lifetime basis – if your pet develops a condition, the insurer will continue to pay out each year for treatment so long as you keep paying the premiums.

They have two different options: lifetime; and lifetime plus.

Lifetime

Sample quote£10.10 per month
(includes 10% excess)
Vet fee cover£1,500 per annum
Excess£65

Lifetime Plus

Sample quote£18.19 per month
Vet fee cover£2,500 per annum
Excess£65
Advertising£250
Travel or accommodation£300
Death from illness/injury£50
Boarding fees£250

Agria are also the only insurance company to offer a variable excess. You can choose to pay a fixed amount (£65), or this fixed amount plus 10% of what you claim (eg vet fees) for that year. 

So if your rabbit has an operation which costs £800, you would pay £145 excess (£65 + £80). 

Choosing this variable excess means lower premiums, but potentially higher bills.

Agria’s quotes didn’t change either with age of rabbit (under five years). 

But Agria did change with postcode – the quote for Surrey was slightly lower than that for Manchester (the opposite to Petplan). 

Agria also offer a discount for insuring more than one rabbit at a time.

Agria’s website was easy to use and navigate. 

Overall, Agria has an easy to use website, choice about what cover to take, and the cheapest quotes. Recommended.

Click here for a quote from Agriapets.co.uk

4Paws – best all-round choice (also NCI online, and Insureandgo)

4Paws and Insureandgo are different brands of NCI, so all offer the same insurance package. I used the 4Paws website, as that is tailored for pet owners.

4Paws are a good, solid choice for reasonable premiums and good cover. For about the same level of cover, they are cheaper than Agria (though Agria offer cheaper options with less cover).

Sample quote£12.79 per month
Vet fee cover£2,000 per annum
Excess£55
Advertising£250
Boarding fees£250

4Paws seem to offer the same quote regardless of age (under five), postcode or breed. 

Their website is easy to use. 

Overall, 4Paws is a good all-round choice. Recommended.

Click here for a quote from 4Paws.co.uk

Petplan

Petplan is a popular insurance option, and recommended by Pets At Home. It is a solid, safe choice, with the greatest cover for boarding fees or advertising costs if your bunny goes missing.

Sample quote£12.86 per month
Vet fee cover£2,000 per annum
Excess£55
Advertising£2,000
Boarding fees£2,000
Complementary treatment£750 per annum

Once your bunny reaches the age of 7 years, the excess typically increases to 20% of the vet fees.

Petplan’s premiums changed with both the age of the rabbit and also the postcode.

Their website is easy to use and navigate.

Overall, Petplan is a good choice, but may cost more for older rabbits or depending upon where you live.

Click here for a quote from Petplan.co.uk

Exotic Direct

Exotic Direct offer good value insurance, similar in price and cover to 4Paws. 

Sample quote£12.80 per month
Vet fee cover£2,000 per annum
Excess£65

Exotic Direct premiums did not vary with age or postcode. Exotic Direct also offer a separate deal where you can insure up to 3 rabbits either by sharing the total vet fee cover over all three (which can lower individual monthly cost to below £10) or by keeping £2,000 per animal, but still with slightly lower costs. 

The website was the hardest to use. It requires you to register with them to get a quote (which the other insurers don’t require), and if you need to go back to change any information you have to start over again from scratch.

Their payment plan is actually spread over 10 monthly payments, not 12, but I have adjusted the cost to make the comparison fair (ie divided their yearly cost by 12). 

Overall, not a bad choice, but with a difficult to use website. Check them out if you are insuring more than one rabbit.

Click here for a quote from Exoticdirect.co.uk

Helpucover

Helpucover are the pet insurance brand of Pinnacle Insurance. They have the lowest excess of any insurer, but the highest premiums (but not by a lot).

Sample quote£13.71 per month
Vet fee cover£2,000 per annum
Excess£50
Advertising£250
Boarding fees£250
Involuntary unemployment or loss of incomeUp to 6 months of premiums waived

Their premiums vary with the age of your rabbit, and with your postcode. The cost for Surrey was slightly more than that for Manchester. 

Once your rabbit reaches 5 years, the excess becomes the higher of £50 or 25% of the vet fees.

They are the only provider who offers any protection against losing your job, through offering a premium waiver for up to six months.

They have a straightforward website, which seemed easy to navigate. 

Overall, Helpucover is an option if you want the lowest excess.

Click here to get a quote from helpucover.co.uk

What is covered in pet insurance

All the rabbit insurance above is offered on a lifetime basis – if your rabbit develops a condition which needs treatment year after year, you are still covered so long as you continue to pay your premiums. 

Vet fees

The amount paid towards veterinary fees each year.

Excess

The amount you will have to pay towards any vet fees for treating a condition.

Complementary therapy

Acupuncture, aromatherapy etc (only if recommended by vet).

Advertising

Help towards finding a lost or stolen rabbit, including advertising and reward cost.

Travel & accommodation

Travel and accommodation expenses if a vet refers your bunny for treatment to a different vet.

Death from illness or injury

Covers the purchase price of your rabbit if it dies or has to be put to sleep as a result of illness or injury.

Boarding fees

Covers boarding fees for your rabbit if you or a close family member unexpectedly needs to go into hospital.

What isn’t covered?

Always check with the provider. But generally, vaccinations, neutering and spraying, and pre-existing conditions aren’t covered.

Do I need to insure my rabbit?

You aren’t required by law to have insurance, and many people don’t. But vet fees can be large. Investigating weight loss might rack up over £500 in vet fees. And if your rabbit develops an ongoing condition, you might be looking at substantial amounts each year.

Here’s an example. One of our rabbits suddenly stopped eating, and wouldn’t move much. We needed to take him to the emergency vet that night to be checked over – this cost nearly £200. If he had needed to stay the night, that would have pushed the cost close to £1,000.

Fortunately, we could take our bunny home, and he recovered rapidly.

But it shows how rabbit insurance could end up saving you from shelling out a large amount of money at once.

The alternative is putting aside some money each month, and hoping that that will cover any costs. But this won’t be enough if you and your bunny are unfortunate enough to land a large vet bill. 

Getting insurance while your rabbit is young and healthy may save you from expensive surprises later on.

Other posts

If you are looking into the cost of buying a rabbit, take a look at our post at how much it all adds up to.

Wondering what happens if you get your rabbit spayed? This post gives our experience from the owner’s perspective.

Trying to keep your bunny entertained? Here’s an article on the toys we found worked best.

I’m not an insurance specialist, and this shouldn’t be considered legal advice. I’m just trying to give helpful information. Always check details and quotes with a provider directly – terms and conditions can change.

This comparison page is free to use. Getting a quote from links on this page helps to support this site.

Posted by Jonathan in General, Reviews