General

The Rabbit Digestive System

The Rabbit Digestive System

By Lucy

Introduction

Have you ever wondered how your rabbit digests its food? This article explains everything, from enzymes to coprophagy.

Interestingly, a rabbit’s digestive system shares many similarities with that of a horse. Both animals use a process called hind-gut fermentation which is where microbial digestion takes place towards the end of the digestive path, in the caecum (or cecum).

However, a rabbit has a relatively small digestive tract compared to many other animals and so it has a complex system in order to use their nutrition as efficiently as possible. For example, to accommodate large amounts of food through their short tract, it travels through at a faster rate than other animals.

Rabbits have a uniquely designed gastrointestinal system due to their diet consisting of large volumes of fibrous plants. These plants are indigestible to most mammalians, such as humans (which is why we don’t eat hay), but a rabbit is unique.

What is the role of the digestive system?

Just like in all animals, the primary purpose of the rabbit digestive system is to digest the food consumed and make use of all the nutrients through absorption.

When food is initially ingested, the nutrients that the body requires can’t be directly used, because the molecules are too large to be absorbed through the walls of the intestine and stomach. So, digestive enzymes break these down (through hydrolysis reactions) into what are essentially their ‘building blocks’. These smaller molecules can then be absorbed through the lining of the digestive tract and used throughout the body.

The digestive tract also protects the body from disease and is a vital part of the immune system, just like in humans. The acidic stomach environment destroys bacteria and other pathogens, preventing infection. The final part of the digestive system is also crucial; waste is removed by defecation.

How fast does food pass through the rabbit digestive system?

Perhaps surprisingly, there is no one answer as to how fast food can pass through the digestive system of a bunny. Different types of food pass through the rabbit’s digestive system at different rates. Times can vary between 5 and 20 hours. The larger, and more indigestible, the food, the faster it goes through the rabbit. The smaller and more digestible, the longer it spends being digested.

So if you feed your rabbit some fibrous, long stemmed hay, it can pass through a bunny in about five hours (some scientists have actually tracked this, spending their time monitoring rabbit poo for our benefit. See this article – Sakaguchi et al (1992) for more information). Smaller, finer particles took longer to pass through – up to 10 hours. Other studies found different times (10 hours for larger particles; up to 20 hours for fine particles).

Why are there different times for different sized particles? It is to do with the unique way bunnies digest their food, particularly their caecum – more about this below.

The journey from mouth to anus

As you can see in this diagram below, the alimentary canal of a rabbit looks fairly similar to a human one, however you’ll soon find out how much they differ.

Digestive system of humans and rabbits
Digestive system of humans and rabbits. CNX OpenStax, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What happens in the mouth of the rabbit?

The rabbit bites the food using its front teeth, also known as incisors, before being ground by the molars into tiny pieces and mixed with the enzyme-containing saliva.

The most prominent enzymes involved here are amylase and galactosidase and are secreted by the mandibular salivary glands.

Like bunnies, we also have amylase in our mouths – it begins to break starch down into sugars. Have you ever kept a piece of bread in your mouth, and noticed it starts to taste sweet? That’s amylase at work.

What happens in the rabbit’s oesophagus?

The oesophagus (or windpipe) is the long tube that connects the mouth to the rest of the digestive system. No digestion takes place in the windpipe. The swallowed food travels down into the stomach.

What happens in the rabbit’s stomach?

Rabbits actually have quite large stomachs because they are crepuscular. This means that they primarily eat at dawn and dusk and so eat large meals (see more about rabbit sleeping patterns in our article here).

Their stomachs are also rarely empty. Even after not eating for several hours they will still be mostly full with a mass of food material and hair in fluid. The digestive enzymes in the stomach, such as pepsin, break down the large molecules as the food is churned by the stomach muscles and turned into chyme (the mixture of stomach secretions and partially digested food).

What happens in the rabbit’s small intestine?

More enzymes further hydrolyse the food molecules, allowing them to pass through the small intestine’s lining into the bloodstream and finally be used throughout the body. Peristaltic contractions push the food material through the intestine, aided by a peptide called motilin which smooths the contractions. However, this is where the uniqueness of the rabbit’s digestive system begins.

What happens in the rabbit’s large intestine and caecum?

Whatever is still left after leaving the small intestine travels towards the colon (large intestine). This will be the undigested food containing lots of fibre which can’t be broken down by the digestive enzymes.

This material is then cleverly divided into digestible and indigestible. The indigestible material enters the colon where water is absorbed and then eventually exits as faeces. This is the small droppings we clean out of our rabbit’s litter tray. This indigestible material is still a vital part of any rabbit’s diet as it stimulates movement in the digestive tract and allows the chyme to easily travel through it. To read more about hay in a rabbit’s diet, check this article on Timothy hay.

The digestible material containing soluble fibre enters the caecum, a large blind sac at the junction of the small and large intestine. This sac actually expands to be 10x the volume of the stomach. Here, microbial bacteria break down many of these molecules through fermentation and digestion into nutrients which can be absorbed and used for essential bodily functions.

The remaining material is formed into small pellets known as caecotropes (also known as cecotropes). These are also known as soft faeces and are characterised by their distinct smell and are coated in a mucus layer. As these pass out of the rabbit, their brain receives a signal so they consume these grape-like droppings whole as they are expelled, and therefore aren’t considered waste material.

You may never see these as rabbits tend to do this at night or very early in the morning. In fact, if you see these, especially in large quantities, you should speak to a vet since there may be a serious reason your rabbit isn’t doing this important process as expected.

The purpose of this process (coprophagy – a word derived from Greek which means poo-eating) is to allow the rabbit to digest the material again and get the most nutrients possible as the small intestine can now more easily absorb them.

Here is a picture illustrating the difference in appearance between the hard faeces you see all the time and the caecotropes which will be a rare sight.

Rabbit poo - hard, dry pellets and caecotropes.

How do I know if my rabbit has a digestive problem?

Fibre is extremely important for healthy digestion and for wearing down those herbivore teeth. A low-fibre diet can therefore lead to digestive and dental problems.

It’s important to keep a close eye out for any signs that might suggest their digestive system isn’t working the way it should be. As mentioned previously, if your rabbit isn’t consuming their caecotropes, this is also an indicator of a problem. As you would expect, any unusual faeces such as loose faeces or diarrhoea are also a reason to visit the vet.

If your rabbit goes off their food and you notice that they aren’t eating as much, if any, then this is definitely a cause for concern. If small herbivores stop eating, they can become very ill rapidly as their digestive systems are so delicate so don’t hesitate to seek professional advice as soon as possible. Lethargy is also a reason to see medical help as they may be in pain or not receiving adequate nutrition.

What digestive problems do rabbits get?

The most common issue is GI (gastrointestinal) stasis which is a potentially deadly condition in which the digestive system slows down or stops completely.

It isn’t just constipation. When the digestive system is slowed, bacteria begin to build up and release gases that cause painful bloating. The rabbit is then further unmotivated to eat or drink which leads to dehydration and lack of vital nutrition. Then it will be even more difficult for any food material to pass and also toxins from the bacteria will lead to organ failure.

What causes GI stasis?

The digestive systems usually slows down because:

  • The rabbit is receiving a high starch, low fibre diet
  • The rabbit is stressed – may be because:
    • Friend passed away
    • Environment changed
    • Other stressful event
  • Pain from another issue such as:
    • Dental problems
    • Gas
    • Urinary infections
  • Lack of exercise

How is GI stasis treated?

Rabbits can definitely make a full recovery but it is important to recognise symptoms early. Usually, the aim is to improve motility (movement) in the gut and so the vet may provide your rabbit with some of the following:

  • Motility drugs eg cisapride
  • IV fluids to help soften the mass in the intestines
  • Pain medication
  • Syringe feeding to ensure the rabbit receives essential nutrients
  • Antibiotics to destroy harmful bacteria
  • Continue to offer hay, should they find motivation to eat

Summary

Rabbits have a unique and elaborate digestive system that although shares some similarities with other mammals’, isn’t identical to any of them. The distinctive process of separating digestible and indigestible material is crucial for a rabbit’s survival and is the centre of their complex system. Every aspect of a rabbit’s digestive system works together to maintain efficient nutrition. The best way in which you can aid your rabbit’s digestion is to provide them with an appropriate diet, consisting of grass, hay and fibrous plants.

If you’re interested in how rabbits digest their food, check out these other articles:

Posted by Jonathan in General
Can rabbits eat cucumber?

Can rabbits eat cucumber?

Especially in summer, we get through a lot of cucumber. It ends up in salads, additional toppings for sandwiches, and, cut into batons, eaten with plenty of hummus.

But can our bunnies also eat cucumber safely? What about the seeds? Or the skin?

So I spent some time researching, to make sure you had some solid, dependable information. Here’s a summary, and then you can read on for more detailed information.

Can rabbits eat cucumber safely?

Rabbits can eat cucumber safely, including the seeds and the skin. You can feed cucumber to bunnies in small, treat size portions. Cucumber contains some potassium and vitamin A which rabbits need. Cucumber is a good treat for obese rabbits, as it is low in calories. Cucumber is also a good treat for the summer, as the high water levels make it a refreshing, hydrating snack for bunnies.

Nutritional value of cucumber for rabbits

Here’s a look at the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that cucumbers have, and how important each is for rabbits.

IngredientNutritional value per 100gImportance of nutritional value for rabbits
Water95.2gCucumbers are mostly water – so can be good on hot summer days for bunnies.
Energy15 kcalThis is low. Cucumber as a treat isn’t going to make your rabbit too fat (unlike some other treats which are high in sugars or carbohydrates)
Fibre0.5 gRabbits need a lot of fibre, and cucumbers don’t provide much (even with the skin) so cucumbers can’t be the main food for a rabbit. Bunnies need plenty of hay as their main diet.
Carbohydrates3.63gCucumbers are pretty low in carbohydrates – so nothing to worry about here.
Iron0.28mgRabbits need at least 3mg of iron per 100g of feed for their daily needs, so cucumber provides a little of the iron they need.
Magnesium13mgRabbits need at least 30mg of magnesium per 100g feed daily, so cucumber provides some of the magnesium bunnies need.
Potassium147mgRabbits need about 600mg of potassium per 100g feed each day. Cucumber can provide some of their potassium requirements.
Vitamin C2.8mgRabbits don’t need vitamin C – their bodies can make it themselves.
Vitamin A105 IURabbits need about 1,000-1,200 IU daily per 100g feed of vitamin A, so cucumber helps a bit towards meeting this need.
Other nutrientsNot present in large enough quantities to be significant for bunny nutrition
Table comparing the nutritional information on cucumbers with the nutritional needs of rabbits. More information on rabbits’ nutritional needs can be found here. Information on cucumbers from USDA

As you can see from the table, cucumbers aren’t going to make a massive difference to your bunny’s nutritional needs, though they will help provide some of the requirements, particularly for potassium and vitamin A, but also a little iron and magnesium.

However, cucumbers are low in fibre, which is essential as a main component of a rabbit’s diet. Rabbits rely on fibre to keep their intestines healthy. Without fibre, they can get GI stasis (a type of painful constipation). This condition is dangerous for rabbits.

What this means is that cucumber can only ever be a small part of a rabbit’s diet – cucumber might be a suitable treat, but the main food for a rabbit should always be hay and water.

Is cucumber safe for rabbits to eat?

Cucumber is safe for rabbits to eat, so long as you only feed them small portions. Cucumber is not toxic to rabbits, containing nothing that might poison them. The main danger with cucumber is if your bunny eats too much, as that could lead to stomach problems.

The problems come in two areas. First, cucumber is high in water, so if it is the main food a rabbit eats, their intestines become too runny – the rabbit can get diarrhoea. In turn, this means that the rabbit can’t easily eat their caecotropes, which they rely on to make vitamin B and other nutrients.

Secondly, the lack of fibre can lead to food not moving through the intestines properly, potentially causing gastro-intestinal stasis (GI stasis).

If your rabbit develops diarrhoea, or stops pooping, consult a vet straight away.

Can rabbits eat cucumber seeds and skin?

Rabbits can safely eat cucumber seeds – there’s no need to scoop out the inside of the cucumber. And rabbits can also eat cucumber skin, so you don’t have to peel cucumber before giving it to bunnies. The skin will provide fibre, and rabbits need a lot of fibre. In fact, the skin is the most nutritious part of the cucumber for rabbits.

If you have cucumber plants, then the leaves are also safe to feed to your rabbits.

How much cucumber can rabbits eat?

You should give a mature rabbit a portion size of cucumber no bigger than 1 tablespoon for every 2lb (1kg) of bodyweight. So a 6lb rabbit could have up to 3 tablespoons of cucumber. This is about 50g or 2oz of cucumber. In other words, you can give your rabbit a few slices of cucumber.

You don’t want to give more than this, because the bunny will start to fill up with a food which is too low in fibre and protein, and too high in water.

What happens if rabbits eat too much cucumber?

Feeding rabbits too much cucumber could lead to problems with the delicate digestive system of rabbits. Having too much liquid could lead to diarrhoea – which in turn can lead to other problems. For example, rabbits produce caecotropes (a special type of poo that they then eat to get more nutrients out of food). If their stools are too runny, they can no longer do this. If your bunny starts getting diarrhoea, consult a vet as soon as possible.

Can baby rabbits eat cucumber?

Don’t give cucumber to baby rabbits. As rabbits begin to mature a little, the best advice is to introduce one new food at a time, in small portions, slowly. This way, you can give their digestive systems time to adjust to new foods and make sure that the bunnies aren’t struggling with too rich a diet for their development stage.

Do rabbits like cucumber?

Some rabbits like cucumber; others don’t. Just like humans, rabbits can have different tastes and preferences from each other. We have tried giving our rabbits a slice or two of cucumber, and they rather sniffily rejected it. A bit like having toddlers, really…

There’s only one way to find out for your rabbit. Try giving them a slice. Your bunny will let you know whether or not they are a fan of cucumber.

How does cucumber fit into the overall rabbit diet?

The main food for rabbits should always be hay – for example, Timothy hay. Hay provides the right balance of protein, fibre and minerals for bunnies, and also keeps their teeth healthy (read more about rabbit teeth here) – and dental problems cause big issues for rabbits. Rabbits also need access to lots of fresh drinking water.

Besides these two essentials, rabbits also benefit from having some greens each day – about a handful (think spinach, spring greens, parsley, coriander (cilantro)). Cucumber leaves can be included here. These greens make sure that the rabbit is fed the full range of the vitamins and minerals they need (you can find out more about rabbits’ nutritional needs here).

Rabbits can also have some vegetables, such as carrot and broccoli, up to about a tablespoon per 2lb/1kg body weight. Cucumber counts in this type of food.

Beyond that, rabbits can also have treats, such as smaller portions (a teaspoon per 2lg/1kg bodyweight) of fruits, which are high in natural sugars.

And many owners also give their rabbits about an eggcup-full of rabbit nuggets (also called pellets) each day.

Conclusion

Cucumbers are safe to feed to rabbits as snacks as part of a healthy diet based mainly on hay and fresh water. Cucumbers will provide a little of the minerals and vitamins that bunnies need for a healthy life.

If you’re interested in what rabbits can eat, check out our guides on what fruit you can feed rabbits, and what herbs are safe for rabbits.

We also have a thorough post on the vitamins and minerals that rabbits need, and how rabbits digest their food.

Want to keep your bunny entertained? Take a look at the toys that our bunnies loved.

Posted by Jonathan in General
How high can rabbits jump?

How high can rabbits jump?

There are three possible reasons you’re here.

First, you’re trying to keep wild rabbits out of your garden or yard.

Second, you’re a rabbit owner, worried about your bunnies escaping into the wild (or parts of the garden or house they might chew up).

Or third, you are simply curious about bunnies!

My parents have the first problem – they have rabbits eating up their lovingly planted flowers.

I worry about the second problem – I don’t want my bunnies to escape onto nearby roads and lanes – and I am also, like some of you in the third category, simply curious about bunnies.

So this article is based not only on hours of research to make sure the information is reliable, but also my own practical experience and needs.

How high can rabbits jump?

Rabbits can jump over 3 feet (about 1m) high. The world record for a rabbit jump stands at 39.2 inches (99.5cm), or 3 feet 3.2 inches, but there are anecdotal reports of rabbits jumping as high as four feet. However, fences higher than 3 feet high will deter most bunnies. The famous rabbit-proof fence in Australia was 3 feet high.

The official world record for rabbit jumping

The official world record for the rabbit high jump currently stands at 99.5cm (39.2 inches).

The record for the rabbit high jump was set in June 1997 in Denmark by a black and white bunny called Mimreslunds Tösen, owned by Tyne Bygom (there are more details about the high jump competition in resources provided by someone from the same club, Aase Bjerner – find his website here, with photos of Tösen jumping), in an official competition.

Yes, there are official high jump competitions for rabbits. No, I didn’t know that, either.

The competitive sport is called rabbit hopping (or, in Danish, kaninhop. Kanin is the Danish for rabbit). It began in Sweden around 1980 and spread to Denmark.

There are four competitions – a hurdles sprint; a crooked hurdles (ie, not in a straight line); long jump and high jump.

Here’s the Danish high jump championships from 2014:

Rabbit high jump championships, Denmark, 2014

The idea has now spread to other countries, and England has hosted a bunny Grand National in Harrogate. Rabbit hopping has also spread to Australia, as this report from 2019 shows:

Rabbit hopping reaches Australia

Feedback from rabbit owners on how high their rabbits can jump

I checked out what rabbit owners say about their rabbits. Of course, this is all anecdotal – but it paints a picture.

Most owners had bunnies that could clear 2′ (61cm) with relative ease. For example, one owner had a Mini Rex that could jump onto their bed two feet off the ground. And its commonplace for rabbits to be able to jump onto sofas to join their owners watching TV or relaxing.

Once the height started going above this, the experiences became a little more mixed. There are reports of a range of breeds jumping a little higher. For example, a French Lop clearing a 26″ (66cm) panel, a Lionhead rabbit escaping from a pen with 28″ (71cm) fences, and other bunnies jumping over a 29″ (74cm) barrier.

Some owners found the sweet spot at 30″ (76cm), and claimed never to have had escapes when the fence or barrier was at least this height.

However, other owners clearly had more gymnastic bunnies, with reports of a Netherland Dwarf rabbit clearing up to 39″ (1m) and Himalayans and other breeds clearing 3′ (91cm). The world championships show how this is certainly possible.

There are a few reports of bunnies jumping over even higher fences – including one claim that their rabbit cleared a 4′ (1m22) fence from a standing start – but it is difficult to know how reliable these claims are.

A few owners have experienced bunnies escaping from pens with panels 4′ (1m22) high – but we shouldn’t assume that the rabbits just jumped out. One owner caught the escapee on camera, and found that they were part jumping, then climbing the rest of the way out.

Bunnies can climb better than you might think (we found one of ours part way up a tree), so if you allow them any purchase or surfaces, they can parkour their way to freedom – potentially a problem with wire fences rather than smooth panels.

Overall, the owner experience suggests that a fence 3′ (91cm) will keep most rabbits out, but if you want to guarantee that a bunny doesn’t escape, it’s safer to go higher – up to 4′ (1m22) – and don’t provide any paw-holds for their climbing agility.

My experience of jumping rabbits

Our bunnies love to roam around our garden (with us supervising). But we don’t want them escaping onto nearby roads. Most of our fences or walls around the garden are at least 4′ high or higher, with little purchase for bunnies who like to climb – so we’re mostly OK.

But when we first got bunnies, we had one wall that was a little lower – probably between 2′ and 2’6″. We naively thought that this would be high enough – then had a desperate time trying to catch our rabbits who had got curious and jumped up and over. It was a worrying, and long, 15 minutes (we saw them jump over).

That wall is now much higher… …and our bunnies haven’t escaped since.

When they’re in the garden, we also try to keep our bunnies from coming into our kitchen (which has a door leading out onto the garden). We stick a large piece of wood across the bottom to act as a gate. This is about 32″ (80cm) high. To date, none of the rabbits has managed to break in (though they have often snuck in when we’ve forgotten to put the barrier in place…). But it wouldn’t matter too much if they did succeed.

We have also found that one of our bunnies is a climber. Buzz has surprised us by getting up to a crook in a tree. the others aren’t so interested. Each rabbit is different.

What breeds of rabbit jump highest?

As a general rule of thumb, medium sized breeds seem to jump the highest.

Really small breeds just have smaller legs – they are going to struggle to jump quite as high as a rabbit with bigger hind legs.

But really large breeds have more weight to carry. Again, they don’t tend to be able to jump as high.

Having said that – look at the experience of owners. One owner reported a Netherland Dwarf jumping as high as about 3′ or 1m. So small bunnies can jump surprisingly high.

Rabbit binkies – funny little jumps

Have you ever seen your bunny do a funny leap in the air? Perhaps they also twisted their bodies in mid-air. This is often called a ‘binky’. Usually, it is a sign of a happy rabbit.

Our rabbits will often combine binkies with zooms as they sprint around the garden. I’m always amazed at how high our bunnies can get without warning, just leaping out of nothing from a standing (or sitting) start.

How rabbits can jump so high

Rabbits are able to jump so high because they have, for their size, incredibly powerful muscles in their hind legs. Weight for weight, rabbit muscle fibres are 29% more powerful even than the fastest land animal, the cheetah.

This enables them to jump up to 1m high from almost a standing start, or to hop a long distance – some bunnies can manage up 10′ (3m) in a single bound.

How high can rabbits jump on the moon?

A rabbit could jump up to 6m (about 20 feet) high on the moon (we’re going to pretend it wouldn’t need a spacesuit).

That’s because gravity, the force that pulls us towards planets, is six times less on the moon than it is on earth. So if rabbits can jump about 1m on earth, they can jump six times as high on the moon.

If you were trying to build a safe bunny enclosure on the moon, you’d need a lot of fencing… talking of which…

How to build a rabbit proof fence

I’m not a great DIY person, so I’m not going to pretend to be able to offer detailed, step-by-step instructions. But I can give you some general points either to keep bunnies out, or keep them in.

Height of rabbit proof fences

If you want to keep rabbits out of your garden, make sure your fence is at least 3′ (about 1m) high. Any shorter than that, and you might find enthusiastic bunnies eating your flowers and vegetables.

If you want to keep rabbits in, then consider making it still taller – closer to 4′ (about 1m20). You don’t want to worry about your bunny ever escaping into danger.

In both cases, make sure there is nothing near the fence that could be used as a staging post, or give the rabbit some purchase to be able to climb over the fence.

Depth of rabbit proof fences

Rabbits love to dig, and will happily dig under a fence if given the opportunity. You can prevent this by making sure that the fence extends at least 6″ (about 15cm) into the ground. You should also try to angle it towards the side that the rabbits are meant to remain on.

Type of wire for rabbit proof fences

Use hexagonal twisted galvanised steel wire fencing with a mesh of around 1″ (2.5-3cm) or smaller – any bigger, and small or young rabbits can wriggle through. The wire should be 18 gauge or 1.2mm – any thinner, and rabbits can bite through.

Posts for rabbit proof fences

Wooden posts should be at least 4″ (10cm) diameter. Ideally, they should be placed on the side away from the rabbits.

More information on building rabbit proof fences

The experts in this are the Forestry Commission, who have to create fences to keep out all sorts of wildlife in different areas. They have created a helpful technical specification guide for fences for all sorts of animals, including rabbits. You can download it here.

The Australian rabbit-proof fence

What was at the time the longest fence in the world was built in Australia to keep out rabbits. Here’s a very brief history.

British settlers introduced rabbits to Australia from the 18th century, but problems began when Thomas Austin, an Australian landowner, released some wild rabbits (some accounts say 12; others 24) brought over from England to South Australia, so locals would have something to hunt. He brought over a whole range of animals from England, which he was proud of.

From The Argus, 21st April 1864, p.7

The following letter from Mr. Thomas Austin, of Barwon Park, was also read: “Barwon Park, April 18, 1861, “Dear Sir,-I have to acknowledge your letter and circular of the Acclimatisation Society, and so satisfied am I of its benefit to the colony, that I enclose you a cheque for ten guineas to be a life member. I may add, that I have done a little myself towards introducing game birds. I brought out in the Yorkshire nine hares and thirty-four blackbirds and thrushes, which I am going to turn out here; and my man, this last season, has reared about seventy pheasants: some have bred out in their natural way; and I have seen two coveys of partridges, one of six young ones, the other eight; and the English wild rabbit I have in thousands. Yours sincerely, (Signed) THOMAS AUSTIN.

https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/5747882

The rabbits bred like… rabbits. And before too many years, the bunnies had become a pest. The population overgrazed the land, causing environmental damage. There was little food left either for native species or livestock. The solution? Put up a fence. A long fence. A really, really, long fence.

The rabbit-proof fence was actually three separate fences, completed in 1907 after six years construction work. All three make up more than 2,000 miles (over 3,000km) of fence, and the longest (No. 1 fence, going North-South) was 1,139 miles (over 1,800km) long – the longest unbroken fence in the world at the time.

The fence was 3′ high originally, with posts 12′ apart, and netting extending 6″ into the ground to prevent rabbits tunnelling under. These are still good guidelines for keeping rabbits out of gardens.

Keeping the fence intact wasn’t easy – trappers would cut holes, then lay traps on the other side of the fence, so that as soon as the rabbits ran through they would be caught. The government had to introduce fines to deter this (see The Argus, 25th August, 1910, p.9).

More recently, the fence became famous through the film of the same name. Rabbit-Proof Fence tells the true story from 1931 of three girls who escape to try to return to their aboriginal families, using the fence as a guide to their home as they make the 1,500 mile journey pursued by the authorities.

The film was based on a 1996 book by Doris Pilkington, whose mother was one of the three girls. The book was called Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Conclusion

Some rabbits can jump up to about 3′ (1m) high, and perhaps some even higher. Medium and small breeds can jump higher than larger, heavier breeds. Some owners stage rabbit jumping competitions, a practice that started in Sweden and has spread world-wide. If you are trying to keep rabbits away from an area, you’ll need a fence at least 3′ (1m) high.

How high can your bunny jump?

You may also be interested in some other facts about bunnies, such as how fast they can sprint, how rabbits hear, and how they see.

Posted by Jonathan in General
Can rabbits eat cheese?

Can rabbits eat cheese?

What’s your favourite cheese?

Mine is a good, ripe, creamy brie. Or a strong mature cheddar. Then again, I love the salty tang of roquefort. And I’ve always loved the crumbliness of Wensleydale.

OK, I admit it. I love cheese. Pretty much all types, preferably with some Carr’s water biscuits (the best cheese biscuits. No arguments, please).

But can you share this pleasure with your fluffy bunny friends, and should you worry if your rabbit finds some cheese and nibbles it?

I’ve spent hours researching how safe or not it is for rabbits to eat cheese, including consulting scientific journal articles, to make sure that you can get reliable information. Read on for a full guide to rabbits and cheese in their diet, but if you want the headline answer, here it is.

Can rabbits eat cheese?

Rabbits should not eat cheese. You should not feed cheese to bunnies, because cheese is high in fats with no fibre – while rabbits need food (like grass) low in fats with lots of fibre. Dairy products like cheese also contain lactose, which rabbits can’t digest. Cheese isn’t poisonous (toxic) to bunnies, but eating too much could lead to serious intestinal problems.

Cheese, nutrition and rabbits

IngredientCheese per 100gRabbit nutritional requirements per 100gComments
Energy429 kcal
Protein25 g12-17 gCheese is too high in protein for rabbits.
Fat35.71 g2.5-5 gRabbits normally eat little to no fat – cheese has loads. The rabbit digestive system isn’t designed to cope with high fat levels.
Carbohydrate0Less than 20 gWhile rabbits don’t need extremely high levels of carbohydrates, cheese has little or none.
Fibre014-25 gRabbits need loads of fibre in their diet – it enables their guts to keep food moving. Cheese has no fibre at all.
Calcium714 mg500 mg (max. 1,000 mg)Cheese is high in calcium. But too much calcium is bad for bunnies – they end up getting painful kidney stones
Sodium679 mg100 mg (max. 800 mg)Cheese is too high in sodium. Just as too much salt is bad for humans, it’s bad for bunnies too.
Vitamin A1786 IU1,000-1,200 IUWhile rabbits need vitamin A, too much is potentially bad for them.
Lactose0.1 gAdult rabbits can’t process lactose.
Nutritional information based on Cheddar cheese, sourced from USDA

As the table shows, rabbits need a diet with low fat, not too much calcium, and plenty of fibre. Cheese is high fat, with lots of calcium, and no fibre. Rabbits’ digestive systems just aren’t set up for cheese.

Why is eating cheese bad for rabbits?

Four key reasons mean that cheese is bad for bunnies and you shouldn’t feed it to them:

Cheese is too high in fat

Cheese has too much fat for rabbits. Rabbits are designed to eat grass and other vegetation, which has very little fat in it. That means that their digestive systems aren’t geared up to high fat food.

When rabbits eat food with high fat content, it is more likely to create problems, including gas, bloating and indigestion. Bad bacteria in the intestines feed on the fats, producing gas and causing discomfort to the bunny.

Cheese is too high in proteins

Food normally eaten by rabbits contains vegetable proteins in relatively low quantities (up to about 17% of the food). Cheese contains animal proteins in much higher proportions (eg, 25% of the food).

So cheese has the wrong proteins for rabbits and in too high quantities.

Again, this can cause problems for the rabbit’s gut as it tries to process these proteins. It is being faced with an unusual mix of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and in higher than usual quantities.

Cheese is too low in fibre

Rabbits normally eat food with loads of fibre – like grass and hay. Their bodies have specially adapted to deal with this, with digestive systems capable of breaking down fibre. The fibre also helps the gut to keep the food moving, so it doesn’t block up and cause constipation.

Cheese has no fibre. This means that, if a rabbit ate a lot of cheese, their guts have nothing to help keep the food moving. It can all start blocking up, leading to a constipated rabbit.

If a human is constipated, that’s uncomfortable.

But if a rabbit is constipated, it can be fatal. Rabbits have extremely sensitive digestive systems, and any type of constipation can lead to GI stasis, which can be serious for rabbits.

If you suspect your rabbit has GI stasis, consult a vet immediately.

Cheese contains lactose

Cheese contains lactose, a type of sugar that rabbits can’t digest. Here’s why:

Cheese, like all foods made from milk, contains lactose. Lactose is a type of complex sugar found in milk. To benefit from it, your body needs to be able to break it down to two simpler sugars, glucose and galactose.

The structure of lactose – a combination of glucose and galactose

Baby animals (including humans) have a special enzyme that does this, called lactase, so that they can benefit from their mother’s milk. But as animals get older, and start weaning, their bodies stop making lactase. So most adult mammals can’t digest lactose.

Humans are unusual – about half of the world’s population keep on producing lactase as adults. It’s a genetic variation, that may have arisen when humans first started dairy farming. More commonly, people with european, parts of asian and parts of African heritage are able to process lactose as adults.

But you’ll know yourself that some people are lactose-intolerant – if they have milk, it gives them indigestion. Their bodies just can’t work on the lactose in milk.

Rabbits are like most other animals (and in fact, even rabbit milk for baby rabbits is unusually low in lactose) – once a rabbit stops weaning, it can’t process lactose.

Cheese isn’t as high as many other dairy products in lactose (regular cows’ milk can be as high as 6.3 g /100g of lactose), but it still contains some (ricotta and cream cheese are pretty high; parmesan cheese has almost none).

Bunnies, like many humans, are lactose-intolerant – they don’t have the lactase enzyme to break down the sugar. So the lactose is likely to give them indigestion.

But stomach problems are more serious for bunnies than for humans:

  • First, they are unable to vomit if they feel ill.
  • Secondly, their systems are much more delicate.

The lactose, along with the high levels of fat and lack of fibre, can lead to gut problems, including GI stasis, which needs immediate attention. If you think your bunny is having difficulties, consult a vet.

Help – my bunny ate some cheese! What should I do?

If your rabbit just nibbled a small amount of cheese, it is unlikely to have done them any harm. They have just eaten a small, unhealthy snack.

If your rabbit has eaten a larger amount of cheese, make sure that you observe them closely over the next 24 hours. Check that they are behaving normally, moving around, and eating as normal.

Also check their poo – does this look normal?

If the rabbit is showing any signs of distress, including moving less, or eating less, then consult a vet immediately.

What diets should rabbits have?

The best diet for rabbits is plenty of hay and water. Everything else is less important than these two. The best hay for rabbits is timothy hay (I explain why in this post).

Bunnies should also be fed some fresh greens every day (about a handful), and about an eggcup-full of pellets (also known as nuggets). You can check which herbs are safe for rabbits here.

You can also give them an occasional treat – small amounts of fruit make a great treat. I have a long list of suitable fruit in this post.

Conclusion

Rabbits shouldn’t eat cheese. It’s not good for them at all. Rabbit digestive systems aren’t designed for dairy products. Feed your bunnies hay, water and greens rather than cheese.

Check out these other posts

You can find out more about vitamins and minerals for rabbits in this post.

If you’re worried about your bunny, consider getting them insured. That way, you won’t have to worry too much about the cost if you need to consult a vet. If you’re based in Britain, I have a comparison of all the UK rabbit insurance providers.

Posted by Jonathan in 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 find 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 feed 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 feed 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 to feed 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?

IngredientNutrional value per 100gComments
Water85.6gApples have a lot of water in them. This is helpful on hot days for bunnies.
Energy52 kcalThis is mostly from the fruit sugars, which are types of carbohydrates. Like most sweet things, too much is bad for you.
Fibre2.4gRabbits need a lot of fibre – hay, which is best for them, is nearly 20% fibre. So apples on their own don’t provide enough. Much of the fibre is in the skin, so don’t peel the apple to give to your bunny,.
Carboydrates13.8gMuch of this are sugars – see the next entry.
Sugars10.4gHalf of the sugar is fructose, the rest sucrose and glucose. The sugar content is why apples taste sweet to us (and to our furry friends).
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)4.6mgRabbits don’t need vitamin C – their bodies can make it themselves.
Vitamin B complexSmall amountsRabbits don’t need vitamin B – their bodies can make it themselves.
Vitamin A54 IUApples provide a little vitamin A for rabbits, but they need far more (6-10,000 IU daily).
Vitamin E, D & KSmall amountsThe amounts of these vitamins is not significant for bunnies.
Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Zinc, Copper, Potassium, Sodium, Manganese, SeleniumLowApples don’t provide significant amounts of any of these minerals for rabbits
Information on apples (skin on) from USDA

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).

Check out the nutritional table above. Apples on their own don’t provide enough fibre, minerals or vitamins for rabbits. That’s why rabbits need lots of hay, and to have apple as a treat.

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.

You can find more about rabbit nutrition here, and more about how rabbits digest food here.

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. This will also help their teeth – rabbits’ teeth never stop growing, so bunnies need to chew away on rough food to keep their teeth to a healthy length.

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.

Interested in normal garden peas? Check out our post here on whether peas are a safe food for rabbits.

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