What Not to Feed Rabbits

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Rabbits are herbivores, but does that mean that all plants are safe and healthy for them to eat?  The surprising answer is no! There are plenty of things that you should not be feeding your rabbit that might seem perfectly healthy.

The most important part of a rabbit’s diet is fiber.  They absolutely need cellulose (plant cell walls and vegetable fibers) in order to survive.  Fiber is such an integral part of their diet that they have a special organ called the cecum, whose sole purpose is to help process all that fiber. In the cecum, the fiber is exposed to healthy bacteria & yeasts which helps break down & ferment the materials.  The fermented materials are then excreted in cecotropes, which the rabbit eats to absorb all the vitamins & fats from the fiber.   It’s a delicate system that can easily be disrupted by excess sugars & starches causing bloating, constipation or out of whack gastrointestinal bacterial growth.  Click here to read more about preventing rabbit GI Stasis

Following is certainly not an all inclusive list of things you shouldn’t feed your rabbit, but just some of the biggies.  If you are unsure if a food is safe for your bunny, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.  Remember fresh hay should make up the largest part of your rabbit’s diet, followed by quality rabbit pellets and fresh veggies.

What Not to Feed Rabbits

Grains
Bread, crackers, cereal, rice…..none of these are healthy for your rabbit friend.  Anything high in carbohydrates should always be avoided.

“Junk Food”
Chips, cookies, candy….these aren’t healthy for humans and they are extra unhealthy for rabbits.  Foods that are high in sugar or artificial ingredients can cause overgrowth of bacteria in their gut, throwing their whole digestive system out of whack.  It could even cause the digestive system to shut down entirely which will result in death.  Especially do not allow your rabbit to eat chocolate.  While we might find this a tasty treat, it is poisonous to rabbits.

Meat & Eggs
It may seem obvious as your rabbit is a herbivore, but it bears mentioning.  Please don’t feed meat to your bunny, they are not equipped to digest it!  This includes eggs and any other animal products.

Dairy 
Milk & dairy products like yogurt, butter & ice cream can lead to a deadly case of enterotoxemia (a toxic overgrowth of harmful intestinal bacteria).  They are also really high in natural sugars that could cause teeth problems.  Click here to learn more about caring for rabbit teeth

Nuts & Nut Products
While rabbits can digest nuts and small amounts are not fatal, they are very high in fat which could give your bunny an upset tummy.  They also offer no nutritional value for rabbits so it’s best to just avoid them.

Iceberg Lettuce
This one might be shocking, but light colored lettuces like iceberg contain high levels of lactucarium which can cause runny stools.  Iceberg lettuce also contains mostly water and has very little nutritional content.  Stick to darker leafy greens like romaine lettuce or kale.

Carrots
Another shocker as rabbits & carrots seem to go hand in hand.  Carrots aren’t poisonous, but they are really high in calcium & natural sugars which is bad for gut health & teeth.  Carrots should be given as only a very rare treat.  The leafy carrot tops are great for rabbits though and they love them!

Nightshade Plants
For most animals, eating plants from the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant to name a few) can be toxic and rabbits are no exception.  They should not eat the leaves or stems.  You should also avoid feeding them raw potatoes or peels.  Cooked potatoes are not toxic but are high in carbs & starch so don’t make a healthy treat.  Tomatoes and peppers themselves are fine to feed in small amounts.

Rhubarb
Rhubarb leaves contain dangerously high levels of oxalic acid which can cause serious kidney damage leading to death.  All parts of rhubarb & rhubarb plants should be avoided.

Avocado
All parts of the avocado are poisonous to rabbits. The skin, leaves, and seeds are the most toxic parts, but the actual “meat” of the avocado is also toxic.

Peas
Not toxic, but high in sugar & phosphorus, they are not a great treat for bunny friends.

Cauliflower
Again, not toxic, but cauliflower can give your bunnies gas and make them bloated and uncomfortable.

Corn
Rabbits can’t digest the corn hull (the part that surrounds the kernel), and they could become lodged in the GI tract.

Apple seeds
Apples themselves make a good occasional treat, but make sure the seeds have been removed as they can contain toxic levels of arsenic for a tiny bunny body.

So what can you feed your rabbit?

While hay & rabbit pellets should make up a large portion of your rabbit’s diet, fresh veggies should also be offered on a daily basis (about 1-2 cups per rabbit per day).  Click here to read more about feeding wool rabbits.  Some great everyday options include:
*romaine or dark leaf lettuce
*carrot tops
*collard greens
*kale
*celery & celery leaves
*asparagus
*squash
*cucumbers
*broccoli leaves
*bok choy
*clover or dandelion leaves & flowers
*mustard greens
*herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, mint, parsley or water cress

For special occasional treats, you can offer fruit like apples, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, pears, mango, papaya, peaches, pineapple or grapes.


17 comments

  1. Ronald Keller says:

    Thanks for the information. Currently trying to care for a displaced week old Eastern Cottontail. Wish me luck.

    • Louis says:

      We raised a tiny starving eastern cottontail. Don’t know how she was away from her nest and siblings because we looked all around the area and no trace of a nest. So glad we found her. A couple of hrs. and she wouldn’t have been here. She has been a blessing!! Tho she displays some wild traits,(she knows she is a prey animal so she can be skittish so no sudden fast movements or loud noises. Digs anywhere ;carpet,plant pots,corners of the room. Like all bunnies chews everything. Etc. ),but very sociable. She needs lots of pets and gentle scratches. So, again GOOD LUCK!! Enjoy your new lil’ friend. Like the man said “the love you give is the love you get.”

  2. Louis says:

    P.S.- thank you for the info on this site about diet. Some things I thought were obvious good choices turn out to be BAD. We’ve since given her a proper healthy diet and she’s lost weight, her coat is thick and soft and no digestive issues. Thanks for straightforward simple info that’s given us a happy healthy bunny who’s going to be with us for a long time!!

  3. ZOLO says:

    i literally had no idea that iceberg lettuce could be so harmful. i had always fed it on at least a daily basis to two of my rabbits. one thing i sometimes noticed was that they had runny stools which i saw mentioned as a possible side effect. i have now stopped feeding them this and have seen a drastic improvement.

    • Liz says:

      It really depends on what the issue is. Are her nails ingrown? Does she have sore hocks (open sore on the pads of her feet)? Does she have any visible cuts or injuries? Is it muscle or broken bone related? If you can’t decide where the pain is coming from, a visit to the vet is really your best bet.

  4. Anonymous67 says:

    I didn’t know that avocado leaves are poisonous to rabbits, I have been feeding him it for the past 5 days. But he hasn’t showed any symptoms is this bad.

    • Liz says:

      The skin & flesh are the most toxic to rabbits, but the leaves and all parts of the plant also contain toxic to rabbit’s levels of persin. Definitely do not let your rabbit eat anymore parts of the avocado, but if you haven’t seen any ill effects yet it sounds like he didn’t eat too much of it.

  5. Bear says:

    Hi, can you feed a wild Eastern Cottontail Dumore rabbit pellets? He’s been eating greens and getting no protein, so we want to introduce him to better things. Also, how many apple seeds does it take to kill a rabbit? We accidentally gave him two apples’ worth of them, and it looks like he ate them, and we’re really worried. Also, thanks for the info on Iceberg lettuce, that was pretty much all we fed him. Also, is it okay to feed him arugula? Thanks!

    • Liz says:

      Hi! I don’t know a ton about rehabbing wild rabbits, but I would think Dumore rabbit pellets would be ok if the rabbit is old enough to be weaned which it sounds like it would be. You might want to contact a local wildlife rehab center just to double check though. If it’s been at least a few days since he had the apple seeds and you haven’t seen any toxic effects (diarrhea, vomiting, convulsions) they have probably been processed by his liver and he should be ok. Perhaps he didn’t end up eating them all? Arugula is alright in moderation, but it is high in calcium which can lead to digestive issues if fed daily. The most important thing in a rabbit’s diet is plenty of fiber, Timothy hay is an excellent source of fiber. Fiber keeps their digestive system moving. You might be interested in my article on what you SHOULD feed your rabbits – it’s about wool rabbits in particular but applicable to general rabbit diets as well: https://thecapecoop.com/feeding-wool-rabbits/

  6. Diane says:

    Really enjoyed reading this, had my lovely bunny Jeff for about four months in a hutch outside, he’s getting used to me now and being held and just become a house rabbit, loved reading these tips, I seem to be doing ok. Can I ask is spinach ok to feed a bunny, Jeff loves it.

    • Liz says:

      That is wonderful 🙂 Spinach is ok in small amounts, occasionally. They do love spinach and it’s a good source of vitamin a, but spinach is also high in oxalates, which can build up over time in the bunny’s system and become toxic. But a once a week treat of spinach will be fine for Jeff

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