Rabbits

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 (about 1/2 cup per rabbit per day) and fresh veggies as “treats” or just supplemental food.

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 rare treat.  The leafy carrot tops are great for rabbits though, can be eaten daily, 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.


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53 Comments

  1. Ronald Keller says:

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

    1. oh dear – good luck!!

    2. 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. 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.

    1. Glad to hear your bunnies are doing well! 🙂

      1. Hello says:

        Hi just saying on a different website its said that u can feed a rabbit carrots and lettuce so now I am very confused?:(

        1. You CAN feed them carrots, it should just be an occasional treat because they are high in natural sugar. And I feed my rabbits romaine lettuce almost every day – it’s iceburg lettuce that you should avoid as it gives them diarrhea and has very little nutritional content

  4. Sherry says:

    Is there a pain remedy for a bunny’s painful back leg?

    1. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

  6. 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!

    1. 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/

      1. So hay is good? Thanks! Also, thanks for the info about arugula. Also,it turns out he only ate one apples’ worth of seeds, so I think he’ll be okay. Thank you!

        1. Hay is very good for them! 🙂

  7. 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.

    1. 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

      1. jazmyn says:

        wow, I did not know that spinach was bad for bunnies.
        one of my bunnies is not as energetic as my other is.
        can you tell me what greens can I give her to make her gain weight and energy?

        1. You might want to see a vet to see if there is a medical cause behind her lethargy. She could have a urinary infection or abscessed tooth that is keeping her appetite down. Beyond that lots of timothy hay would be a good bet and maybe some sweet treats like apple slices or mango slices to encourage her appetite. You might want to treat her to some Oxbow Critical Care for rabbits (you can find it in most pet stores or online). I give it to my bunnies when they are feeling under the weather or recovering from an issue, its very nutrient rich.

    2. Della Peck says:

      Thank you so much for the information.
      I recently got flemish giant’s, they are babies.
      And this helps me alot.
      Thanks so much.
      Because I love my bunnies.

  8. Ahhh thanks for that, I’ll make it just once a week for a treat.

  9. Sandra says:

    This is eye opening information. I feed wild bunnies. I never have fed them apple seeds, I knew they were bad for everyone and animals. However, I have fed them a lot of carrots and apple scut up, oops. Hope there have been no bad effects. I will know better from now on.
    Knew about rhubarb too and cookies etc. Avocado was a huge surprise! And nuts!
    Thanks so much, Sandra

  10. jazmyn says:

    thanks! I’m very happy I ran across this page looking for answers to my rabbit questions.

  11. adakhole says:

    Thanks for the tip.
    A question Is banana leaf good for rabbit to eat?

    1. It’s much too cold for me to grow bananas where I live so it’s not something I have ever done, but my rabbits love bananas. A quick google search seems to say that banana leaves can be fed to rabbits, that there are no parts that are poisonous

  12. Hi, I’m pretty concerned. I brought home a ten week old Netherland dwarf that was on a mix of Timothy hay and alfalfa. Past 24 hours I have been adding in little nibbles of romaine lettuce and tiny thin slices of carrots with the hay. But I noticed he wasn’t going to the washroom as often this evening but still eating hay. So I’m very worried that I may have screwed up his system already! 🙁

    1. I doubt that feeding him just tiny nibbles of greens and veggies would impact his health. If he is still not pooping as normal, you will want to get him to a vet. Digestive system stasis can be deadly for rabbits. You can read more about it here https://thecapecoop.com/gi-stasis-what-every-rabbit-owner-needs-to-know/ Sometimes stress can cause digestive issues with rabbits – if you recently brought him home he could be a little stressed about his new environment and missing his siblings/mom

  13. Lonnie says:

    Do pellets alone not provide enough fiber for meat rabbits?

    1. I haven’t raised meat rabbits before, but pellets alone are generally not enough fiber for rabbits in general. They need the roughage that timothy hay would provide to help their digestive system moving

      1. Snowball bunny says:

        Hi I have a bunny and give it lots of hay and some pellets is pellets good I was thinking of giving her iceberg lettuce 🥬 now I’m not gonna what’s a good snack for them also I don’t think bananas are poisonous either I live in a warm place and feed them to my bunny all the time!No side effects I have been giving my bunny apples for the past one year and I’ve had her for two is that good?

        1. Yes, rabbit pellets are good for them and hay should be offered free choice at all time. Apples are good for them and one of my bunnies favorite things! Just make sure you don’t offer them the core of the apple because the seeds can be poisonous. You should try to limit sugary treats like fruit to just a few times per week though. Dark leafy greens like carrot or beet tops are great, as is kale or romaine lettuce 🙂

  14. Hello Liz, thank you for all your helpful advice. I have a bunny, 10 years old, that loves to sit in the litter box when he’s in the cage. He’s back paws and tail are all dirty. I’ve tried putting (only his bottom) in a small bucket with soap for bunnies, it didn’t work. I put a small amount of cornstarch on his bottom and comb it off (that actually worked a little). He’s a petite hot tot so it’s so noticeable on his white fur. Pls help!

    1. The make rabbit litter boxes that have a metal grate over the top, as the rabbit poops, the poop would drop into the box below the grate. Perhaps that will help keep him clean? Here is an amazon link to a box like this – https://www.amazon.com/Humorous-P-Trainer-Galesaur-Rectangular-Material/dp/B07R48RDKV/ref=sr_1_6?dchild=1&keywords=rabbit+litter+box&qid=1611597116&sr=8-6

  15. Parris says:

    Loved all the questions and answers, were very helpful 👍✅

  16. Is it okay to feed rabbits sprouted corn?

    1. It shouldn’t be the main source of food in their diet, but sprouted corn is fine for them to eat

  17. Mary says:

    What about cassava can rabbits eat this and not get sick from it?

    1. That is not something that grows where I live so it’s not something I’ve tried with my rabbits, but I know it can be high in cyanide and most people don’t use cassava for livestock. From a few quick internet searches it seems that sun drying the leaves or roots first could help reduce the toxins, but I think I would err on the side of caution and not feed it to rabbits

  18. Jeri L Waughtel says:

    I’m confused about kale. Before reading your list of things “to feed” my rabbits, I read an opinion that neither spinach nor kale should be fed to rabbits. Please advise 😊
    Thank you

    1. Spinach is ok for rabbits to have in moderation. It should not be an every day treat but they can have it 1-2 times per week (and they love it!). I have seen kale on many “do not feed” daily and on many “do feed” daily lists. Many are conflicted on weather kale is safe for daily feeding. Everyone is in general consensus that kale is safe for occasional treats. The rabbit keepers that say you should not feed it daily often site the high levels of calcium as to why rabbits should not eat it daily. Too much calcium over a long period of time could harm their kidneys. Because of this I wouldn’t recommend you feed your rabbit kale every single day for their entire life as their entire portion of fresh veggies. But I do think it can make up a portion of their veggies, kale is one of my rabbit’s favorites! It’s really best to offer your rabbits a variety of different vegetables anyway so they can have a wide range of vitamins. A great mix is romaine lettuce as the base and then an “add on” in smaller amounts – various herbs, kale, collard greens, carrot tops, etc. Once a week the add in could be a special treat of sliced fruit.

  19. Robin NYC says:

    Our New Zealand rabbit, 1 year-old, pushes the hay aside to forage for pellets- Is there a way to get him to enjoy the hay? Any suggestions?

    1. Have you tried different hay? I have found my rabbits like some brands better than others. Also, changing out the hay daily helps. They don’t like “stale” hay. If all that fails, you might try limiting the pellets. They will always want the pellets more than the hay

  20. Jen Meek says:

    Great advice here. We have a “Resident” rabbit. Eats lots of grass. Can I put out a pan of water for it. Glad I read about the iceberg lettuce.

    1. I am sure they would appreciate some water! Put it in a shady spot near or under a bush so they don’t have to come out in the open to get it and risk being seen by a hawk

  21. lauren says:

    i have a few question i found baby bunnys unsure of what kind they are younger then a week old there eyes are closed what do i do i put them in a tub with some shirt two on the bottom and one on the top there was no mama to feed them for 3 days and what do i feed them and place them without doing something wrong?

    1. I am sure these are wild rabbits correct? Are you sure the momma left them for 3 days? Typically mother rabbits only visit the den overnight so as not to attract predators, so it’s very common to find unattended babies during the day. They are very very young if their eyes are closed and all they should be eating is milk from their mother. I would suggest you find a local wildlife rescue who can take them in, or direct you on how to care for them. They will need replacement milk bottle fed to them for about the first month of life

  22. Tiffany Little says:

    Right now our roses are blooming and my flemish giant loves roses as a treat. She would prefer a nice rose bloom over any other type of treat I offer her, unless I have a grape or a slice of banana.
    She’s a spoiled one and will turn her nose up at her hay, but when she sees me she runs across the room for the rose or marigold she knows I’m bringing her. Then after finishing that she climbs on my lap and nibbles on my fingers.

    1. Adorable!! She sounds like a sweetheart 🙂

  23. I’ve actaully learned more from the comments then fron the stuff itself. Getting a rabbit soon! Im so exited. Im gonna name it cotton/cotn

    1. Excellent – good luck!

  24. Uhhhh… Is Timothy hay good for rabbits??? I think so, and it’s what im gonna be feeding my rabbit when I get it. If not, please tell me

    1. yes – it is very good for them! Timothy hay should make up the majority of their diet, it should be offered free choice at all times. You should plan on your rabbit eating a handful of hay approximately the size of his body each day

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