Vegetables are known as being a healthy addition to any diet. The problem is that rabbits do not have the same type of digestion that humans do. They thrive off of high-fiber and low-starch foods. Unfortunately, this means that many vegetables that are great for humans are not very healthy for our pet rabbits.
As a general rule, the best types of vegetables for rabbits are herbs, lettuces, and other types of leafy salad greens. It may be tempting to give your rabbit carrots or other root vegetables, but they are not great for rabbit digestion and should only be given in small amounts.
While you may think of vegetables as the roots, and stalks that we eat as human food. Leaves are also a type of vegetable that is incredibly healthy. They have a high level of fiber along with vitamins and nutrients that are excellent for a rabbit’s overall health.
The best leafy greens are the ones that will be low in oxalate acid. Typically, darker leafy greens (such as spinach) have higher levels of this. Greens that have high levels of oxalate acid are still safe for rabbits to eat, but they should make up a smaller portion of the overall diet. Learn more about what types of food to avoid giving your rabbit.
Cilantro is a fragrant herb that is generally very enticing to rabbits. In particular, many elderly rabbits who are losing their sense of taste and smell will end up gravitating toward these aromatic herbs.
Cilantro is also made up of a number of phytochemicals that can help aid in digestion, prevent frequent infections, and even reduce stress. This herb may help alleviate symptoms of urinary tract infections as well. Cilantro is also known to contain geraniol, which is a compound that helps prevent tumors.
2. Leafy lettuces
Leafy lettuces (including red, green, escarole, romaine and more) are a staple for your rabbit’s daily vegetables. I always include a lettuce leaf or two with my rabbits’ greens. They aren’t usually a favorite of rabbits, but most rabbits will have no complaints over eating the lettuce once they’ve finished with the tastier herbs.
In general, leafy lettuces are well rounded with a healthy balance of vitamins and nutrients to add to a rabbit’s diet. However, it’s best to avoid iceberg lettuce. This type does not have many nutrients that are beneficial to rabbits and contains the chemical lactucarium, which can be harmful if it builds up over time in a rabbit’s digestion.
Arugula is another easily accessible and highly nutritious vegetable for rabbits. While many salad greens are only found in a mixed bag, I can find arugula on it’s own so I don’t need to worry about what else is mixed into the salad.
Like lettuce, arugula is an overall healthy choice for rabbits. It contains a wide variety of vitamins and nutrients that are beneficial to rabbits without containing chemicals and compounds that are potentially harmful. Most rabbits will enjoy the taste of arugula too, since it’s got a spicier flavor than many other simple salad greens.
Basil is a common herb that you can find in just about any grocery store or farmers market. The intense smell and flavor can make it a favorite for many rabbits, giving them a yummy and healthy snack. Other related herbs, such as mint, oregano, and sage, are also excellent choices for pet rabbits.
Basil contains a high concentration of phytochemicals, giving it a strong flavor and dense nutritional content. Basil also contains a few compounds (including caffeic acid and salicylic acid) that have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. This makes basil a mild pain reliever and can help prevent frequent infections in rabbits. It also helps in maintaining the health of rabbit fur and skin.
6. Celery leaves
Celery is an excellent source of nutrients for rabbits. In fact, it contains some vitamins and minerals that are not commonly found in other sources of food. For example, celery is a source of phthalides, which has properties that can lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
So, next time you’re eating some celery, cut the leaves off and give them to your rabbit. The celery stalks are also okay to feed rabbits, but it’s best to limit this so that your rabbit doesn’t fill up on celery alone. Similarly, broccoli and cauliflower leaves and stalks are healthy for rabbits and can be added into their daily greens schedule.
7. Dandelion greens
Dandelion greens are some of the most nutritious weeds we can feed rabbits. They have a high mineral and vitamin content that helps to strengthen the immune system and prevent frequent infections and reduce pain and inflammation in rabbits. Dandelion greens may also provide some aid to a rabbit’s digestion and help prevent heart disease.
Dandelion greens do contain some oxalate acid, but not a very high amount. Because of this, you don’t want to make it the only green you give your rabbit, but it’s still a very healthy choice to give your rabbit some variety.
If you are picking dandelion greens from outside, make sure you are aware of any chemicals that have been used on the lawn. There are many pesticides and chemicals that are used on weeds that are toxic to rabbits, so always practice caution.
Some rabbits will turn their nose up at kale, since it has a unique scent and flavor, but it can be an absolute favorite to many other rabbits. For example, kale is my Teddy Bear’s favorite green. He will always search through his bowl of greens to eat the kale first. Kale contains a good amount of protein along with a variety of vitamins and nutrients that make it a wholesome addition to your rabbit’s diet.
Although kale is known as a dark leafy green, they actually do not have high levels of oxalate acid. In fact, they have relatively low levels among the common herbs and leafy greens that are given to rabbits. For context, basil contains approximately 115mg per 100g of food, cilantro contains 10mg per 100g of food, and kale only has about 7mg per 100g of food (actual nutritional values can vary depending on growing and storage techniques so these are only approximate numbers).
Like with all greens, it’s best to introduce kale slowly to their diet. For some rabbits, kale can cause an increase in gas and digestive discomfort, so you want to test small pieces before giving your rabbit a large amount of kale.
What about non-leafy vegetables?
In general, the leafy parts of vegetables are the healthiest and safest for rabbits to eat in high amounts. They will contain high levels of fiber and nutrients while having low levels of starch and sugar, making them much better for a healthy rabbit digestion. They also tend to be less filling than other parts of the vegetable which will encourage rabbits to eat more hay when they are done with their daily vegetables.
However, other parts of vegetables are also edible and safe to give to rabbits. The stems and stalks of many vegetables are nutritious for rabbits to eat. Celery, asparagus, and the stalks of broccoli and cauliflower are a few good examples of this. They generally are not as high-starch or high-sugar as other parts of the vegetable.
The fruit and florets of common vegetables can be given to rabbits in small amounts. Carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, cucumber, brussel sprouts, eggplant, and broccoli and cauliflower florets are all safe for rabbits to eat but should be limited in what you give the rabbit.
Remember, vegetables are just one part of a balanced rabbit diet. Learn more about how to make sure your rabbit has a healthy diet.
The vegetables to avoid
However, not all vegetables are safe for rabbits to eat. Always check before giving your rabbit anything new to be sure that it is completely safe. Vegetables and foods that you should avoid giving a rabbit include:
- Tomato leaves and stems
- Brown, Susan DVM. “Suggested Vegetables and Fruits for a Rabbit Diet.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/suggested-vegetables-and-fruits-for-a-rabbit-diet.
- Moore, Lucile. Rabbit Nutrition and Nutritional Healing. 3rd ed. 2017, pp. 62-75, 129-155, 164-170, 180-183.