If you have rabbits at home, you know that they’ll chew on anything. They’ll chew on cardboard, furniture, and any kind of twigs, branches or toys you can find. Unfortunately, not all types of wood are safe for rabbits. Before allowing our pet rabbits to chew on toys and wooden objects, we’ll want to make sure we know exactly which types are toxic for rabbits so we can avoid them.
Do rabbits need to chew on wood? Rabbits have a natural instinct to chew on wooden objects because it keeps their teeth from growing too long. Rabbit teeth are open rooted, which means they will continuously grow. Chewing on wood and eating other high-fiber foods, is necessary for keeping rabbit teeth healthy.
While some rabbits have a discerning palate and will not eat anything dangerous to them, many pet rabbits will chew on anything they can sink their teeth into. That’s why it’s so important for you, the caretaker, to pay attention to what your rabbit has access to. Take the time to learn about different types of wood in your rabbit’s litter, in your furniture, and in your rabbit’s toys, so you can make sure everything is safe for your bunny.
How dangerous is poisonous wood?
If your rabbit manages to chew on some wood that is toxic to them, then there is no need for immediate panic. Wood is dense and difficult for rabbits to chew on, so they usually can’t eat it fast enough to cause any damage. It’s still a good idea to keep an eye on your rabbit to make sure they are still eating and pooping regularly if they did manage to chew on something they shouldn’t have. If your rabbit continues to behave normally with normal energy levels, then there is no need for immediate medical attention.
It’s still important to make sure you’re being cautious though. If your rabbit has access to types of poisonous wood on a regular basis it can cause health problems in rabbits. Repeated or prolonged exposure to unsafe wood, shavings, or even varnishes can cause digestive or liver complications. To be on the safe side, it’s best to make sure your rabbit cannot chew on any of these toxic types of wood.
Wooden items that rabbits might chew on
The wood that rabbits have access to in a household is more than just the toys you give them. As long as your rabbit can reach it, any kind of wood can be a potential chew toy to a rabbit. From furniture to baseboards, you’ll want to look through your home to figure out what your rabbit has access to and determine whether or not it’s safe for your rabbit.
- Hutch: If your rabbit has a wooden hutch or enclosure, you’ll want to check what kind of wood it is made of. Rabbits with wooden hutches will commonly chew on them, so it’s very important that they are made from a non-toxic wood. It’s also good to make sure there is no paint being used in any areas where your rabbit commonly chews.
- Litter: Some types of rabbit litter are made of wood pellets. Unfortunately some types of wood pellet (pine and cedar) are not safe for rabbits and can commonly cause liver damage.
- Furniture: Household furniture can be made from many different types of wood, so if your rabbit regularly chews on anything, it’s best to make sure it’s safe. The varnishes and finishing on wooden furniture can also be toxic to rabbits.
- Toys: Unfortunately there are toys that are marketed for rabbits that are not actually safe for them. It’s always best to check what kind of wood is being used.
- Baseboards: While the type of wood that’s used for baseboards is not usually toxic to rabbits, the paint is not good for them. Especially in old houses where wall paint may have higher levels of lead, you want to do your best to keep rabbits from chewing on baseboards.
- Branches: Rabbits can chew on twigs and branches from outside. While many types are safe for rabbits straight from the tree or bush, others should be avoided completely or only given after they’ve been dried out.
Rabbit proof the dangerous wood in your house
Now that you know the places where your rabbit can find wood to chew on, you can take steps to make sure they can’t get access to anything dangerous. This means taking steps to rabbit proof your house. You can keep your rabbit away from baseboards by covering the perimeter of the room with fencing. If your rabbit chews on furniture, you can wrap cat scratcher mats around the wooden legs to keep your rabbits away.
Some items you may need to replace completely. A hutch that is made from toxic wood should be taken away. You could even take this chance to set your rabbit up with a rabbit exercise pen enclosure instead. If your rabbit has any kind of toxic litter or toys, these should also be taken away and replaced with safer options. I recommend using a recycled paper-based litter for rabbits.
If your rabbit has access to an outdoor run, then you may also have to do some rabbit proofing in your yard. Try to remove or fence off any areas that have toxic wood or plants that are poisonous to rabbits. You’ll also want to make sure you don’t use any fertilizer or pesticides that are not safe for rabbits.
Types of toxic wood for rabbits
There are more types of wood from trees, branches, bushes and plants that are safe for rabbits than there are types of wood that are toxic. Even many types of poisonous wood are actually safe once they have been dried completely. It’s still best to use caution in those cases.
It’s also important to note that most toxic wood (with the exception of aromatic woods that contain high levels of phenols) are only harmful when ingested. This means if your rabbit isn’t actually chewing on it, they won’t suffer the negative side effects. So if you have furniture made from an unsafe type of wood, but your rabbit doesn’t chew on it, then there is no reason to replace it.
Cedar is the most commonly known type of wood that is harmful to rabbits. This is one of the types that should be kept away from rabbits completely. It contains high levels of phenols that can be inhaled by rabbits causing liver complications.
This is especially a problem with cedar wood shavings that are sometimes used as litter for rabbits. If a rabbit is around these shavings for long periods of time, it can cause changes in the way their liver produces enzymes and can even cause medicines for rabbits to be less effective. Fresh cedar, in the form of branches or twigs from trees, should also be avoided.
There is more of a debate about whether hardwood cedar is toxic for rabbits since it does not release phenols to the extent that cedar shavings do. To be on the safe side, I recommend staying away from any hutches or furniture that use cedar. At the very least, it is best to not use cedar wood around rabbits if it still has that strong cedar smell, which may indicate a high level of phenols is present.
Like with cedar, pine is dangerous to rabbits because of the high levels of phenols it produces. While it is usually less toxic than cedar, pine can still cause liver complications and the decreased effectiveness of common rabbit medicines if they have prolonged exposure to the pine. Pine branches, needles, and twigs should also be kept away from rabbits.
Pine shavings that are used as litter are the main culprit to look out for. This used to be a common form of bedding and litter for rabbits, but is now known to be dangerous. Instead it is better to use hardwood shavings, such as aspen, or opt for a paper-based litter instead.
Pine that has been kiln dried and used for furniture and construction is safe for rabbits. It’s always best to use caution though. If the pine wood that you are using still has that strong pine smell, then it may be best to keep it away from the rabbit area.
3. Peach trees
Wood from peach trees, including twigs, bark, and branches, are not safe for rabbits if they are given fresh. Trees, branches and pits of stone fruit (including peaches, plums, apricots and more) contain high levels of cyanide and can be very dangerous for rabbits to ingest.
However, branches from stone fruit trees are safe for rabbits to chew on if they have been dried for a month or longer. If you have peach trees in your yard and want to harvest some sticks for your rabbit, you can set them to dry out in the sun to allow the cyanide time to dissipate. You should allow them to dry for at least 30 days, but to be on the safe side you may want to give it closer to 60 days.
4. Cherry trees
Branches from cherry trees should also be avoided. While many people think of them as a berry, cherries are actually another type of stone fruit. The wood from cherry trees has the same danger as any other type of pitted fruit tree. It contains high amounts of cyanide that is toxic to rabbits. However, once the twigs or sticks have been dried for 30 days or more, they are safe to give to rabbits.
You should not give your rabbit yew branches, even if they have been cut from the tree for a few weeks and dried. This actually causes them to become more toxic and not less, like many other trees. Yew is very dangerous and contains chemicals that can cause sudden death in rabbits. Yew foliage and berries are also highly toxic for rabbits and should be avoided.
Holly trees, foliage, and berries are mildly poisonous to rabbits and should be avoided. Holly is actually a name for a group of trees and shrubs. They are mostly characterized by their shiny and spiky leaves. Other plants that may be in the house around holidays that you should keep away from your rabbit include mistletoe and ivy plants.
Bamboo is one of those types of wood that people have mixed opinions on. You will find some resources saying bamboo is completely safe for rabbits, and others saying it’s toxic. So what gives?
There are two reason that bamboo has such mixed opinions:
- Bamboo is not technically a wood (it’s a type of grass). Rather than being high in fiber, like wood, bamboo is actually high in sugar and starch. While the bamboo itself is not toxic for rabbits, it can cause gastrointestinal problems if eaten in high quantities. For that reason, it’s better to only give bamboo to rabbits as if it’s a treat, and limit the amount that they eat.
- There are bamboo look-alike plants that are toxic to rabbits. Heavenly bamboo is known to be toxic to rabbits, especially the leaves, and should be avoided. Lucky Bamboo is another variety of bamboo look-alikes. The effects of this one on rabbits hasn’t been studied, but it’s known to be toxic toward cats and dogs so many people will avoid giving it to their rabbits.
8. Elder trees
All parts of a European elder tree are considered mildly toxic to rabbits and should be avoided. These trees are native to Europe, but they now grow in areas around the world including North America. So it is best to avoid giving your rabbit any branches or twigs. As a note, European elder trees are not the same as American elderberry trees. The latter is safe for rabbits.
9. Painted or treated wood
When lookin at any of the furniture, toys, or habitat accessories your rabbit has access to, you want to make sure the wood has not been painted or treated with toxic chemicals. Sometimes rabbits will instinctively avoid chewing on anything that has been treated, but many times they don’t know any better. It’s best to keep everything out of reach of your rabbit if there is any doubt.
For some reason, companies will manufacture rabbit toys using paint that is not healthy for them. There are some companies who will use a vegetable dye paint which is safe for rabbits. You can usually tell if the toy uses a vegetable-based paint by running it under water. If the dye on the toys runs in water, that likely means it has been manufactured using vegetable dye, and the toy is safe. However any other type of paint should be avoided and the toys should be replaced.
10. MDF boards
MDF board is medium-density fiberboard. It is commonly used in carpentry such as for bookcases and cabinets. MDF boards are made up of condensed wood fiber and shavings that are sealed together with wax and resin.
You should not use MDF boards to construct a DIY rabbit hutch, and try to make sure your rabbit cannot chew on any furniture made from this. MDF boards contain a formaldehyde and is toxic to rabbits if they chew on it or if they even inhale the dust particles from the wood.
- Bergstrøm, Camilla. “Feeding the house rabbit 6: twigs and branches.” Medirabbit.com. http://www.medirabbit.com/EN/GI_diseases/Food/Branch/Branch_en.htm.
- Harriman, Marinell. “Literboxes and Liver Disease.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/journal/1/liver-disease.html.
- Harcourt-Brown, Francis. “Plant Toxicity.” https://www.harcourt-brown.co.uk/articles/free-food-for-rabbits/lant-toxicity-the-problem-with-lists.
- Flentke, George Ph.D. “The Dangers of Softwood Shavings.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/care/shavings.html