Rabbits love to chew on things. We give our rabbits a multitude of fun toys to keep their chomping teeth busy, and sometimes they’ll decide to go after our furniture or baseboards too. But we want to make sure to keep our rabbits safe and only give them access to types of wood that are actually good for them.
Why do rabbits need to chew? Chewing is mainly a behavior in rabbits because it helps them to keep their teeth trimmed down. Since their teeth grow continuously, it’s important to a rabbit’s health that they always have something to chew on. In the wild, rabbits have plenty of roots, twigs, and bark to chew through, but as house pets we need to give our rabbits more options.
However, just because rabbits like to chew on anything they can get their teeth on, doesn’t mean they should. There are some types of wood that are toxic to rabbits and other types that need to be dried before they can be given to rabbits. Even woods that are safe for rabbits should sometimes be avoided if they have been painted or varnished, such as furniture. It’s best to know all around what’s safe for rabbits and what’s not, since you never know what they might try to chew on.
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Where rabbits find wood in the household
In a perfect world rabbits would only have access to wood and branches from trees and bushes that are non-toxic for rabbits. Unfortunately there are many ways for rabbits to come into contact with types of wood that are unsafe for them. This is because many objects that are marketed for rabbits are not actually safe for them and because rabbits also chew on other household objects that they shouldn’t.
Wooden furniture can sometimes pose a problem for rabbits. More often this is because of the varnish or finish on furniture, rather than the type of wood that is used. If you are sure that the wooden and wicker furniture in your home are safe types of wood with no paint, varnish or dye (and you don’t mind rabbit teeth marks all over it) then it’s okay to allow your rabbit to chew on it.
It’s also important to pay attention to any toys, hutches, or wood pellet litters you get, even if they are marketed for rabbits. It is very common for me to see cedar hutches being sold, for example, even though this type of wood is bad for rabbits. Likewise, it’s best to check what kind of wood is used for your rabbit’s chew toys to make sure that they are actually safe. You also want to avoid toys that use a lot of glue or use a type paint that is not safe for rabbits.
How bad is it if a rabbit chews on a type of unsafe wood?
For the most part, there is no need for immediate panic if a rabbit manages to chew on a type of wood that they shouldn’t. Wood is tough for rabbits to chew on, and they can rarely ingest it fast enough to cause a significant amount of damage. Keep an eye on your rabbit to make sure they are eating and pooping regularly, and monitor their energy levels. If your rabbit’s behavior remains normal, then there is no need for immediate medical attention.
However, you still need to be cautious. The real danger is when your rabbit has access to unsafe varieties of wood for prolonged periods of time. If they have repeated exposure to woods, shavings, or varnishes that are unsafe, then rabbits can potentially develop digestive or liver complications. So it’s best to pay attention and make sure you only give your rabbit non-toxic varieties of wood and branches to chew on.
Types of Safe wood for Rabbits
Rabbits will all have their favorite types of branches and twigs. Different types of wood taste different, so if your rabbit doesn’t like to chew on one variety, try another. You can also check what type of material your furniture is made out of, so you can be sure the type of wood is safe if your rabbit chews on it.
Willow is a common material for rabbit toys. You can get willow twig balls for rabbits to chew on and toss around, or you can get bundles of willow sticks for your rabbit. You can also get wicker baskets and furniture that are made from willow. Just be sure that these are untreated if you want to give them to your rabbit to chew on.
2. Apple and pear
Apple and pear trees are safe for rabbits. They can have twigs, branches, or leaves fresh from a tree if you have one in your yard. Apple sticks can be commonly bought in bundles to give to rabbits. They often have a distinct flavor, making them a favorite toy among many rabbits.
4. Kiln-dried aspen
Aspen is generally the most recommended wood to use as a litter material for rabbits since it is are absorptive and control odors. These shavings are kiln dried, produced in a way that makes them safe for rabbits. Pine and cedar shavings are commonly sold as litter, but they should be avoided since they can cause liver problems.
Aspen should not be given to rabbits fresh from the tree though. This type of wood contains phenols that are toxic to rabbits when fresh. It’s best not to give this to rabbits unless it has been kiln-dried.
5. Birch and poplar
Rabbits can eat birch and poplar branches and twigs fresh from the tree. They don’t have to be dried. They may even like to munch on the leaves too. You can also construct furniture or enclosure accessories out of birch and poplar woods. These can be sturdy but also safe for rabbits.
6. Rose bushes
Twigs, branches and leaves from rose bushes are completely safe for rabbits to chew on. You don’t even need to remove the thorns, rabbits don’t seem to mind at all. Many rabbits will enjoy eating rose flowers too. You can give them rose petals as a yummy snack every once in a while.
Some bunny-safe toys that are sold online and in pet stores are made of maple. They are also sold in bundles of sticks for your rabbit. This is a slightly sweeter wood, making it a more tempting type of chew toy for most rabbits. It’s also a safe wood to use for furniture as long as there isn’t any extra paint or toxic varnish.
8. Kiln-dried pine
Pine that has undergone a certain drying process is safe for rabbits to chew on. This generally means that planks and furniture made with pine are fine, but not pine shavings or pine-based litters. You also want to avoid any fresh pine since this contains phenols that can cause liver damage in rabbits. If the pine wood still has that strong pine scent, then you want to stay away from it and opt for a different type of wood.
Similarly, pine cones are safe for rabbits but only after they have been thoroughly dried. You can purchase pine cones as toys for rabbits that have already been dried completely, but you can also bring them in from your yard. Just be sure to wash them and then set them out to dry for a week. If you want to be extra sure that the pinecone is thoroughly dried out, you can also put them in the oven at low heat for an hour or two.
Did you know that if it’s not harvested and cut back yearly, cotton plants can actually grow into trees? This type of wood is safe for rabbits as well as all other parts of the plant. This also means that it is safe to give your rabbit a blanket that is made from 100% cotton materials. Some rabbits like to chew and tunnel under blankets, so it’s good to know that cotton is safe for them.
10. Raspberry and blackberry bushes
Branches, twigs, leaves, and even fruit from raspberry and blackberry bushes are safe for rabbits to chew and eat. If you have any of these bushes in your backyard, you can cut a few twigs off and give them to your rabbit fresh. Just be sure to wash them first.
What to do before giving your rabbit a branch or twig from outside
Before going outside to grab some branches for your rabbit to munch on, you should take some precautions. Branches that are outside could be harboring bugs or they may have been sprayed with harmful chemicals or pesticides.
- First make sure the type of branch, twig and leaves you pick is safe for your rabbit to have fresh. Some tree branches are only safe for rabbits if they have been left to dry out completely for a number of days. Pinecones are also only safe to give rabbits after they have been dried out.
- Be sure to pick a branch that is not near a polluted area and has not been sprayed with dangerous chemicals. It’s best to use branches that are not near a road to avoid potential pollution from car fumes as well.
- Take your branch and wash it. If it’s a small branch you can use the kitchen sink and wash it similar to how you would wash your fruits and vegetables. You can also use the shower hose if you have a larger branch. Your branch can have leaves, or remove them if you want.
- Give it to your rabbit to enjoy.
If you live in an area where there is a current outbreak of the RHDV2 virus, it’s best to not give them any branches from outside. Find out more about the RHDV2 virus in your area at The House Rabbit Society.
- 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.