Rabbits have traditionally been shown eating lettuce and carrots on television and most people think of these as the right foods for their pet rabbits. Surprisingly, this isn’t true. A healthy diet for a rabbit comprises mostly hay, fresh vegetables, pellets and water, with occasional treats. But which vegetables? Can rabbits eat lettuce?
Can rabbits eat lettuce?
It depends what type of lettuce you are wanting to feed to your rabbits. Light colored lettuce (Iceberg) is high in water and doesn’t have much nutritional value, hence not recommended for rabbits. Darker lettuce (Romaine) can be fed to bunnies occasionally.
Statistics that have been compiled about health issues faced by rabbits show that an increasing number of rabbits are being treated by veterinarians for digestive issues and tooth decay due to the lack of hay and grass in the diet followed by rabbit owners. Approximately 11% of all pet rabbits are now suffering from tooth decay, while another 11% has issues with their digestive systems.
In addition to lettuce, rabbits are increasingly being fed apples and carrots. Both of these are high in sugar content and are suitable only as treats to be given occasionally.
The right food for your rabbit
You should feed your rabbit good quality hay every day. The size of your rabbit determines the right amount of hay to be fed to it. Look at the size of your rabbit and provide it a bundle of fresh hay of a similar size daily. Another very good food for your rabbit is fresh grass. This does not include clippings from your lawn mower. Instead, let your rabbit graze on fresh growing grass.
Some other foods you can give your rabbit in moderation are kale and parsley. You can add a small portion of one vegetable to your rabbit’s daily supply of hay. If your rabbit has never eaten any of these, offer it a handful of one vegetable and observe it carefully for the next few hours. If your rabbit’s digestive system does not accept it, its poo will become soft. In that case, you should discontinue it. If everything goes well, you can be happy that you have one more food to add to your rabbit’s regular meals.
Rabbits also enjoy eating rabbit nuggets or pellets. These commercially prepared foods can be found at your regular pet stores and are a good source of important nutrients that may or may not be in your rabbit’s diet. While selecting the pellets, look for those manufactured by a reliable company and avoid cheap varieties. Also look for the expiration date as your rabbit will not eat stale pet food.
Lettuce nutrition facts
You can feed your rabbits some dark leafy lettuce in small quantities. Romaine lettuce would be great as occasional treat for your bunny. However, be aware that iceberg lettuce has little nutritional value and is literally composed of water, nearly 95%. Only 5% is left which comprises whatever nutrients are available in it; these include approximately 2% sugars, 3% carbohydrates and 1% proteins. Eating too much of iceberg lettuce may cause digestive discomfort and diarrhea.
Your rabbit will probably enjoy eating lettuce. Lettuce will fill up your pet’s belly with its bulk; however, your furry friend will still require food as it will be missing essential minerals, vitamins and calories. Moreover, the calorie content is 14 while there are 18 mg of calcium only in 100 grams of iceberg lettuce.
Whenever you choose to give your rabbit lettuce, make sure that it is at normal room temperature. If fed right from the refrigerator, the lettuce will be wet and cold, which can upset your rabbit’s stomach instantly.
Can baby rabbits eat lettuce?
If you’ve bought your rabbit from a pet store, it is likely that your pet has never eaten lettuce because professional breeders don’t feed it to baby rabbits. You should not feed your baby rabbit lettuce at all. For your new adult rabbit, it would be wise to add lettuce to its diet slowly.
The sedating effects of some lettuce varieties
Some rabbit experts believe that plain or romaine lettuce are preferable to iceberg lettuce as it contains laudanum, a substance known to be harmful for rabbits in larger amounts.
Plain edible lettuce contains lactucin, a chemical that is a constituent of lactucarian, a milk-like liquid present in some varieties of lettuce, more often and in large quantities in Lactuca virosa which is a wild variety. This substance has analgesic and sedative effects and generates a mild feeling of euphoria. This milky substance resembles opium and once reduced to a thicker constituency, it is known as lettuce opium and can be smoked like opium.
The usual lettuce found in the supermarket does not contain this substance. Although, there is no evidence that the substance found in usual lettuce can turn into the lactucarium while passing through the rabbit’s digestive system; however, there is some records that rabbits that have eaten large quantities of lettuce have appeared sedated.
The bottom line is that in small quantities, lettuce can be offered to rabbits. However, its poor nutritional value makes it rather useless as good quality food for your pet rabbit. If you really want to feed lettuce to your bunnies, choose darker leaf lettuces which have more fiber and nutritional value.
Additionally, remember to introduce new foods to your pet gradually and in small amounts, including lettuce. Observe your pet for any unusual behavior before continue giving him more lettuce. If your rabbit doesn’t show any signs of discomfort, you can continue adding lettuce to his diet.