Whether you grew up with the famous cartoon character Bugs Bunny or heard it some other way, you probably believe rabbits subsist on carrots, right? That’s how they’re always perceived in the media, after all. Is it true?
Wild rabbits don’t seek out carrots as part of their daily diet, although they can eat them. Carrots contain a lot more sugar than we realize, making them not the healthiest option for most rabbits. They can lead to tooth decay, weight gain, and digestion issues if consumed too often.
You’re probably surprised by this information, especially if you’ve bought into the myth that rabbits and carrots go together like peanut butter and jelly. That has you wondering, what can a wild rabbit eat? Can domesticated rabbits ever enjoy carrots? We’ll answer those questions and more in this article, so keep reading.
Do Wild Rabbits Eat Carrots?
Can wild rabbits eat carrots? Sure. Do they? No, not as their main food source. In fact, wild rabbits won’t gravitate towards any root fruits and vegetables. These all contain too much sugar. If the rabbit ate them but more than occasionally, they’d gain weight. That makes them even easier prey to faster predators that can outrace them.
Another reason to avoid giving wild rabbits carrots? These animals have sensitive digestive systems. Carrots and other root vegetables don’t digest easily because they have little cellulose and a lot of complex carbohydrates. Getting too many root vegetables like carrots in a rabbit’s diet could cause runny stools at best and internal issues at worst.
There’s yet a third reason to reconsider feeding wild rabbits any carrots. All that sugar could lead to tooth decay.
What Do They Eat?
If you have a wild rabbit on your property that you’re caring for, now you know that you shouldn’t offer them plates of carrots day after day. What can you give them instead? These animals will look for almost any green plants in sight, including conifer needles, buds, vegetable plants, flowers, clover, grasses, weeds, and wildflowers. They’re also impartial to tree bark and twigs, especially in the winter when a lot of greenery wilts or dies off.
Wild rabbits favor hay if they can eat it, but they mostly survive off the foods above.
What about Domesticated Rabbits? Do They Eat Carrots?
The difference between a wild and domesticated rabbit is the latter doesn’t choose for itself what it eats. They’re at the mercy of an owner, such as yourself. That means you have to learn about a domesticated rabbit’s diet, preferably before you bring the animal home.
For instance, domesticated bunnies need to eat hay and pellets to keep their teeth down to normal levels. Just like wild rabbits, they can eat carrots, but they shouldn’t often. If you’re feeding your pet bunny carrots every single day, then it’s only a matter of time before they balloon up in weight.
While domesticated rabbits don’t have predators to worry about, becoming overweight can shorten their lifespan. They’re also now at a higher risk of developing conditions like arthritis, sticky bottom syndrome, heart disease, hepatic lipidosis, and more.
Should You Ever Feed a Rabbit Carrots Then?
Whether wild or domesticated, is it ever okay to offer a rabbit some juicy carrots?
Yes, but do so selectively. Some rabbit experts advise feeding bunnies the orange veggie every second day, and only a sliver of the carrot at best. The carrot tops are a-okay anytime, as these don’t contain the sugars and carbs that the rest of the carrot does. A wild rabbit shouldn’t have trouble digesting these leaves, nor should a domesticated one.
What Other Foods Should Wild Rabbits Avoid?
Whether you have a wild or domesticated rabbit, you know to keep carrots off the daily feeding list. What other foods should you not give your rabbit if you want them to grow up happy and healthy? Here’s an overview.
If it’s not carrots, many people believe rabbits can live off lettuce almost exclusively. That’s just not true. Certain types of lettuces, including iceberg, have what’s known as lactucarium. This fluid comes from some lettuce species via secretion. It has a milk-like appearance. The Lactuca virosa generates a lot of lactucarium.
The fluid can work as an analgesic and a sedative. It’s for those reasons lactucarium has earned itself the nickname the lettuce opium. If a rabbit gets too much lactucarium, it can have opium-like effects.
There’s no need to avoid all lettuces outright. Romaine, red leaf, and green leaf lettuce doesn’t contain lactucarium.
Cauliflower and Broccoli
Although they’re vegetables, rabbits shouldn’t chow down on cauliflower or broccoli. These veggies tend to cause gassiness. Too much gas affects a rabbit’s digestive tract, altering their pH levels there.
Just like us people shouldn’t eat raw rhubarb, the same applies for rabbits. They could die if they got their chompers on this uncooked veggie.
Like carrots, potatoes are root vegetables. They can cause the same issues as carrots due to their high carbohydrate count.
As a general rule, don’t give rabbits people food. Remember, they have sensitive stomachs that can’t process all food very well. The fat, sugar, and nuttiness of peanut butter could make your rabbit sick.
On that note, you should keep most nuts away from rabbits. Walnuts don’t have any fiber but do contain lots of fat. That could leave your rabbit gassy.
Food for Other Animals
No, not all commercial pellets are the same. Whether it’s cat food, bird food, or hamster pellets, don’t feed these to your rabbit. Rabbits need herbs and hay, especially Timothy hay, as part of their main diet. This provides them the fiber their growing bodies require, not to mention it helps their teeth, as we talked about before. You might have pet food handy for other animals, but avoid giving it to a wild or domesticated rabbit.
Also known as silverbeet, chard seems like a safe bet for rabbits, right? It doesn’t contain enough fiber to warrant feeding, though. Worse, if you do, your rabbit could end up bloated and even develop colic. This condition causes intestinal obstructions and gassiness, both of which aren’t good for a rabbit.
Chard-like foods that a rabbit can eat include rosemary, alfalfa, and radishes.
This seems like a no-brainer, but we should take a moment to talk about it anyway. You know to never give a rabbit the sugary cereal the kids like, but what about some plain Cheerios or muesli? Nope, avoid all cereal. You could upset their delicate stomachs with this food and give them teeth issues that can cause a lot of discomfort.
What Should a Wild Rabbit Eat Instead?
Besides hay, a wild rabbit (not a baby rabbit, as they have far more specific and less varied diets) can safely consume the following vegetables:
- Snow peas (pass on the sweet peas and dried peas of any variety)
- Dandelion greens
- Collard greens
- Sweet red and sweet green bell peppers
- Celery leaves
- Carrot leaves
- Mustard greens
- Bok choy
- Mint and basil
- Beet greens
What about fruit? Rabbits can eat:
- Plums (pre-pitted, please)
- Bananas as a rare treat (since they’re so sugary)
Since most fruit has a lot of sugar in it, don’t overdo it.
While most of us probably always thought carrots are a rabbit’s dietary staple, they’re far from it. Carrots contain a lot of carbs and sugar that rabbits have a difficult time processing. Eating carrots too often can lead a rabbit to develop medical conditions and gain weight, both of which impede their survival.
The next time you think about giving any rabbit, wild or domesticated, a carrot, reconsider. There’s a lot of other foods a rabbit should eat instead.