Can Rabbits Have Cranberries?
A lot of the most festive foods we eat every year are highly processed and nutritionally empty. Cookies (whether they’re Santa’s gingerbread or a Girl Scout’s thin mints), birthday cakes, candy corn, candy canes, ice cream sundaes, fair food, hot dogs, s’mores, and a wide variety of other seasonal treats may satisfy our taste buds’ cravings for celebratory foods, but they are usually considered too unhealthy for us to share with our pets and their delicate stomachs. Seasonal produce, then, is what many pet owners rely on to help their furry friends celebrate the changing flavors throughout the year.
During the fall, cranberries reign supreme. These bright, tart berries are a staple in human diets during the fall, but is it safe for us to give a couple of them to our bunnies for a festive dessert? Can you give your rabbit cranberries?
The answer is yes, rabbits can eat cranberries in small quantities. Berries and most other fruits should not make up a large part of your rabbit’s diet—unlike us, our buns do not need fruit to maintain optimal health—but they are an excellent treat option for those of us looking to add a little fall flavor to our furry friend’s dessert menu. Cranberries are not poisonous to rabbits, and they may be a far healthier option than many of the processed treats sold at pet stores.
Health Benefits of Feeding Your Rabbit Cranberries
Though some animals (like cats) seem to have no interest in the sweet treats that we love to gobble up, rabbits are tiny, sugar-loving toddlers who will eat themselves sick if you let them. Buns are also quite prone to boredom if they are forced to eat the same foods day in, day out; and, if they have been fed junk food with any regularity, they will start to turn up their noses at the healthy food that should make up most of their diets. What’s a bunny parent to do?
For pet parents who are looking to treat their rabbits without spoiling them or hurting their health, fresh fruit seems to be the answer. Many fruits, including cranberries, are nontoxic and well tolerated by rabbits in moderation. They also tend to be healthier than the heavily processed, brightly colored, corn-based bunny treats that are available in many a pet food aisle. With the rise of natural foods and increased skepticism of all things packaged and processed, many people who have pets are turning to fresh fruit as the ideal dessert for all of their animal companions.
If your bun has a soft spot for tart, juicy fruits, cranberries are a great choice. These crisp, refreshing berries are slightly lower in calories and sugar than some other, starchier fruit options like bananas, mangos, and avocados. Their lower caloric density may make them a better option for bunny parents who are worried about their rabbits’ sugar intake.
Even among berries, cranberries are impressive when it comes to nutrition—these fruits are second only to blueberries in terms of antioxidants. Today, antioxidants are one of the most sought-after supplementary nutrients, and for good reason. The antioxidants inside cranberries and other colorful plant foods can protect your rabbit’s body from a wide variety of ailments, from arthritis and cognitive decline all the way to heart disease and some cancers.
How can antioxidants fight such a wide range of diseases? Research suggests that antioxidant-rich foods fight disease by neutralizing highly charged metabolic waste products called free radicals. Even though they are natural substances produced by natural bodily functions (breathing, digestion, exercise, etc.), free radicals can wreak havoc on body cells. Free radicals steal electrons from other particles, which alters their structure and can result in mutations.
Things to Consider
These mutations, in turn, often lead to many of the diseases associated with aging. The free radical theory of aging suggests that many of the unpleasant side effects of age can be blamed on free radical activity. If this is true, then boosting your pet’s antioxidant intake may help to keep them spry and healthy for a longer period of time. Note, however, that it is unlikely that free radicals are solely responsible for aging. Berries will not bring your bunny immortality.
Cranberries are loaded with disease-fighting compounds, but it is important to remember that rabbits should only consume fruit (even the healthiest super-fruits!) in small quantities. Our bunnies have unique, finicky digestive systems that rely on large quantities of dietary fiber to function properly. Foods that are rich in sugar (even the natural sugars found in fruit) can contribute to digestive problems, weight gain, and nutritional imbalances.
In conclusion, cranberries make a fabulously festive fall treat for rabbits. They are nontoxic, rich in antioxidants, and generally well tolerated in moderation. Be mindful of their portion sizes and stop feeding them cranberries if they have digestive problems or if they start to gain weight. Your rabbit’s diet should consist mostly of hay, with raw vegetables serving as the typical side dish. Cranberries should serve as a treat that rabbits get only once or twice a week.