Can Rabbits Have Melon?
Humans have known that food was important for thousands of years. Long before we understood the concept of vitamins, protein, fat, or antioxidants, healers and doctors prescribed foods as remedies. Today, having mastered the fundamentals of science, we know more about nutrition than ever before—and we are obsessed. The health-conscious among us place an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, with many of us using fruits as a healthy way to satisfy our sweet teeth. One of the most popular (and healthiest) summer fruits is melon. Cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon are an important part of every summer barbeque. They are also probably the healthiest part!
Our parents didn’t pay much attention to their pets’ nutrition (for so long, we mistakenly believed that our dogs could eat just about anything!), but the modern day pet parent does extensive research on everything they offer their furry friends. As omnivores, dogs have fairly strong stomachs, but herbivorous bunnies are a little trickier. We desperately want to give our pets sweet treats they can enjoy, but we want them to be healthy, too. We can hack our own sweet teeth with a big bowl of melon for dessert, but should we do the same for our bunnies? Can you give your rabbit melon?
The answer is yes, rabbits can eat small quantities of melon as a treat. Once the seeds and rind are removed, most melons are not at all toxic to bunnies, which means that there is no real risk of poisoning. Melons are usually safe to give to rabbits semi-regularly—there are no toxic chemicals that might build up and cause problems.
Despite their relative safety, melons are not considered a healthy food for rabbits. Melons and other fruits do not directly damage your bun’s liver or kidneys, but they are not suitable for rabbit digestion. If they eat large quantities of melon, rabbits are likely to suffer from digestive problems that can quickly spiral into life-threatening gastrointestinal motility disorders. If your rabbit has a history of digestive problems, keep melons and other fruits to an absolute minimum.
As treats go, melons and other fruits are considered a good choice for healthy rabbits who are not at risk of becoming overweight. Unlike the corn-based bunny treats that are often sold in pet stores, melons are high in many vitamins and antioxidants that provide a small boost to overall health. Many of the mass produced treats sold in stores are designed to appeal to well-meaning pet parents rather than bunny bodies; they are colorful and they come in fun shapes, but they are nutritionally empty. Melons, on the other hand, are natural, whole foods that contain some helpful chemicals.
Your rabbit certainly should not eat enough melon to meet any of their dietary needs, but they still may be able to reap some small benefits from the high levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants, which are present in most plant foods, protect the body by neutralizing unstable particles called free radicals. Free radicals are natural and inescapable; though they often come from unhealthy foods and environmental toxins, they are also normal byproducts of the everyday processes that keep your bunny breathing. Everything from digestion to exercise creates free radicals.
Free radicals cause damage to body cells. Usually, the damage is no big deal. Sometimes, however, the damage causes genetic mutations that later lead to disease—free radical activity has been linked to a whole host of common ailments, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, dementia, and even cancer. When it comes to antioxidants, it seems like more is better, so any time you can sneak antioxidant-rich foods in to your rabbit’s diet, you should seize the opportunity.
Things to Consider
Of course, melons are not the only antioxidant-rich foods. If your rabbit is eating a healthy, varied diet that includes dark leafy greens and other vegetables, they will get plenty of antioxidants. Melons are not the most efficient way to fit vitamins and minerals into your rabbit’s diet. Like most fruits, melons are extremely high in sugar. Humans consider the sugars in fruit to be fairly healthy, but rabbits did not evolve to process large quantities of sugar or starch—they need indigestible fiber, like the cellulose present in hay.
Even though melon is not poisonous, it can cause serious health problems when given in large quantities. Fruit’s low fiber content is dangerous because it does not provide enough fiber to stimulate the digestive tract, which means that food can sit around for long periods of time and become hardened or impacted. When this happens, rabbits may refuse to eat, which only worsens their condition. If your rabbit is having digestive problems, eliminate all fruit from their diet until they have stabilized.
In conclusion, melon is safe when it is given as a rare treat, but it should never become more than that. Even if this fruit is rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants, it should still be treated as dessert.