Can Rabbits Have Nuts?
Because most of us spend our childhoods surrounded by cats and dogs, we are often baffled by the dietary habits of our herbivorous pets. Your Labrador and your Calico are perfectly okay as long as they can eat high-quality kibble once or twice per day, but your rabbit doesn’t have that luxury—they have to eat whole plant foods in order to stay healthy. After a few weeks of watching your rabbit eat piles of bland, boring old hay, it’s only natural that you would want to add healthy variety to their diet. We know meat is off the table, but what about nature’s other great protein and fat sources?
Following fruits and leafy greens, nuts are considered some of the healthiest ‘people foods’ on the planet. But are they suitable for our small, carrot-loving animal companions? Are they as good a source of plant protein, healthy fats, and minerals for them as they are for us? Can you give your rabbit nuts?
The answer is technically yes—if you give your rabbit a peanut from time to time, they are not likely to develop sudden liver failure as a result of poisoning—but most experts agree that rabbits are better off avoiding nuts. Though these crunchy, nutrient-dense treats are not technically toxic, they are not suitable for our rabbits’ fragile digestive systems. A rabbit who eats a substantial quantity of nuts, or consumes them with any regularity, is very likely to suffer from digestive problems, nutritional imbalances, and other unpleasant conditions. If your child slipped a couple peanuts into your rabbit’s dish, don’t panic, but do your best to make sure that it does not happen again.
But aren’t nuts supposed to be among the world’s healthiest foods? For humans and several other animals, yes! Rabbits, however, have very different digestive systems—and therefore very different dietary needs. While calorie-dense, nutrient-dense foods like nuts, seeds, and starches have played an important role in our diets throughout much of history, rabbits have evolved to subsist entirely on foods that are extremely high in fiber, yet low in sugar, fat, and starch.
While it is true that nuts do contain some fiber, it is not nearly enough to make it suitable for your bunny, who gets most of their nutrition from plant fibers we consider to be indigestible. When we eat dietary fiber, it works its way through our digestive systems mostly undigested. The benefits that we get from dietary fiber are secondary—it helps us by adding bulk to stool, aiding in satiety, and supporting healthy gut bacteria, but it does not offer us anything in the way of nutrition.
Rabbits, on the other hand, absolutely must eat cellulose in order to survive. They have even developed a special organ that is devoted solely to processing the cellulose they eat! Because the stomach and the intestines are not equipped to handle the demanding task of processing dietary fiber, rabbits also possess a, thin-walled chamber known as the cecum. The cecum acts as a large pocket (the biggest organ in their entire abdomen!) where dietary fiber is exposed to bacteria, yeast, and other gut flora and fauna. Over time, the critters inside the cecum break down the fiber, causing it to ferment. This process releases vitamins, amino acids, and fats that help your rabbit meet their dietary needs. Rabbits then excrete special pellets called cecotropes, which they have to consume in order to absorb the nutrition released by the fermentation process.
Things to Consider
Without eating a diet high in cellulose, your rabbit will likely develop vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Vitamin deficiencies are far from the worst thing that nuts can do to your rabbit. The dietary fiber found in foods like hay is what stimulates digestion—without adequate fiber, the movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract can slow down, which can result in cecal motility disorders. The biggest cause of cecal motility problems is diet. If you feed your rabbit too much starch or fat and too little fiber, their digestion may slow to a screeching halt.
Nuts are loaded with starches and sugars that can wreak havoc on the gastrointestinal tract. Rabbits who eat these foods may develop bloating, constipation, bacterial overgrowth in the gut, or gastrointestinal stasis. If your rabbit refuses food, produces discolored or watery pellets, or does not produce any pellets for 12 hours, take them to the vet as soon as possible. Gut motility disorders can be serious and even life-threatening, and they should always be treated by a veterinarian.
Feeding your rabbit a peanut or two will not poison them, but it still isn’t a great idea. Though most of us would benefit from eating nuts on a daily basis, we should not share these decadent little treats with our rabbits. Nuts are loaded with fat, starch, and sugar that can cause severe digestive problems. If your rabbit has been eating nuts and shows symptoms of digestive problems, seek veterinary care.