Can Rabbits Have Oatmeal?
For people who are interested in eating as healthfully as possible, lunch and dinner tend to be the meals where it is easy to get creative—there is a wide range of healthy savory foods you can put together for typical evening meals, so there is plenty of room for variety. Healthy breakfasts, however, tend to be more predictable. If you are a self-declared health nut, and you are not eating smoothies, cold cereal, or avocado toast for breakfast, you are probably eating oatmeal. This cheap, bland dish has been a staple food in many places for centuries, but its popularity has boomed in recent years. Pinterest is full of recipes for every taste (and its cold brother, overnight oats), so you can get your oatmeal on 365 days a year without ever eating the exact same flavor twice.
Even before we had cupboards full of exotic superfoods to jazz up our morning oats, oatmeal was a great breakfast for many people. It is one of the perfect human breakfast foods! Oatmeal is loaded with complex carbohydrates, fiber, and a moderate amount of protein, which makes it a great choice for athletes and desk jockeys alike. Oatmeal also happens to be one of a handful of foods that is both hearty and easy on the stomach, which is why so many of us rely on it for nutrition during times of illness or stress-induced stomach problems. Many of us have also given this food to our dogs to soothe their upset stomachs. Viva la oatmeal!
We are perfectly happy giving a scoop of fresh oatmeal to our dogs, but what about our bunnies? Is it okay to share our breakfast with them, too, so they don’t feel left out? Can you give your rabbit oatmeal?
Technically, yes, rabbits can eat oatmeal, but it is not recommended in most situations. Plain oatmeal does not contain anything that will cause toxicity, so there is no reason to panic if your kids tried to serve the family pet a bit of porridge, but it really is not a suitable food for their little bodies. A small helping of plain oatmeal every great once in a while will not hurt your rabbit, but regular consumption will lead to health problems. As a general rule, cooked foods are not recommended for rabbits. If you want to treat them, opt for a bit of raw rolled oats instead.
Though this food is not a good option for the vast majority of adult rabbits, there are some situations where plain, cooked oatmeal may be beneficial for your bunny. Just like human athletes (or humans who have been battling a stomach flu for days), rabbits who are in desperate need of calories may benefit from eating oatmeal. Many rabbit rescues and animal shelters use plain oatmeal as a way to get some nutrition into underweight adult bunnies. If you suspect that your rabbit is underweight, consult your veterinarian before adding cooked food into their diet.
If your veterinarian agrees that weight gain is the goal, oatmeal is a highly effective option for rabbits. This bland food has moderate levels of fiber (which rabbits need in order to maintain gastrointestinal motility), but it is also packed with complex carbohydrates that provide the energy their little bodies need to grow and repair themselves. Foods like oatmeal, which have both fiber and carbohydrates, are a much better option than other high-energy foods which get their calories from simple sugars.
Whereas sugary cereals, cookies, or crackers will cause blood sugar spikes and digestive problems, oatmeal will digest more slowly, helping blood sugar (and therefore insulin levels) rise over a longer period of time. This makes it a great way to pack in the calories—a great way to pack on weight!— while minimizing the risk of insulin resistance or diabetes. There is a reason why your doctor never tells your underweight child to eat candy in order to gain weight, after all. Healthy weight gain is not achieved by eating junk food!
If your rabbit needs to gain weight but is not suffering from any health problems that compromise their digestion, consider using small amounts of raw rolled oats instead of oatmeal. Humans are starch-loving omnivores who owe much of our success to cooked foods, but rabbits are strict herbivores who have evolved to eat large quantities of high-fiber, low-starch, raw foods. Healthy adult rabbits should eat a diet made up mostly of hay, grass, and leafy greens, not starchy grains. Raw rolled oats are a little closer to the foods that they evolved to eat.
Still, rabbits who do not need to gain weight should probably avoid oats altogether. Most rabbits have very low calorie needs and very high fiber needs—which makes calorie-dense oatmeal a poor option. Healthy rabbits who eat oatmeal on a regular basis will almost certainly gain weight and may become overweight or obese.
Things to Consider
Rabbits are tiny things, and too much body fat can cause a lot of health problems. Those who become overweight or obese may develop insulin resistance, diabetes, heart and lung problems, or life-threatening fatty liver diseases. They may also become physically disabled; obese rabbits are much more likely to develop painful arthritis than their svelte counterparts. Other risks of obesity include bladder sludge (which is about as horrible as it sounds) and a type of foot infection known as pododermatitis, which happens when bacteria create painful abscesses in your bunny’s little paws.
Because oatmeal is lower in fiber than hay and grass, it can cause gastrointestinal motility problems, too. If your rabbit’s stool becomes soft or runny after they eat oats, it is probably a good idea to put them back on the standard all-hay diet.
In conclusion, oatmeal is not going to poison your rabbit, but it’s still a bad idea to give it to them in most situations. If your veterinarian agrees that your bun needs to gain weight, it may be a useful dietary supplement, but oatmeal is still too nutritionally dense (and too low in fiber) to serve as a suitable food for healthy adult rabbits. Stick to the greens!