Can Rabbits Have Oranges?
Two of our most popular companion animals, cats and dogs, are known for being domesticated carnivores—while most of us would not want to encounter a lion, a wolf, or even a bobcat in the wild, we usually do not fear being eaten by strange Dalmatians or housecats. Domesticated carnivores may be fascinating, but many of us share our homes with small, herbivorous animals who happily devour the leftover fruit sitting on our counters. Rabbits in particular seem happy to eat just about any colorful fruit we can throw at them.
In the winter, when the leaves are dead and fruit grows scarce, it can be difficult to provide our vegetarian pets with the varied diets that keep them healthy. Our produce options dwindle and we find ourselves eating oranges for our fruit fix. We know that citrus isn’t generally recommended for cats and dogs, but what about our furry little vegetarians? Can you give your rabbit oranges?
Surprisingly, yes, healthy rabbits can eat oranges in small quantities. Cats and dogs often have problems with this juicy fruit, but rabbits usually tolerate small amounts of orange flesh and juice quite well. There does not appear to be any risk of poisoning associated with feeding your rabbit small amounts of orange flesh as a treat. However, this fruit is high in sugar and low in fiber, so you should not give it to your rabbit regularly or in large quantities.
It is important to stress that your rabbit does not need oranges (or any fruit) to thrive. Rabbits are grazing herbivores who have evolved to live mostly on grass and hay, which will meet most of their nutritional needs. The role that fruit plays in a healthy, balanced rabbit diet is more psychological than physical.
Rabbits absolutely love fruit. Rabbits love fruit the way that we love cupcakes and cookies. This makes fruit a fantastic treat option—they love it as much as we love a good cupcake, but it is far healthier and lower in calories than a cupcake! Even the brightly colored, corn-based rabbit treats sold in stores are often full of starches and other unhealthy ingredients. Fruits like oranges have the added benefit of being low in fat and salt, yet high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that may help protect overall health. A small portion of a fresh orange once or twice per week is a safe, affordable treat option.
Surprisingly, the best part of the orange to give your rabbit is the part that you would never feed to your other companion animals: the peel. Compared to orange flesh, orange peels contain higher amounts of dietary fiber, Vitamin C, magnesium, Vitamin A, calcium, and flavonoids. All of these can boost immunity, protect eye health, and maintain a healthy fur coat. Antioxidants, such as Vitamin C, are protective particles that can reduce the risk of disease by neutralizing free radicals.
There has only been limited research on rabbits, but some studies have suggested that the flavonoids in citrus fruits may be able to lower the incidence of cancer and obesity. However, it is unlikely that your rabbit can safely consume enough oranges for this to make a big difference.
The biggest reason to give your rabbit orange peels instead of orange flesh is the fiber content. Orange flesh has only one-fourth the fiber content of an orange peel. The low fiber content (and corresponding higher sugar content) is one of the most harmful aspects of most fruits, so the fiber in an orange peel is important. Dietary fiber is a key component of rabbit food not only because it reduces their risk of becoming obese, but because it maintains digestive health.
Things to Consider
Rabbit digestion relies heavily on dietary fiber—and, actually, so does rabbit nutrition. Rabbits meet most of their nutrient needs by fermenting dietary fiber in a specialized chamber in their abdominal cavity called the cecum. Fibrous foods are what keep matter flowing smoothly through the gastrointestinal tract. Eating too much sugar (even if it is naturally occurring fructose from oranges) and too little fiber can cause digestion to stagnate, which means that the stomach and cecum do not empty efficiently. This can result in a lack of appetite that only serves to worsen their condition.
Left unaddressed, gastrointestinal problems can become medical emergencies. If your rabbit refuses food and water, if their fecal pellets change in number or appearance, or if they do not have a bowel movement for twelve hours, do not give them any more fruit and take them to see a veterinarian as soon as possible.
In conclusion, oranges (especially the peels) are considered safe for rabbits in small quantities. They are nontoxic, lower in calories than some other foods, and high in vitamins and minerals. However, they are best used as treats and not as a staple food—the sugar in fruit can cause serious health problems if consumed in excess.