Can Rabbits Have Papaya?
Apples and pumpkins make us think of fall, but nothing screams “summer” quite like tropical fruit. Though we all enjoy the plethora of pomegranates, cranberries, and citrus fruits associated with the colder half of the year, many of us are thrilled when our favorite summery fruits begin to show up in the grocery store. Mangos, pineapples, peaches, melons, and berries are some of the defining flavors of summer barbeques. If you’re a little more adventurous, however, the fruit that you really look forward to is the soft, buttery, pear-shaped one known as the papaya.
Also called pawpaws, papayas are some of the most popular tropical fruits during the warm summer months. Many people enjoy mixing papaya into their smoothies, turning it into ice cream or sorbet, baking it into bread, or just slicing it up and eating it raw. That’s the joy of summer fruits like mangos and papayas: they make great desserts chopped up and served raw on their own, and, because they are healthy, they are totally guilt-free. We are able to satisfy our sweet teeth without making our waistlines suffer.
But can we share summer’s bounty with our pets? Most pet parents know that there are some fruits that can be harmful to rabbits, but what about papaya? Can you give your rabbit papaya?
The answer is yes, rabbits can eat small quantities of raw papaya flesh as healthier treats. Fortunately, papaya flesh is in no way toxic to our furry friends, so you are not putting their life in danger if you give them a scoop of creamy fruit flesh. This fruit is rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that, when administered as a supplement, may be able to provide a little boost to your bun’s overall health, but it is not nutritionally adequate as a food. So, while you definitely do not want to give your bun a bunch of papaya for breakfast, you should feel free to use small amounts as treats.
As their brilliant color suggests, papayas are chock full of disease-fighting nutrition. This fruit is loaded with powerful antioxidants such as Vitamin C and beta-carotene (the chemical responsible for that pretty color), which can help protect body cells against volatile particles known as free radicals. Free radical activity is believed to be at least partially responsible for diseases like cancer and arthritis, so an antioxidant-rich diet can help almost any animal!
Research suggests that papayas may be particularly beneficial for heart health by preventing the oxidization of cholesterol in the blood. Cholesterol only becomes harmful after it has oxidized—the oxidization process is what makes it sticky, and that is when it gets stuck to the artery walls and causes atherosclerosis. This, of course, later leads to heart attack and stroke.
Fortunately, rabbits are not especially prone to heart disease (they are herbivores who should not eat cholesterol or saturated fat!), but papayas offer benefits for buns who have excellent cardiovascular health, too. These tropical fruits have strong anti-inflammatory effects, which can prevent and alleviate the symptoms of inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. Papaya will not cure or prevent any disease, but its inclusion in your arthritic bun’s diet (along with other antioxidant-rich foods) may decrease inflammation in the body, relieve swelling and pain, and even improve joint mobility.
The Vitamin C and Vitamin A in papaya flesh is good for your bun’s immune system, too. By supporting a healthy immune system, nutritious tropical fruits can help decrease their risk of infection.
Papaya’s benefits are most apparent when comparing it to other commonly used ‘treat foods’. Many of the products sold in pet stores are little more than dyed cornmeal, which is loaded with sugar and lacking in nutrition. Bunnies have sweet teeth , just like us, and they can definitely benefit from picking healthy sweet foods instead of junky ones.
There is a small amount of research that suggests papaya may be helpful in preventing hairballs in rabbits, too. This fruit is rich in digestive enzymes that can help dissolve strands of hair in the gut, making it smaller so that it can more easily maneuver through the gastrointestinal tract. For hairball-fighting benefits, pet parents seem to favor using around a tablespoon of raw papaya meat once or twice a week.
Even though papaya is loaded with antioxidants and beneficial enzymes, rabbits definitely should not eat it in large quantities. Rabbits, unlike some other herbivores, have evolved to eat large quantities of fibrous foods like grass, hay, and leafy greens. As a result, they have very low calorie needs, and they are not well suited to digesting sugary foods—even if that sugar is the fructose found in fresh fruit. Giving your rabbit too much fruit of any kind can cause serious digestive problems.
Things to Consider
Rabbits need fiber in order to keep their digestion running properly, and papaya just doesn’t have enough of it. This sugary fruit can sit inside your bun’s gut for an extended period of time, where it ferments and begins to grow unhealthy bacteria. Gastrointestinal motility problems and bacterial overgrowth can cause serious, even life-threatening complications for your pet. If your bun has soft or runny fecal pellets, or if they begin to refuse food and water, do not give them any fruit. Any rabbit experiencing digestive problems should consume predominantly hay and water.
Too much papaya is likely to cause your rabbit to gain weight, too. Thanks to its high sugar content, papaya is more calorically dense than most of the foods rabbits evolved to eat, which makes it very easy for them to eat too much of it. If you make a habit of giving your bun a little too much fruit (whether it’s papaya, apples, or anything else), you may notice the weight creeping on over time.
So, while papaya is a safe and healthy sweet treat for healthy rabbits looking to prevent hairballs and boost their antioxidant intake, it should not make up a large part of their diet. Like any other fruit, papaya should only be used as a treat or a dietary supplement—most rabbits only need a few tablespoons of fruit once or twice a week.