Can Rabbits Have Potato Peels?
Well-off Americans live in the land of plenty, and that means that we have a lot of options when we shop for food. When you talk to your friends and extended family about the dishes they eat on a regular basis, you find a huge variety: some of your friends have sushi every Friday night, some of them have a meal dedicated specifically to pizza, some of them eat burritos three or four times a week, and others seem to live on smoothies and salads. Still, even though many of us eat different dishes throughout the week, we use many of the same ingredients. One such ingredient has been a staple food for hundreds of years: the potato.
It doesn’t matter what flavors you enjoy—if you are a human being with a mouth, you love potatoes in some form or another. We enjoy them baked and stuffed with herbs, cut into fries and deep fried (or baked, if you’re health-conscious!), pan fried and drizzled with ketchup, chopped up and stuffed into burritos, roasted, mixed into potato salads, and, of course, mashed with butter. If we asked our friends to list their favorite plant foods, potatoes would probably come within the top ten.
But, though potatoes are delicious, a lot of recipes call for removing their peels. When we have a pile of potato peels left on our cutting board after we finish preparing dinner, our inner environmentalists can’t help but cringe. For many vegetables, we simply pass off our scraps onto our bunnies, who will gobble up any fresh vegetables we throw their way. But is it safe to do this with potato peels? Most people know that whole potatoes are not a good idea for bunnies, but can you give your rabbit potato peels?
Technically, rabbits can eat cooked potato peels, but no veterinarian would recommend it. Potato peels, just like whole potatoes, are unhealthy for rabbits—they are lacking in many of the nutrients that bunnies need to thrive, and they are high in starches that can cause serious health problems in the long run. If you have already given your bun a strip of a potato peel, you probably do not need to worry about it, but it would be best if you didn’t let it become a habit. There are much healthier (and more enjoyable) treat foods you can give to your rabbit, so you should probably find a better way to use the potato skins leftover from dinner—or just compost them!
There is no real health argument to be made in favor of giving potato peels to rabbits. Potatoes are a healthy dietary staple for humans, who are starch-loving omnivores. When humans eat potatoes, we can easily process the complex carbohydrates and use them for lasting energy to help us through our busy days or our workout routines. We evolved to eat starch-heavy diets that include foods like potatoes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and a range of other root vegetables like carrots and turnips.
Unlike us, rabbits are strict herbivores. Not only that: they are grazing herbivores who have evolved to eat large quantities of low-sugar, low-calorie, high-fiber foods. Many of the staple foods that healthy rabbits rely on to survive are things that would seem completely inedible to the average human. The hay your rabbit eats day-in, day-out does not seem very appetizing to you, but it’s the perfect food for rabbits in terms of nutrition. Hay is the opposite of potatoes and potato peels: it is packed with fiber, yet extremely low in calories and sugar.
Dietary fiber is important in the human diet, but it is the key component of a healthy rabbit diet. Without adequate fiber, most rabbits will grow ill, develop nutritional imbalances, and may even die.
The largest organ in the rabbit digestive system is a specialized pouch called the caecum, which is designed to hold dietary fiber. The fiber is separated from the rest of the food matter and held inside the caecum, where it is mixed with bacteria until it begins to ferment. The fermentation process releases many of the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids your bun needs in order to stay strong, healthy, and happy.
Fibrous foods like hay and grass are important for nutrition, but they also play a critical role in the mechanical functioning of your rabbit’s body! The presence of large amounts of dietary fiber in the gut is what stimulates digestion. Without enough fiber, the stomach and the caecum do not empty in a timely manner, which means that food matter sits inside the gut far longer than it should. This can cause several problems.
Things to Keep in Mind
If food does not make its way through the gastrointestinal tract as quickly as it should, it can cause your rabbit to feel bloated and full. As a result, they may refuse to eat or drink, which will worsen their condition. Over time, the food in their gut can become hardened or impacted, resulting in a potentially life-threatening blockage. Inadequate fiber can result in gastrointestinal stasis, or complete shutdown of the gastrointestinal tract. If your bunny goes 12 hours without producing fecal pellets, or if they appear to be straining, take them to the vet as soon as possible. Gastrointestinal motility problems can cause severe or permanent damage.
If food is left to ferment in the caecum for too long, it can also result in bacterial overgrowth that can sicken or kill your rabbit. The number one cause of gastrointestinal motility problems is a poor diet high in starchy or sugary foods like bread, sweets, and potatoes. This means that the best thing you can do for your bun’s health is keep these foods out of their diet!
In conclusion, giving your rabbit a small amount of potato peel every once in a while probably will not hurt them, but it isn’t a healthy food for them to eat. Starchy foods like potatoes can contribute to nutritional imbalances, weight gain, and gastrointestinal motility problems that can have severe consequences. If you’re looking for a good treat for your rabbit, opt for leafy greens or cruciferous vegetables.