Pet Consider

Can Rabbits Eat Potatoes?

Can Rabbits Have Potatoes?

The two companion animals most of us grew up with, cats and dogs, are fairly easy to feed—one is a carnivore, one is an omnivore, and both of them have stomachs strong enough to withstand a few small dietary mistakes every now and then. While feeding your cat bread definitely is not healthy for them, they will almost certainly survive. Even more resilient was our childhood dog, who, without betraying us by vomiting, ate whatever horrific dinnertime concoctions we managed to slip them under the table. Thanks to our dear old family dog, many of us managed to get dessert without eating our veggies or our questionably cooked meat.

So, when we bring home a bunny, we are understandably flummoxed. We get that rabbits are herbivores (which means we probably can’t feed them meatloaf), but what are the limits of their plant-powered stomachs? Many of our plant-based meals include potatoes. Given that we see our rabbits chowing down on hay, it seems only reasonable that they would be able to handle some spuds. So, what’s the verdict on this versatile vegetable?  
 
Can you give your rabbit potatoes?

Strictly speaking, yes, rabbits can eat potatoes—your bun will not keel over if you give them a bit of boiled potato every now and then. However, most experts agree that it is generally a bad idea to feed potatoes to your furry friend. Despite the fact that potatoes are not poisonous (and will not cause typical symptoms of toxicity), they are tremendously unhealthy for rabbits. If you have already given your rabbit a small portion of baked potato, don’t sweat it. In the future, opt for lower calorie, more fibrous treat options that will be better suited to your rabbit’s body.

Health Benefits?

PotatoesThere are no real health benefits to giving your rabbit potatoes. Potatoes serve as a healthy source of complex carbohydrates in the human diet, but for rabbits, there are no healthy starches—even starchy fruits like bananas and mangoes are junk food for rabbits! This food is way too high in calories and sugar, and way too low in dietary fiber, for the average rabbit.

To make matters worse, potatoes are relatively low in many important vitamins and minerals. When considering micronutrients per calorie, it becomes clear that potatoes are not an efficient source of nutrition for rabbits. Even if you are looking to use them as an occasional treat, there are much better options. High fiber fruits such as berries and apples are high in vitamins and antioxidants, lower in starch that may upset their stomach, and often much lower in calories.

Most of us consider potatoes to be relatively mild, harmless (even bland) foods, so it may be surprising to hear that they can be harmful to our herbivorous pets. Your average vegetarian loves to eat potatoes, but not all vegetarians are created equally. Humans and many other vegetable-eaters, like raccoons, deer, mice, and pigs, are actually omnivores with extremely powerful, versatile digestive systems. Many omnivores and herbivores have evolved to digest nutritionally dense, starchy foods such as nuts, potatoes, and fruits. Even our dogs can usually handle starchy foods like potatoes fairly well.

Rabbits, unlike us and our dogs, are not only strict herbivores, but grazing herbivores. In the wild, they survive by eating large quantities of grass and weeds, which are loaded with cellulose. Cellulose is what we would call indigestible fiber, and it is crucial to rabbit health. Bunnies have a specialized organ, called a cecum, that is devoted to the fermentation of fiber. Inside of this thin-walled organ (the biggest organ in the rabbit’s digestive system!), fiber is mixed with bacteria until it ferments. This releases many key vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, which your bun can them absorb to meet their nutritional needs.

Things to Consider

The problem with starchy, low-fiber foods is this: fiber is what keeps matter moving through the gastrointestinal tract. If your rabbit does not ingest adequate fiber in the form of hay and grass, the stomach and the cecum do not empty quickly enough. As a result, your rabbit may refuse food and water, which reduces their fiber intake even more. The contents of your rabbit’s gut may dry out and become impacted, which can result in a condition called gastrointestinal stasis.

Rabbits who are fed starchy foods like potatoes regularly are more likely to suffer from gastrointestinal motility problems. If your bun has been eating a lot of starch and their fecal pellets change in shape, color, or number, stop feeding them anything other than hay and monitor them carefully. Any time a rabbit goes 12 hours without a bowel movement, contact a vet.

Final Thoughts

All things considered, it is probably a better idea to avoid giving your rabbit potatoes. They are loaded with starch and calories, yet low in the nutrients and fiber your bun needs to be healthy. If your rabbit develops any digestive problems after eating potatoes, seek veterinary care.

 

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