Pet Consider

Can Rabbits Eat Pumpkin Seeds?

Can Rabbits Have Pumpkin Seeds?

When fall rolls around and the leaves begin to change color, we find ourselves up to our chins in all things pumpkin—pumpkin spice flavored cookies, pies, lattes, and chips, heaps of Jack-o-Lantern guts, and, of course, pumpkin seeds. Most of us love to munch on a handful of pumpkin seeds as a festive, flavorful fall snack, but we are hesitant to offer our pets anything that seems even remotely festive. Most of our fun foods seem to be dangerous for pets. We know that we probably shouldn’t plop chocolate cake, Christmas cookies, or pumpkin pie into our rabbits’ food bowl… but what about pumpkin seeds?

Many of the treats marketed to parents of rabbits and other small animals contain seeds, after all. Is there really such a big difference between the little seeds in store-bought treats and the seeds that come fresh from our disemboweled pumpkins? 
Can you give your rabbit pumpkin seeds?

The answer may surprise you: no, rabbits should not eat pumpkin seeds. While some rabbit parents online swear by pumpkin seeds as nutrient-dense superfood treats, the downsides appear to negate any (small) potential benefits. Pumpkin seeds are not poisonous to bunnies, per se, but they are not an ideal rabbit food. Actually, even the seeds stuffed into store bought ‘rabbit treats’ are not suitable for rabbit digestion! Treats containing seeds may look natural and wholesome, but they are not healthy. If you’ve already fed your rabbit pumpkin seeds, don’t panic, but endeavor to minimize the role that seeds (and nuts!) play in their diet.

Health Benefits?

Pumpkin SeedsThough pumpkin seeds are not ideal rabbit food, they are not poisonous, and they are not completely without nutritional value. Pumpkin seeds are loaded with important minerals like magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and iron. Zinc plays a crucial role in several metabolic processes—it supports a healthy immune system, facilitates growth, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and protein synthesis (which is key to a healthy fur coat!), and supports the function of around 100 different enzymes. Because your bun’s body has no way to store zinc away for later, they must ingest this mineral every day.

If your rabbit does not eat a balanced diet that provides adequate levels of zinc, their whole body will suffer. They may suffer from retarded growth, digestive problems, reproductive problems, depression, poor appetite, and a weakened immune system. One study performed on rabbits found that those who were forced to eat zinc-deficient diets suffered from painful skin lesions, hair loss, and an increased number of infections.

Though zinc is important, zinc deficiency is relatively rare in rabbits who are eating a balanced diet. If you suspect that your rabbit is deficient in zinc or any other nutrient, do not introduce pumpkin seeds as supplementary foods. Assuming your bun’s diet is balanced, they may be suffering from an underlying condition that mimics zinc deficiency. Alternately, they may have a reduced ability to absorb zinc from the food that they are eating. Any time your rabbit develops new symptoms, take them to the vet for a full examination. Introducing difficult-to-digest foods, such as pumpkin seeds, into your rabbit’s diet is almost never the answer to their health problems.

Pumpkin seeds are nutritious, but for rabbits, this is actually a bad thing—they are TOO nutrient dense to be healthy. Unlike omnivores and herbivores who forage for fruit and nuts, rabbits are grazers who evolved to sustain themselves by eating massive quantities of high-fiber, low-starch, low-fat hay. Nuts and seeds of all kinds are far too high in calories, starch, and fat, and far too low in dietary fiber.

Things to Consider

Feeding your rabbit a tiny portion of pumpkin seeds on occasion probably will not destroy their health, but if it happens with any regularity, rabbits may develop obesity, nutritional imbalances, and digestive problems. Though rabbits can extract nutrition from fiber that is indigestible to us, they lack the ability to process starchy, fatty foods like seeds. If your rabbit eats too many seeds and too little of the hay they need to keep their digestion running smoothly, they may suffer from gastrointestinal motility problems.

Sluggish digestion can quickly spiral in control and turn into full-blown gastrointestinal stasis, which is a medical emergency that should be treated by a veterinarian. If you’ve been treating your rabbit to pumpkin seeds and you notice that their toilet habits have changed, it may be a good idea to omit seeds from their diet and increase the amount of hay that they eat.

Final Thoughts

And, finally, pumpkin seeds are better left off your bun’s plate because they pose a choking hazard. Even though they are not technically toxic, there is no good reason to feed your rabbit pumpkin seeds with any regularity. These fatty, caloric, low-fiber foods may contain some important minerals, but it really isn’t worth the potential negative side effects. Instead of pumpkin seeds, try giving your bun a small spoonful of pure pumpkin puree.

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