Can Rabbits Have Red Peppers?
Medical professionals, personal trainers, health teachers, and fitness magazines are constantly telling us to eat the rainbow. Because we have such sweet teeth, many of us use fruit as a way to consume as many colors as possible—after all, you can knock out three or four colors eating berries alone, if you try hard enough. But those of us who are parents to a rabbit or two have other things to consider. Eating several servings of colorful fruits every single day is great for us, but it is likely to cause our rabbits mild to severe digestive problems, weight gain, and other health issues. So, if we want to feed our buns a rainbow of veggies, we’re forced to consider other options.
When we assemble a rainbow vegetable tray for a pot luck, the first thing on the plate is almost always a sliced red bell pepper. This vegetable is beautifully bright in color, loaded with nutrition, gently sweet (and perfect for every dip imaginable), and almost totally mess-free. Because red peppers are popular and widely available, they seem like the perfect way to add a little bit of color to your rabbit’s diet, but how safe are they really? Can you give your rabbit red peppers?
The answer is yes, assuming the red pepper in question is a bell pepper, they can eat it in moderation. There are several different vegetables that are referred to as ‘red peppers’, but many of them can be harmful to rabbits. The best way to figure out whether the pepper in your fridge is safe for your bunny is to ask the following question: is this pepper sweet or hot? If it’s a sweet red bell pepper, go ahead and give your bun a few bites. If it’s a hot pepper, however (such as a cayenne pepper), keep it away from your rabbit! Spicy foods can cause serious digestive problems.
So, red bell peppers are safe and delicious, but are they beneficial to your bun’s health?
The answer is yes! Sweet red bell peppers make fabulous rabbit treats because they are slightly sweet, yet low in calories. Bunnies have sweet teeth that are nearly as strong as our own, so they will love being able to enjoy a sweet snack that is better for their bodies than junk food or sugary fruit.
The combination of low calories and moderate fiber is what makes red bell peppers a better option than many fruits. Unlike humans, rabbits are grazing herbivores who require large quantities of dietary fiber just to keep their bodies working properly. Eating more fiber has been shown to benefit human health in a myriad of ways, but rabbits literally cannot live without it—this is why your rabbit thrives when they chow down on piles of hay!
Fiber is an important part of bunny nutrition; rabbits actually have a specialized organ, called the caecum, which is entirely dedicated to helping them extract nutrition from indigestible plant fibers. Inside the caecum, fiber is separated from the other parts of the food and mixed with bacteria. These bacteria break down the fiber while it sits inside the caecum, making many different vitamins, minerals, and amino acids available for absorption.
High-fiber foods are necessary for keeping your rabbit’s body working from a mechanical perspective, too. When your rabbit eats high fiber foods, the fiber pushes on sensors in their gut, causing the stomach and caecum to empty to make room for the new food. Simply put, fiber is the trigger for digestion, and, without eating enough of it, food sits stagnant within the gut. This is why bunny digestion seems so fragile to us. As soon as our rabbits start consuming too little fiber, digestion slows down and they develop health problems.
Eating foods that are sugary and lower in fiber, like junk food, mangoes, and bananas, upsets digestion. If food sits for too long in the gut, it can harden and become impacted (causing a blockage that can be fatal if left untreated), or it can trigger bacterial overgrowth resulting in infection. Bell peppers have more fiber and less sugar than many common bunny treats, so they are a safer option for their finicky digestive systems.
Red peppers have a few other benefits, too. Like most colorful vegetables, they are full of disease-fighting antioxidants, which can lower your bun’s chances of developing health problems like insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and even some types of cancer. Antioxidants have the unique ability to neutralize dangerous metabolic waste products, called free radicals, which cause damage to cells that often results in inflammation and disease. All types of peppers contain some antioxidants, but red peppers have the highest amounts because they are the ripest. As a general rule, the brighter the vegetable, the higher its antioxidant content!
Things to Consider
Too much of anything is a bad idea, and the same goes for red bell peppers. Even though these are healthy as treats go, red peppers are still a little too sweet to serve as rabbit staple foods. If you feed your bun a lot of peppers and other vegetables, they will probably develop nutritional imbalances and digestive problems. A healthy adult rabbit needs to eat large amounts of hay in order to meet their nutrient needs and keep their digestive system working smoothly.
Finally, never give your rabbit hot peppers. Spicy foods can upset your rabbit’s stomach even in pretty small amounts, which can easily lead to gastrointestinal motility problems if your rabbit refuses to eat. If your bunny gets ahold of something spicy, make sure to keep an eye on them for a few days to make sure that their fecal pellets do not change dramatically in texture, shape, or color. If your rabbit ever goes 12 hours without a bowel movement, seek veterinary care immediately.
In conclusion, sweet red peppers should not make up a huge part of your bun’s diet, but they are excellent rabbit treats when given in moderation. They have antioxidants and moderate amounts of fiber and they are fairly low in calories, so they can satisfy your pet’s sweet tooth without causing them any harm. Just remember to avoid spicy peppers, which can cause health problems.