Can Rabbits Have Turnips?
According to cartoons and comic strips, it’s easy to determine your pets’ favorite foods just by looking at their species: your cat loves fish and a saucer full of full-fat cream, your dog loves animal bones and heaps of bacon, and your bunny loves salad staples like carrots and cabbage. Though these caricatures make for cute t-shirts, most of us who actually raise these animals have learned that our pets can’t eat the same diets as their cartoon counterparts—many bones are unsafe for dogs, most cats are lactose intolerant, and a bunny who lives on carrots will almost certainly develop health problems.
Still, most bunnies love carrots as treats, so it is only natural that we would turn to other root vegetables when we are searching for other rabbit-safe treats to feed our beloved pets. One of the more nutritious root vegetables is a common feature of soups and stews: the humble turnip. These root vegetables are similar in texture and appearance to potatoes, but their bitter flavor can add a layer of complexity to otherwise-boring soups and stews. We consider turnips to be perfectly nutritious foods, but are they good for our pets, too? Can you give your rabbit turnips?
The answer is yes, rabbits can eat turnips in small quantities as rare treats, but they should not eat them in large quantities or on a regular basis. These bitter root vegetables are not at all toxic to bunnies, so there is no need to panic if you’ve given your bun a few bites of this popular winter vegetable. Turnips, like potatoes, are great foods for healthy human beings, but they do not make ideal calorie sources for our rabbits—they are much too low in fiber, and much too high in starch. If you’re looking for something your pet can eat more regularly, opt for small amounts of turnip greens mixed in with other green leafy vegetables. Turnip greens are much easier on your bun’s body than the starchy, bulbous turnip root.
Even if you definitely should not give your bunny turnips for breakfast and lunch, they can make healthy treats in small quantities. Turnips are quite nutritious—they contain moderate amounts of Vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, folate, and other B vitamins. They are also quite high in calcium compared to other vegetables, which can help support strong bones and teeth.
Because your bun’s teeth are always growing, getting enough calcium is crucial for maintaining optimal health. If your rabbit is a little bit low in calcium, opting for calcium-rich treats like turnips may help boost their overall intake. It is, however, important to have your veterinarian examine your rabbit if you suspect that they are suffering from a nutritional deficiency before you make any changes to their diet. Most rabbit diets already provide plenty of calcium—your rabbit is more likely to consume too much calcium than too little! So, if your bun is showing signs of calcium deficiency, there is a good chance that they are suffering from an absorption problem rather than a dietary problem. Always check with a vet before trying to treat your pet’s health problems on your own.
If you’re looking to give your rabbit a healthy boost of nutrition, feed them turnip greens instead of the turnip root. Turnip greens are loaded with Vitamin K, Vitamin A, folate, and Vitamin C, which will boost the immune system, neutralize free radicals, and help support healthy bones, teeth, and blood. Turnip greens are also much higher in fiber and much lower in sugar than turnip roots, which makes them far more rabbit-friendly. While your bun should not eat turnip roots more than once a week or so, they can eat turnip greens several times per week.
The big problem with feeding your rabbit root vegetables like turnips, potatoes, and carrots is this: they are loaded with sugar and starchy carbohydrates. While humans have evolved to thrive on diets that include lots of starch, rabbits have not—they can’t properly digest starchy foods! Our rabbits need to eat diets that are loaded with low-calorie, low-sugar, high-fiber vegetables like grass and hay. When your rabbit eats fiber, it stimulates their caecum and stomach to empty in order to make room for more food. This is the process that keeps food flowing through their gastrointestinal tract.
Things to Consider
Without eating adequate fiber, digestion stagnates. This is why giving your rabbit large quantities of starchy vegetables is such a problem: bunnies who eat a lot of turnips may end up with a bunch of starch sitting in their gut for far too long. Starch breaks down into sugar, which is bacteria’s favorite food. So, in addition to suffering from sluggish digestion (which can cause serious health problems), your rabbit can develop bacterial overgrowth and infections.
We all have some experience with sluggish digestion from time to time, but for rabbits, digestive problems are no joke. There are plenty of horror stories about pet parents whose rabbits stopped producing fecal pellets, suddenly began to refuse food, and subsequently died. This is usually caused by a condition called gastrointestinal stasis, which is what happens when the rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract stops functioning completely. This condition can kill your bunny incredibly quickly. If your rabbit does not have a bowel movement for 12 hours, their life is in danger, and you should rush them to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
The best way to prevent digestive problems is to minimize the sugar and starch in your rabbit’s diet and maximize the amount of crude fiber that they eat. This is why the vast majority of your rabbit’s calories should come from fresh, high quality hay. By restricting the amount of sugary fruits and starchy root vegetables we give to our rabbits, we can keep their digestive systems functioning properly and prevent them from developing a wide range of health problems. So, feel free to give them a tiny portion of turnip as a rare treat, but refrain from letting it become a dietary staple.