Can Rabbits Have Watermelon?
Few fruits have as much personality as the watermelon. Though we all love the standard fruit rotation, which includes apples, oranges, berries, and bananas, watermelons excite us in a way that few other plant foods can—they are delicious, they are good for us, and they have a fun and festive appearance that brings back memories of childhood picnics during summer vacation. As soon as the water gets warm, many of us keep watermelon in our fridge at all times. This is especially true for those of us who are physically active (or have kids who are!), because watermelon is the perfect, hydrating sweet treat to eat after a day of exercising in the heat.
But what about our physically active four-legged vegetarian family members? Those of us who have rabbits have learned by now that they often love trying new types of produce. If you’re rummaging through your fridge during the summer months, watermelon is likely to wind up on the menu.. but is this safe? Can you give your rabbit watermelon?
The answer is yes, rabbits can consume small amounts of watermelon as a treat. This fruit does not seem to contain any amounts of any substances that would be toxic to bunnies, so it is generally considered safe to give it to them in small quantities. Even if your rabbit eats too much in one sitting, it is unlikely that they will suffer any lasting consequences.
That said, watermelon’s nontoxicity is not a good reason to let them binge! Eating too much of any fruit can cause serious long-term health problems for rabbits. If you start feeding your rabbit watermelon and they develop any digestive issues (or gain weight), dial back the amount of fruit they are eating. Watermelon may be a great way for your soccer player to fill her stomach after a game, but it is not a suitable source of calories for your rabbit. Your furry friend should be eating mostly hay and not fruit.
On a hot summer day, watermelon may be one of the best treats you can give to your healthy adult rabbit. A chunk of fresh watermelon is an excellent way to satisfy your bunny’s sweet tooth without packing in too many extra calories—especially compared to other foods that are marketed as rabbit desserts.
Most of the ‘rabbit treats’ available in pet stores are not very healthy for rabbits at all. They are often corn-based, loaded with dyes, and extremely low in vitamins and minerals. Watermelon, which contains fiber and fluid, often provides fewer calories and more micronutrients than these store-bought treats.
Watermelon contains small amounts of many of the micronutrients rabbits need to maintain optimal health, including Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Vitamin A, potassium, and several antioxidants—including lycopene, which many think of as the tomato nutrient. In fact, watermelon has more lycopene than most other fruits and vegetables. There have not been many studies on lycopene in the rabbit diet, but research done on humans and other animals have shown a correlation between lycopene and improved bone health, heart health, and a decreased incidence of several types of cancers.
All of the antioxidants in watermelon stand to contribute some small health benefits to your bun. Most antioxidants are not necessary for carrying out basic metabolic processes, but they are thought to have powerful protective effects on the entire body thanks to their ability to neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are natural byproducts of metabolic processes that carry a high charge. This charge makes them highly reactive, and, unfortunately, they often react with your bun’s body cells. These reactions can cause damage that can lead to a variety of diseases.
Things to Consider
Antioxidants make free radicals more stable, which prevents them from damaging body cells. In the long run, an increased antioxidant intake may help prevent the mutations that lead to diseases like cancer and arthritis.
That said, your rabbit should not start loading up on watermelon for its anticancer benefits—most bunnies can only eat around two tablespoons of fruit per day without suffering negative health effects. Because rabbits have evolved to eat diets very high in fiber and very low in sugar, eating too much fruit can cause them to gain weight or develop gastrointestinal motility disorders. If you have been feeding your rabbit watermelon and they suddenly develop constipation, diarrhea, or any other digestive symptoms, remove the fruit from their diet and make sure to give them plenty of hay and water. If they have not had a bowel movement in 12 hours, seek veterinary care immediately.
In conclusion, watermelon, like many fruits, is safe for rabbits when it is used as a treat. It contains fiber, water, antioxidants, and several vitamins and minerals that make it healthier than processed corn treats. It should not, however, become a dietary staple—your rabbit needs to eat mostly hay and leafy greens.