Lettuce is often referred to as “rabbit food.” This is misleading, though. While lettuce offers some health benefits, not all forms of lettuce are suitable for rabbits.
Romaine lettuce and lamb’s lettuce are safe. The darker the leaves, the healthier it will be. Butterhead lettuce is fine, but it’s high in acids so feed it to your pet sparingly. Do NOT feed a rabbit iceberg lettuce. It contains excessive amounts of lactucarium, which is toxic for rabbits in high doses.
Even ‘safe’ lettuce should be fed to rabbits in moderation. Once or twice a week is more than enough. There are many other fresh, healthier vegetables that rabbits really enjoy eating.
Do Rabbits Like Lettuce?
Rabbits enjoy lettuce a little too much. If you break open the stalk of lettuce, you’ll notice a white fluid. This is ‘lactucarium,’ which is Latin for milk. Basically, lactucarium is lettuce milk.
This is a naturally occurring substance, but it can be harmful to rabbits. If consumed to excess, lactucarium causes stomach upsets. Diarrhea can be fatal.
Lactucarium tastes bitter. This makes it unappealing to a rabbit’s palate. Despite this, traces will make their way into the lettuce leaves. Your rabbit will consume these, and enjoy the side effects.
These side effects have earned lactucarium the nickname of ‘rabbit opium.’ When a rabbit consumed this fluid, she experiences a sense of euphoria. Your pet will go into a trance and likely doze off. Think of lactucarium as a sort of rabbit catnip.
This can make lactucarium – and, by extension, lettuce – addictive for rabbits. Moderate your pet’s intake. If you grow wild lettuce, fence it off. Your pet will find it and gorge to her heart’s content. This will make her sick in the long term.
Is Lettuce Good for Rabbits?
Despite the warnings, there are health benefits to feeding your rabbit lettuce. You just need to ensure you choose the right lettuce. Leaf lettuce is typically considered to be the safest option.
As a golden rule, offer your rabbit darker lettuce leaves. The darker the lettuce, the more rabbit-safe it will be. Lighter lettuce leaves are filled with water and chemicals. If you feed your rabbit dark, leafy lettuce, she’ll benefit from the following:
- Water. All lettuces are high in water, but some are more watery than others. This will help with hydration. Don’t pick lettuce with too much water as excessive water means fewer nutrients.
- Fiber. Rabbits need fiber more than any other food group. There are virtually no carbohydrates in lettuce, and little protein.
- Antioxidants. Leafy lettuce is high in antioxidants. These will aid your rabbit’s heart health and reduce cancer risk. Female rabbits, in particular, will benefit.
- Vitamin A. This vitamin keeps your rabbit’s eyesight sharp and promotes healthy internal organs. The heart, kidneys, and lungs all benefit from Vitamin A.
- Vitamin K. This keeps the blood in your rabbit’s body flowing. Without sufficient Vitamin K, your pet is at risk of developing blood clots. It also ensures that critical minerals are carried around the body in the blood.
- Folic Acid. This is another essential part of your rabbit’s body. Folic acid enhances the production of red blood cells. This will boost your pet’s immune system and prevent anemia.
- Phosphorous. This mineral works with calcium to keep your rabbit’s teeth and bones healthy.
- Potassium and Magnesium. These are electrolytes that keep a rabbit’s heart rate at a manageable level. They also help your rabbit sleep. As a result, her muscles will relax.
These health benefits are based upon leaf or romaine lettuce. Moderation is critical. A rabbit can get too many of these vitamins. That can be just as harmful as too few vitamins.
Lettuce is usually high in calcium. Too much calcium makes a rabbit’s urine thicken inside her body, turning to sludge. This will lead to a painful urinary tract infection.
What is the Best Lettuce for Rabbits?
Here is a full list of lettuce rabbits can eat, in descending order of nutritional value:
- Green or red leaf lettuce
- Romaine lettuce
- Lamb’s lettuce
- Butterhead lettuce. This comprises Boston lettuce and bibb lettuce
You’ll notice a clear omission from this list. Iceberg lettuce is very popular at deli counters as a human snack. This lettuce is dangerous for rabbits, and must not be fed to your pet.
Can Rabbits Eat Green and Red Leaf Lettuce?
Leaf lettuce is the best lettuce for rabbits. It’s lower in calories and higher in vitamins. You can serve your pet red or green leaf lettuce. There are minor differences in nutritional value.
Red leaves are higher in antioxidants than their green counterparts. This is due to the presence of phytonutrients. These are what give the leaves their reddish hue.
Green leaf lettuce is just as healthy. This type of lettuce contains more Vitamin K than red. Your pet will find this helpful if she is active. Keeping her blood flowing will aid energy, and distributing calcium will ensure her bones are strong.
You can feed red and green lettuce to your rabbit simultaneously. Just manage the portion size.
Can Rabbits Eat Romaine Lettuce?
Romaine lettuce is also referred to as cos lettuce. While not quite as nutritious as leaf lettuce, this is still good for rabbits. Your pet will likely enjoy the taste, and she’ll benefit from the nutrients within.
Romaine lettuce should be fed with a little more caution than leaf lettuce. It contains more water. While this does not detract from the nutrition, it can cause runny stools. Introduce this lettuce slowly with other, crunchy vegetables.
Rabbits will enjoy eating romaine lettuce as it has a distinctive crunch. Do not offer a rabbit an entire heart of romaine lettuce, though. Shred the leaves into smaller quantities.
One other thing to consider when purchasing romaine lettuce is its origin. In the fall of 2018, an outbreak of e.Coli was linked to romaine lettuce grown in central California. This triggered an investigation from the FDA.
Avoid buying romaine lettuce grown in this area. The initial scare has passed, but err on the side of caution. As the water supply caused the outbreak, a small amount of risk remains.
Can Rabbits Eat Lamb’s Lettuce?
As a dark-leafed form of lettuce, lamb’s lettuce is fine for rabbits. You may also find this lettuce branded as corn salad in the supermarket. It’s referred to as lamb’s lettuce because the leaves resemble a lamb tongue.
Not all rabbits will enjoy the taste of lamb’s lettuce. It has a tangier, nuttier flavor than romaine or leaf lettuce. If your pet is a fan, it makes a great addition to her diet. This is one of the more nutrient-dense forms of lettuce available.
Lamb’s lettuce also has smaller leaves than other types of lettuce. This makes portion control easier. You can pluck small quantities for taste without overfeeding your rabbits.
Some human dishes involve cooked lamb’s lettuce. This is because it wilts in heat, like spinach. Never feed a rabbit cooked lettuce. The heat will destroy the nutritional value. What’s more, your rabbit will bite straight through it and risk hurting herself.
Can Rabbits Eat Butterhead Lettuce?
Butterhead lettuce will taste appealing to a rabbit. This lettuce comes in two forms, Boston and bibb. Both have a buttery, smooth flavor. In addition, bibb lettuce is sweet.
This tastiness comes with a drawback. Butterhead lettuce is more acidic than other varieties. This means it could adversely affect your rabbit’s digestion if consumed to excess.
Butterhead lettuce still contains essential vitamins and minerals. Despite the sweet taste, it’s also low in calories. Offer your rabbit a little butterhead lettuce on occasion.
Why Rabbits Should Not Eat Iceberg Lettuce
The biggest note of caution surrounding iceberg lettuce is the lactucarium content. This lettuce contains more lactucarium than any other kind. It’s also higher in calcium than other lettuces.
These elements alone are enough to make a rabbit sick if she eats iceberg lettuce. This lettuce does not even have any health benefits to counter the risk. It also tastes bland, so will likely be unappealing to rabbits.
Iceberg lettuce, like most light-colored leaf vegetables, is almost entirely water. This means that it has no nutritional value at all. The water will aid hydration, to an extent. Too much can upset a rabbit’s stomach.
Can a Rabbit Eat Lettuce Stalks?
Your rabbit will enjoy crunching through the stalk. It will give her teeth a real workout. But the stalk of lettuce is also home to lactucarium. Wild lettuce, in particular, will be filled with it.
If you feed your rabbit lettuce, tear the leaves from the stalk first. If you must feed the stalk, break it open in several places. This way, you can drain the lactucarium first.
There is little to recommend offering a rabbit a lettuce stalk, though. The nutrients that will benefit your rabbit are in the leaves. The stalk just offers empty calories, and a potential health risk in the form of lactucarium.
How Often Should a Rabbit be Fed Lettuce?
Lettuce should not be the cornerstone of your rabbit’s diet. It certainly cannot replace hay as your pet’s primary fiber source. Lettuce is best left as an occasional treat. Twice a week is more than enough.
When offering lettuce, wash it thoroughly. Shred the leaves and mix them with other vegetables. Chopped bell peppers are ideal. Don’t serve other vegetables that are high in calcium with lettuce. Offer spinach or broccoli on other days.
If your rabbit is new to lettuce, start with small quantities. Too much of any new food can upset a rabbit’s stomach. The possible presence of lactucarium doubles this risk in rabbits.
Manage quantities, too. Fresh vegetables should not amount to more than 10% of your rabbit’s daily intake. The recommended daily amount is two cups of vegetables for every 6 lbs. of body weight.
Leaf, lamb’s or romaine lettuce, served in moderation, is a good addition to your pet’s diet. Butterhead lettuce is fine as an occasional treat. Anything else should be avoided.