Lettuce is often referred to as “rabbit food.” However, this is somewhat misleading. While lettuce offers some health benefits, not all forms of lettuce are suitable for rabbits to eat.
Romaine lettuce and lamb’s lettuce are safe for rabbits. The darker the leaves, the healthier it will be. Butterhead lettuce is fine, but it’s high in acids. Do not feed a rabbit iceberg lettuce as 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 vegetable leaves and tops that rabbits enjoy eating.
Do Rabbits Like Lettuce?
Rabbits enjoy eating lettuce. If you break open a stalk of lettuce, you’ll notice a white fluid. This is called ‘lactucarium,’ which is Latin for milk. Traces of lactucarium will make their way into the lettuce leaves.
The effects of consumption have earned lactucarium the nickname of ‘rabbit opium.’ When a rabbit consumes this fluid, it experiences a sense of euphoria. It will go into a mild trance, feel relaxed, and likely doze off.
While lactucarium is a naturally-occurring substance, it can still be harmful to rabbits if too much is ingested. If consumed to excess, lactucarium can result in stomach upsets and diarrhea, which can be fatal to rabbits.
Is Lettuce Good for Rabbits?
Despite the risk of over-consumption, there are health benefits to feeding your rabbit lettuce. Offer your rabbit darker lettuce leaves. If you feed your rabbit dark, leafy lettuce, it’ll benefit in the following ways:
|Water:||All lettuces are high in water, which is good for hydration. However, too much water can cause runny stools.|
|Fiber:||Rabbits need to consume plenty of fiber. There are virtually no carbohydrates in lettuce and little protein.|
|Antioxidants:||Foods that are rich in antioxidants will aid your rabbit’s heart health and reduce cancer risk.|
|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:||Without sufficient Vitamin K, your rabbit is at risk of developing blood clots. It also ensures that vital minerals are carried around the body in the blood.|
|Folic Acid:||This enhances the production of red blood cells. This will boost your rabbit’s immune system and prevent anemia.|
|Potassium & Magnesium:||These are electrolytes that keep a rabbit’s heart rate at a manageable level.|
|Phosphorous:||This mineral works in conjunction with calcium to keep your rabbit’s teeth and bones healthy.|
Lettuce is high in calcium. Too much calcium makes a rabbit’s urine thicken, turning to sludge. This could lead to a urinary tract infection.
What is the Best Lettuce for Rabbits?
Here is a list of lettuce rabbits can eat, in order of nutritional value:
- Green or red leaf lettuce
- Romaine lettuce
- Lamb’s lettuce
- Butterhead lettuce (Boston lettuce and bibb lettuce)
Can Rabbits Eat Green and Red Leaf Lettuce?
Leaf lettuce is recommended. It’s much lower in calories and higher in vitamins. You can serve your rabbit red or green leaf lettuce.
Red leaves are higher in antioxidants due to the presence of ‘phytonutrients.’ These are what give the leaves their reddish hue.
Green leaf lettuce contains more Vitamin K, which is beneficial for active rabbits. Keeping its blood flowing well will optimize energy levels, and distributing calcium will ensure that bones are strong.
You can feed red and green lettuce to your rabbit simultaneously. You just need to manage the portion size due to the high calcium content.
Can Rabbits Eat Romaine Lettuce?
Romaine lettuce is also referred to as cos lettuce. While not quite as nutritious as leaf lettuce, it is still good for rabbits.
Romaine lettuce should be fed in moderation as 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. Shred the leaves and reduce the quantity that you make available to your rabbit.
Can Rabbits Eat Lamb’s Lettuce?
As a dark-leafed form of lettuce, lamb’s lettuce is healthy for rabbits. Not all rabbits will enjoy the taste of lamb’s lettuce. It has a tangier, nuttier flavor than romaine or leaf lettuce.
Lamb’s lettuce also has smaller leaves than other types of lettuce. This makes portion control much easier as you can pluck small quantities without overfeeding your rabbits.
Can Rabbits Eat Butterhead Lettuce?
Butterhead lettuce will taste appealing to a rabbit’s palate. This lettuce comes in two forms, Boston and bibb. Both have a buttery, smooth flavor. In addition, bibb lettuce is sweet.
Butterhead lettuce is more acidic than other varieties. So, it could adversely affect your rabbit’s digestion if it is consumed to excess.
Butterhead lettuce still contains essential vitamins and minerals that rabbits need. Despite the sweet taste, it’s also low in calories. Offer your rabbit a little butterhead lettuce on occasion as a treat.
Why Rabbits Should Not Eat Iceberg Lettuce
Iceberg lettuce contains more lactucarium and is higher in calcium than the alternatives. These elements can make a rabbit very ill.
Iceberg lettuce also tastes bland, so it will likely be unappealing to the tastebuds of rabbits. It is almost entirely water and has no nutritional value. While water aids hydration, too much can upset a rabbit’s stomach.
Can a Rabbit Eat Lettuce Stalks?
Your rabbit will enjoy crunching through the stalks, and this will help to keep its teeth short. Unfortunately, the stalk is also home to lactucarium. Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa), in particular, will be filled with lactucarium.
There is little to recommend offering a rabbit a lettuce stalk. The nutrients that will benefit your rabbit are in the leaves. The stalk just provides empty calories and has health risks due to the presence of lactucarium.
How Often Should a Rabbit Be Fed Lettuce?
Lettuce should not be considered the cornerstone of your rabbit’s diet. It cannot replace hay as your rabbit’s primary fiber source.
Fresh vegetables, such as lettuce, should not amount to more than 10% of your rabbit’s daily food intake. The recommended daily amount is 2 cups of vegetables for every 6 lbs. of body weight.
Wash the lettuce, shred the leaves, and mix them with other vegetables. Don’t serve lettuce with other vegetables that are high in calcium. Offer healthier alternatives, such as spinach and bell peppers, on most days.
Leaf, lamb’s or romaine lettuce, served in moderation, are a good addition to your rabbit’s diet. Butterhead lettuce is OK as an occasional treat. Any other types, especially Iceberg lettuce, should always be avoided.