Rabbits often enjoy foraging and eating weeds from the garden. Rabbits thrive on the fiber in natural greenery. While some weeds are beneficial to the health of rabbits, others are highly toxic. So, it’s crucial that you know which weeds are good and bad for rabbits.
If you have a rabbit, you’ll need to modify your approach to weeding. Herbicides and other chemicals can kill your rabbit. So, you’ll need to remove any harmful unwanted vegetation without weedkiller. You’ll need to get rid of weeds by hand or using specialized garden tools.
Why Would My Rabbit Want to Eat Weeds?
You may wonder why domesticated rabbits enjoy eating weeds. If your rabbit likes weeds in the garden, she is merely engaging her natural instincts. Wild rabbits forage to survive. Your pet’s life does not depend on foraging, but she’s hardwired to do this and finds the activity fun.
Rabbits enjoy the challenge of chewing through weeds. As a rabbit’s teeth never stop growing, constant chewing is necessary to keep her teeth short. Weeds are often tougher to chew than hay and provide more entertainment.
Sometimes, it’s a case of rabbits enjoying the taste. Rabbits have a routine diet and different flavors can be appealing to rabbits. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are a particularly tasty treat. If your pet finds a stock of weeds, she’ll enjoy different taste sensations.
What Weeds Can Rabbits Eat?
There is a wide range of weeds that rabbits like to eat. These could be growing in the wild, or they may be found in your yard. The following weeds are considered to be rabbit-safe:
- Goosegrass (aka Cleavers)
- Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica))
- Shepherd’s Purse
- Sow Thistle
You may be surprised to find that stinging nettles are rabbit-friendly. Rabbits actively enjoy eating nettles. They do not notice the sting and enjoy the challenge that comes from chewing through the stalk. Nettles can sting a rabbit’s paw, so they should be removed from your garden.
Goosegrass may need to be cleaned off your rabbit’s fur. This weed is sometimes colloquially referred to as, “Sticky Willy.” This is because it will cling to the fur. You’ll need to brush and groom your pet after an encounter with goosegrass to prevent her fur becoming knotted and matted.
Health Benefits of Weeds for Rabbits
The most basic health benefit of weeds is the fun your rabbit will have eating them. Your pet will enjoy chewing through tough stalks and stems. She will also take pleasure from different tastes.
Rabbit-safe weeds are a rich source of fiber, and they’re completely free. This will be better for your rabbit’s health than traditional treats. Certain weeds also have additional health benefits, according to the Rise and Shine Rabbitry. These include the following:
- Borage is a natural relaxant. It’s great for stressed rabbits. It also promotes milk flow if your rabbit is nursing.
- Chamomile is a natural stress-reducer, and can clear up any staining from weepy eyes.
- Chickweed encourages molting at appropriate seasons. It’s also packed with anti-inflammatories, and can heal minor cuts and abrasions.
- Coltsfoot encourages natural, healthy respiratory function.
- Comfrey is a rabbit superfood. It has countless benefits that lead to an enhanced quality of life.
- Dandelions are a natural diuretic. They also promote a healthy respiratory tract.
- Goosegrass is a natural laxative for constipated rabbits, as well as healing cuts.
- Lavender is another calming herb. Use it in small doses, and be aware than many rabbits loathe the smell of lavender.
- Nettles help to reduce inflammation, bolster the immune system, and lower blood pressure.
- Nasturtium is a naturally-occurring antiseptic for cuts, grazes, and wounds.
- Plantain can clear up urinary tract infections and assist with recovery from a fever.
- Shepherd’s Purse settles the stomach after a bout of diarrhea. It must be fed in small doses.
Weeds cannot replace hay in your rabbit’s diet. These should always be treated as additional foods, not direct meal replacements. There is no harm in allowing your rabbit to snack on weeds.
What Weeds are Poisonous to Rabbits?
Some flowers and weeds can kill rabbits. If you find any sign of the following weeds in your garden, you should remove them immediately. This may involve digging the weeds up from underground to prevent regrowth. Weeds are stubborn. Here is a list of weeds that are bad for rabbits:
- Anything that grows from a bulb
- Arum Lily (aka Cuckoo Point)
- Convolvulus (aka Bindweed)
- Deadly Nightshade (aka Belladonna)
- Delphinium (aka Larkspur)
- Fool’s Parsley
- Hellebores (aka Christmas Rose)
- Lily of the Valley
- Rhubarb leaves
- Scarlet Runnertoadflax
Even after you remove these deadly weeds, fence off the area. Ensure that your yard is clear of these weeds for several months. They could grow back without you realizing.
Warning Signs That a Rabbit Ate Toxic Weeds
Rabbits do not like to let on if they are feeling unwell. As a prey species, they hide any sign of ill health as long as possible. Check for these physical or behavioral changes after eating weeds:
- Burns or swelling around the mouth. This suggests that your rabbit has eaten herbicide, or a similar toxin.
- Swelling and distention around the belly. This denotes an intestinal blockage. Your rabbit has not digested the weed. It is preventing her gut from processing other food.
Make an urgent appointment with your vet. Both these issues can be fatal within 24 hours. If your rabbit is showing more general symptoms, she may still be suffering from toxicity. Warning signs to look out for include the following:
- General lethargy and reluctance to play or exercise
- Loss of interest in food (hay and fresh vegetables) or water
- Uncharacteristic aggression toward yourself or another rabbit
- Signs of pain, such as hunched posture or grinding of teeth
- A sharp drop in body temperature
- Signs of blood in fecal matter
- Labored breathing or breathing through the mouth
Your rabbit’s stomach muscles are unable to vomit. This means that your pet cannot purge her stomach of the foods that are making her ill. They will need to be removed manually by a vet.
There is also the chance that your rabbit will experience an allergic reaction to weeds. The effect of allergies is usually short-term, but you need to find out which weeds that your rabbit should avoid.
Your rabbit will prefer to eat dry weeds, so allow them to dry out naturally in the sun. You can then feed the weeds to your rabbit. Mixing them in with hay will be more fun for your pet. She can then forage and rummage to locate them. This will appeal to a domesticated rabbit’s wild instincts.
Only feed your rabbit weeds from your yard or those that grow in woodland and forestry. Do not pick weeds from the side of a pubic road. These could contain weed killers, pollution from passing vehicles, wild animal urine, or other potentially toxic substances.