Weeds: Food For Rabbits
I recently acquired three female bunnies. Being a Manure Maven, and an avid gardener this was bound to happen. They were at Creature Safe Place in Fort Pierce Florida. They had been rescued. I adopted them. What I knew about bunnies that day you could write in a line or two.
I have been reading. I have learned a great deal, but I was having trouble figuring out what a bunny might eat in the wild. I have a great deal of land left wild, and weeds, weeds, weeds. I like the idea of supplementing the bunnies hay diet with things they themselves might graze on if they were out foraging for themselves. No matter what key words I typed in searches I could not find any information on rabbits’ native diets. My friend Wyn at Creature Safe Place lent me a book she had on her shelf. American Wildlife & Plants A Guide To Wildlife Food Habits by Alexander C. Martin, Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. Ah ha!
I live in the South Eastern U.S., and my rabbits are some kind of domestic bunnies most closely related to Cottontail Rabbits, so I am focusing on the plants we have here, that suit Cottontails rather than Hares or Jack Rabbits which don’t live here anyway, and this list is not by far complete as bunnies faced with shortages of tender herbaceous plants will supplement with twigs and bark from many types of trees. This becomes necessary in colder states than mine where they might chew up some Dogwood, Wild Cherry, Sumac, Red Maple, or Grey Birch saplings. There are many leaves growing in my vegetable garden that the bunnies really like too; Arugula, mints, though not Pennyroyal, and Basil and Mustard Greens for instance. I will give them a Collard leaf every now and then, which they so far enjoy, and Wild Grapevines, and Hibiscus leaves and even an Hibiscus flower, or Squash blossom, and Mulberry leaves.
What I found out from my reading is that bunnies eat a lot of grass and weeds! Here is a list: Crab Grass, Panic Grass, Blue Grass, Sheep Sorrel, Clover, Blackberry, Greenbriar and Plantain which is not by the way the one that looks like a banana. I have included pictures of those plants so that you can recognize them when you see them. Most of us have at least a few of these plants growing on our property. I have been pulling them out of my soil for years. Lucky I am not a more effective weeder. Now I get out every evening with scissors and a colander and trim and rinse my weeds for the bunnies. Try some of these, see which your bunnies really love. I noticed from day to day their favorites change, but clover is an everyday favorite.
There are lots of vegetable treats you can give to bunnies as well, but in smaller quantities than weed grasses and leaves. My bunnies love a piece of tomato, and when I harvest and cut a pineapple I save skin pieces for them. They really love crunching that down. Anything with a lot of sugar or a lot of moisture needs to be given sparingly. I have also fed them cucumber and melon, and carrots which they like, and asparagus which they don’t much care for at all. I have found complete lists of vegetables on the internet that are o.k. to give to bunnies. I have printed several for my own reference. Since some are contradictory I don’t give any vegetables that are contra indicated on any list even if they are listed as o.k. on another list. It is important to learn these things because some of the vegetables that should be strictly off limits to bunnies might surprise you, like corn for instance. It can cause an impaction in the digestive system of the rabbit and kill it.
I really like the weeds and leaves right out of my garden because I can be certain that no pesticides were sprayed directly on my property. Everything I have read about feeding rabbits vegetables has come with a warning about avoiding vegetables sprayed with pesticides.
Good weed hunting. I hope your rabbits enjoy!
We have bunnies at our house, and we follow your recommendations. They are healthy and happy. Thanks Adina
Got any other types of weed? Nyuk, Nyuk!!!
Thanks for your comments Danny.
We just added an angora bunny to the family. Thanks for posting this. Now I have to go outside and hunt these weeds down. I’m sure we have plenty;-).
Also, dandelion, pigweed (amaranthus?), and dock. There are two forms of plantain, and they love them both. They also like chickweed, which is a great winter staple for them in NC. As spring comes and it goes to seed they don’t like it anymore. Mine love to chew the bark of sweet gum saplings, too.
Excellent comment Cathy, Yes I have found that my rabbits will eat various amaranthus (we have the spiny variety here). I have found that they will eat chickweed, though the one that grows on my property has a fuzzy leaf and is less pleasant for me to eat. I am going to have to do a search for dock.. I don’t know what that is. I don’t think we have sweet gum, but I have seen the wild rabbits eat down the bromeliads in the woods at certain times.
Thanks for commenting.
Do rabbits know what’s good or bad for them? My rabbit runs around our yard eating all kinds of plants. I know some obvious ones he can’t eat like begonias or aloe vera so i shoo him away. But i’ve never seen him try to eat it anyways. I’ve read that if they’re unsure, they will taste test it and sniff their poop to remind them next time they can eat it. Sometimes unfamiliar weeds pop up and it kind of worries me. Would you trust your rabbit to graze as they please?
That’s a very good question Pye. I am not sure because I read over and over again that people should not feed their rabbits corn. It can really wreak havoc on their digestive tract and kill them, and yet, they must be eating the corn they are being fed for that to happen. However, we can see that wild rabbits know exactly what to eat. I am for letting your domestic rabbit out for a hop and a graze. I think given choices a rabbit will eat what is proper before eating what is poisonous. I also think it is a good idea for you to supervise your rabbit’s outdoor time anyway, and yes I would trust my rabbits to graze as they pleased if I put them in a place where there is plenty of the sort of thing I know they are supposed to eat.
Good luck, I hope our domestic rabbits haven’t had common sense bred right out of them.
We feed our rabbits vegetables and hay and we heard that pellets are really bad for them. Commercially grown rabbits eat pellets to fatten them up but this is not good for their digestive system or their teeth. Rabbit teeth are always growing and they need to eat grass and hay to wear them down. Rabbits that are fed pellets have teeth that keep growing in and causing them pain. Rabbits also like carrots and fruit because they are sweet but those should be given sparingly. If we start giving out rabbits too many fruits and carrots they start having diarrhea.
They say that you should give one tsp of fruit per one pound of rabbit per day. They love berries! Every night we feed a bit of fruit to our rabbits and they climb on top of us to eat. They run to you, prop-up on their hind legs and beg for fruit. It is so cute.
Thanks for your comment Mirza.
I just adopted a bunny, Pippi. She loves fresh grass, crabgrass, clover and spearmint from the yard. The spearmint has taken over the garden for years and i never knew what to do with most of it…now I do!
Pippi! that’s so sweet Kelsey, I am glad you are finding some nice treats from the yard for your new rabbit friend. Give her a kiss for me.
Thanks for your comment.
Reading this is the U.K. Have just put my rabbit “Boe” on the lawn in his run for first time. He appears to be having the time of his life.. even thumping the ground with his feet which is really funny. I wasn’t sure about a few of the weeds in the lawn so I wiggled the run about until I was as happy as I could be that I recognised everything. As I say Boe’s having a great time.
Hi Caroline, thanks for your comment. I am so glad your rabbit Boe is having so much fun on the lawn. I guess you know the thumping is an alarm. Likely he is just nervous with his first time out.
pigweed (amaranthus) while it is young and not flowering is acceptable to the bunnies in moderate amounts but it is not all that nutritious.A plant every couple of days won’t hurt them and will give them some variety. Some of my bunnies enjoy it and others won’t eat it. As the plant matures the nitrates concentrate and in other animals may cause internal problems.
Dock is similar in that the younger plants are less likely to cause harm.
Do not give mint to nursing mommies as it helps dry the milk flow. Good otherwise during the year for keeping a stomach in good working order.
Most bunnies will go absolute crazy for fresh cilantro, which is one of the easiest plants to grow, and if you let ten percent of it come to seed and fall it will regrow year after year. Don’t grow it in your garden though cause it will take it over. Very, very healthful for the rabbits.
Thanks for this. I have house rabbits and absolutely love them. They are intelligent and interesting creatures that don’t really get to express their personalities so much when kept in a cage. Mine have run of the house during the day. If you love them in a cage, you’ll enjoy them even more as companions in your home!
I try to supplement my rabbits’ organic greens with wild ones, too, thinking that the wild ones are probably more nutritious. Mine like Spanish Needle (Bidens alba) a lot, as well as Florida pellitory (Parietaria floridana), Tropical chickweed (Drymaria cordata). I also give them lemon grass leaves, papaya leaves, and citrus leaves.
Your domestic rabbits are not related to cottontails, though. See http://metropets.org/Newsroom/articles/cottontail.php
Short and sweet, they come from European rabbits.
Thanks for your comment Cara. That’s really cool that your rabbits run the house. I am guessing you have eliminated electrical cords that would be w/in their reach.
Yes, my rabbits like the Bidens and Pellitory, and Chickweed too. I haven’t tried Papaya leaves, or lemon grass, but I do give them other less fragrant grasses, and grape leaves. They don’t seem to like Mulberry leaves though I have offered them from time to time. I had a whole lot of Ganges Primrose (Asystasia gangetica) in my yard, and they really seem to like that. I removed a lot of that last summer and now the wild rabbits are eating the leaves off of my pineapple plants.
I think our wild rabbits might be Marsh rabbits. I have been corrected on my assertion that our pet rabbits are related to Cotton Tails. I don’t like to go back and fix my old posts, so I expect I will continue to be corrected on this.. Thank you for posting the link. I don’t usually leave links from commenters on my site, but I am leaving yours this time.
An aside: I picked a ripe pineapple from one of my plants near the Bunny Bunker, and I decided to offer the pineapple to the rabbits to see what happened. They both had a good long nibble on the leaves at the top of the pineapple and didn’t bother to go for the skin. Rabbits! go figure!