For pet rabbits, a graze in the backyard grass seems like a natural treat. But is your lawn actually safe for bunnies to nibble? What risks are lurking in those green blades? Can too much grass make your rabbit sick? Is it okay to let them munch on weeds and clippings? Before you open the hutch door, learn the truth about rabbits and grass. What parts of yards can be deadly? How much is too much? Discover the precautions to take for safe grazing, and which grass-related hazards to avoid at all costs. This backyard foraging guide will equip you with the knowledge needed to let your bunny hop happily–and safely–in the grass.
Is Fresh Grass Safe for Rabbits to Eat?
Fresh grass can be a nutritious part of a rabbit's diet when fed in moderation. Grass is naturally high in fiber and water content, both of which are essential components of a balanced rabbit diet. The fiber in grass helps promote healthy digestion and keeps their gastrointestinal tract functioning properly. The high water content also helps keep rabbits hydrated.
However, there are some potential risks to be aware of when offering fresh grass to pet rabbits. One concern is pesticides or weed killers that may have been applied to the grass. These chemicals can be extremely toxic to rabbits if ingested. For this reason, you'll want to avoid feeding grass clippings if you treat your lawn with any chemicals.
It's also important to introduce new grass gradually to watch for any adverse reactions. Some rabbits may experience gastrointestinal upset or diarrhea when introduced to new greens. Start with just a few small handfuls at first to make sure it agrees with your rabbit's digestive system.
The type of grass you offer is also a factor. Some grasses, like rye, can contain fungal infections and mold that can cause digestive issues in rabbits if consumed. Stick to timothy, oat, or bluegrass varieties which are safer. Avoid lawn clippings from neighbors as you can't control what chemicals they may use.
As long as the grass is untreated by chemicals and introduced slowly, most short-haired rabbits can safely enjoy fresh grass in their diet. Just feed in moderation, ideally alongside their regular diet of hay.
Can Rabbits Eat Grass Instead of Hay?
It's not recommended to substitute fresh grass for the hay component of a rabbit's diet. Both grass and hay provide fiber, but hay is higher in nutritional value and more digestible for rabbits.
Hay is typically made from timothy, oat, or other dried grass varieties that are cut prior to seed heads forming. This means the carbohydrate and protein levels are lower than fresh grass. The drying process also helps break down the tough cellulose and lignin that is harder for rabbits to digest.
So while grass offers some fiber, rabbits gain more usable nutrition from good quality hay. Hay helps promote more efficient digestion and healthy gut bacteria. The abrasive nature of hay also helps wear down a rabbit's continuously growing teeth.
Replacing hay with grass can deprive rabbits of vital nutrients they need. It may also lead to obesity since fresh grass is higher in carbohydrates and calories. Stick to a measured amount of fresh grass as a supplement, not a substitute, for the hay.
It is okay to feed grass hay varieties like timothy or oat hay rather than legume hays like alfalfa. But do not remove hay completely or reduce the amount you offer. Rabbits should have unlimited access to hay at all times to promote good digestive health.
Can Rabbits Have Too Much Grass?
Yes, it is possible for rabbits to have too much fresh grass. While grass can be a healthy part of a rabbit's diet in moderation, feeding grass in excessive quantities can cause some problems.
One risk of too much grass is gastrointestinal upset. The high water and fiber content, especially when rabbits are not used to it, may lead to temporary diarrhea. Rabbits with sensitive stomachs may not tolerate large amounts of fresh greens. Introduce new greens slowly and watch for any diarrhea, gas, or changes in appetite or fecal production.
Overfeeding fresh greens like grass can also contribute to an unbalanced, higher calorie diet. Obesity can become an issue since grass is higher in carbohydrates and calories compared to hay. Obese rabbits are at risk for many health complications like heart disease and arthritis.
Too much grass may also minimize how much hay a rabbit eats. Since hay is essential for dental health, gut health, and nutritional balance, it's important not to replace hay with large quantities of grass. Monitor to make sure your rabbit is still eating several ounces of hay each day even when enjoying access to grass.
Aim to feed grass in controlled portions as about 10% of your rabbit’s diet. This equates to about 1 packed cup per 4 lbs of body weight per day for short-haired breeds. Always evaluate portion sizes based on the individual rabbit's health and reaction.
Can Pet Rabbits Eat Lawn Clippings?
It's generally not recommended to offer lawn clippings to pet rabbits. While the grass itself may not necessarily be harmful, the risks lie in what lawn treatments the grass has been exposed to.
Many homeowners treat their lawns with weed killers, pesticides, or fertilizers. These chemical treatments can linger on grass clippings for days after application. Consuming chemically-treated grass can be extremely toxic and even fatal to rabbits. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell just by looking if grass clippings are safe.
Another potential issue is mold growth. Grass clippings left in piles tend to develop mold quite quickly. Ingesting moldy greens can cause digestive upset and serious illness in rabbits.
There is also no control over the grass variety when collecting lawn clippings from the yard. Some types like ryegrass are prone to fungal infections. It’s safer to grow grass specifically intended to feed rabbits rather than using mystery clippings.
If you want to harvest your own grass for rabbits, it's best to use a hand clipper to selectively cut untreated patches from safe areas of your yard. Let the grass wilt for a few hours before feeding to reduce mold risk. Introduce new grass types slowly and monitor for any digestive upset. But never feed lawn clippings unless you can verify they are completely chemical-free.
Can Rabbits Eat Grass from the Lawnmower?
It is not recommended to allow pet rabbits access to grass discharged from a running lawnmower. There are a few key risks that make fresh-cut lawn clippings unsafe.
One major hazard is that lawn mower blades can flick stones, pebbles, or other debris into the grass discharge. Rabbits can easily sustain dental injuries or fractured teeth from accidentally ingesting objects hidden in the grass clippings. Rabbits teeth also continue growing throughout life and any damage or trauma will misalign their teeth and cause ongoing problems.
Another consideration is the type of grass varieties and whatever weeds or plants are present in the yard. Rabbits have no way to selectively forage when eating discharged grass, so they ingest whatever plants are present. Some weeds, leaves, or ornamental plants can be toxic to rabbits. It’s impossible to control what gets blended together when using a lawnmower.
Finally, the freshly chopped grass contains more surface moisture and will start to decompose very quickly. This raises the risk of mold growth which can make rabbits very sick if they ingest moldy greens. Never collect mowed grass into piles for rabbits since it will immediately start to compost.
For safety, it’s wise to avoid feeding grass clippings direct from a running lawnmower. Rabbits can enjoy small amounts of freshly mowed grass if you first inspect it carefully for debris and monitor closely for any signs of illness afterwards. But take precautions to minimize hazards.
Would a Pet Rabbit Eat Pesticides?
If given access, pet rabbits may potentially ingest pesticides or chemicals applied to grass and plants in the yard. However, most rabbits will selectively forage when possible and avoid eating toxic substances.
Rabbits' natural foraging behavior involves carefully nibbling on small amounts of new foods and plants at first. Then they will wait to see if any gastrointestinal upset occurs before consuming more. This allows wild rabbits to avoid poisonous plants. But pet rabbits do not always display these cautious foraging tendencies, especially if very hungry.
Certain pesticides applied to lawns, gardens, or crops contain chemicals purposefully designed to taste bitter. This deters grazing by wildlife. However, some persistent, toxic pesticides have no taste or smell. And pet rabbits have not evolved to detect or avoid manmade toxins.
If a very palatable plant is sprayed or coated with these pesticides, rabbits may readily consume the contaminated vegetation without detecting the hidden dangers. Homeowners may also unknowingly track chemical residues into the house on shoes or clothing where indoor-only rabbits could be exposed.
The most reliable approach is to prevent any potential access to chemically treated areas of the yard or plants. Keep pet rabbits safely confined in a secure exercise pen or rabbit-proofed room when outdoors. Also thoroughly wash hands and veggies from the garden before feeding. Taking precautions is key to avoid accidental pesticide poisoning.
Can a Rabbit Eat Weeds and Plants from the Yard?
It's best to avoid allowing pet rabbits to graze freely on weeds, plants, or vegetation growing uncontrolled around the yard. While some weeds or ornamental plants are non-toxic, many backyard plants can be poisonous to rabbits if eaten.
Some common plants toxic to rabbits found in many yards include:
- Morning glory
- Sweet pea
Rabbits also cannot safely consume most raw beans or rhubarb leaves. Some nuts, like walnuts, are also hazardous. Even grass treated with herbicides or fungicides can cause poisoning.
The dangers depend on the specific plant’s toxicity, the amount ingested, and the size of the rabbit. Never assume any unknown plant, weed, or yard vegetation is safe.
Instead, positively identify any weeds, berries, leaves, stems, nuts, or plants you allow pet rabbits access to. Thoroughly research which parts are rabbit-safe and non-toxic. Introduce new plants gradually while monitoring for any adverse reaction.
When in doubt, restrict rabbits to eating their regular commercial diet rather than unidentified backyard forage. Take precautions to keep pet rabbits safe from potentially poisonous yard plants.
Fresh grass can be a healthy supplemental food for pet rabbits when fed properly. Offer grass in moderation alongside their regular diet. Never replace hay with grass. Supervise grazing and avoid areas treated with chemicals. Take precautions when harvesting grass clippings or allowing access to unknown weeds or plants. While grass from the yard can be a fun foraging enrichment, only permit access to plants you can positively identify as rabbit-safe. Monitor grazing and amounts consumed to prevent gastrointestinal issues or toxicity. With some basic guidelines, the nutritious properties of fresh grass can benefit a rabbit's diet.