Question: Can rabbits eat lemons?
Answer: To avoid any confusion, the answer is a definite NO!
Read on to find the reasons why.
We need to keep our furry little friends happy and healthy. Just like humans, there are certain foods that we choose to eat which are not always necessarily good for us, and rabbits are no different.
If you were to give your rabbit a bowl of muesli, it would pick out all the tasty sweet bits and leave the healthy but less appetising pieces behind.
Our fruit bowls at home often include this bright yellow fruit. They are great for flavouring, preserving, even cleaning with the juice, and are a good source of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C.
However, lemons do contain a large amount of citric acid, and rabbits can not cope with too much of this acid. Therefore, it can be dangerous for rabbits, and this is why you should not include lemons in their diet.
Citric acid does have some health benefits; it can help keep your kidneys healthy. However, too much can also be bad for a person, so imagine how little a rabbit can have when considering its size compared to a human.
Is all citrus fruit dangerous for rabbits?
You may already be feeding oranges to your bunny, do not worry, that is okay. Let us explain.
Citrus fruits contain vitamin C, which you may already know is necessary to be healthy. The proper term for vitamin C is ascorbic acid, and this should not be confused with its fellow acid, citric acid.
The main difference with citrus fruits is the quantity of these two acids they contain. A general rule is the sourer the fruit, the more citric acid, e.g. lemons, limes and grapefruit.
There is an advantage to this. Just like we wouldn’t pick up and munch on a lemon, neither would a rabbit (although you may find there is always an exception).
To come back to the oranges, they don’t have such high levels of citric acid, so they are safe to eat on a small scale now and again. Other fruits with low quantities of citric acid, which you can, also feed as a treat, are:
- Pineapple Tomatoes
Why is citric acid harmful?
A rabbit has a finely balanced digestive system, with food passing from the gut to the small intestine and then onto the cecum. It is here that the food fibres are broken down. Any interruption to this process can be extremely harmful to a rabbit’s health. A strong acid like citric acid can easily disrupt this delicate balance and cause health issues including:
- Tooth decay, as citric acid can soften the enamel.
- Gastro-Intestinal Stasis, which can ultimately put your rabbit’s life at risk.
What is Gastro-Intestinal Stasis – (G.I.) Stasis?
To maintain a healthy gut, your rabbit needs to keep eating. If it stops eating, It will disrupt the natural harmony within the gut. The bacteria levels will change, and the stomach and intestines can no longer contract to push the food through. When the food stops being passed through the gut, the bacteria can start to produce gases which can be painful. At this point, your rabbit can get extremely sick and will need veterinary treatment.
Can you feed your rabbit lemon peel and pips?
Just like lemons, lemon peel and pips are a NO, but for different reasons. Lemon peel is tough and difficult for a rabbit to digest, and even if you cut the peel into small pieces, it can cause a blockage, thus upsetting your rabbit’s digestive system. Lemon pips can also have the same effect.
Are lemon tree leaves safe to eat?
Yes, the leaves of a lemon tree are safe for your rabbit to eat. Not only are they safe, but they are also considered a good and healthy snack.
What to do if your rabbit does eat a lemon?
Prevention is always better than the cure, so always try to avoid the situation in the first place, but as we all know, accidents do happen.
Firstly, try and determine the quantity of lemon your rabbit has consumed. If it is a small amount, you need to monitor your rabbit closely. If there are any changes in behaviour, they become lethargic, develop diarrhoea, or any other unusual behaviour, contact your vet for further advice.
If your rabbit has eaten a large amount, you must contact your vet immediately for further advice.
What should you feed your rabbit?
As with humans, a healthy diet is essential, and as with people, if rabbits can choose, they would prefer to eat the less healthy option, so it is necessary to try and avoid this by following a well-balanced diet.
Rabbits are herbivores, so it is crucial to have the right menu to ensure a long and happy life. A rabbit owner should feed a good quality rabbit pellet, following the feeding guidelines for the size of the rabbit. Try to avoid overfeeding pellets as this can also cause obesity and other health issues. A rabbit’s daily diet should include a good variety of fruits and vegetables.
A good quality dust free hay should always be available as it is an excellent source of fibre that helps maintain their digestive tract. Straw is suitable for bedding but does not offer any real nutritional value.
The pet owner should ensure they wash all fruits, vegetables, and leaves to remove any pesticides present.
Some vegetables you could choose from:
- Carrots and carrot tops
- Dandelion leaves and flowers
- Celery (cut into small pieces and stringy bits removed to avoid choking)
- Bok choy
- Brussel sprouts
- Dock leaves
- Peppers (red, green, yellow)
- Radish tops
Don’t get confused between ascorbic acid, citric acid and citrus fruits.
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is part of a balanced diet.
Citric acid is unnecessary in a balanced diet and should not be fed in higher doses, e.g. lemons.
Citrus fruits contain both ascorbic and citric acid in different quantities.
A good rule of thumb to follow is if in any doubt whatsoever, do not feed it to your rabbit without first checking it out!