Question: Can rabbits eat sweet potatoes?
Answer: The answer is a definite ‘no’. Sweet potatoes are a tuber and although they are not toxic for rabbits to eat, even a small amount of sweet potato can cause your rabbit bad stomach problems. The reason for this is that sweet potatoes are both sugary and starchy. With so many better foods for your rabbit to enjoy, it is best to avoid sweet potatoes – except in exceptional circumstances on the advice of your Vet.
Sweet potatoes are very nutritious for humans as they are a really good source of Vitamin A, magnesium and many other minerals. Sadly, raw or cooked sweet potato is far to starchy for rabbits to eat comfortably. It is certainly tempting if you are cooking some sweet potatoes to reserve some raw or cooked sweet potato to give to your rabbit. The trouble is that your rabbit will enjoy the sweet taste as rabbits prefer sweet foods, but the sugar and starch contained in a sweet potato are both bad for him and even if he manages to digest it, regular amounts of sweet potato can lead to obesity and even diabetes in your rabbit.
Why are sweet potatoes bad when rabbits can eat fruit?
It is absolutely true that rabbits can eat many different fruits and berries in small quantities and some of these fruits actually have a higher sugar content than a sweet potato. The reason why sweet potatoes are bad for rabbits lies in the combination of starch and sugar found in them. It is this combination that is harmful to your rabbit’s digestion because of the way in which he digests his food.
To ensure that your rabbit enjoys good health, it is essential that you feed your rabbit a basic diet of low calorie foods. Rabbits have delicate digestive systems so this type of diet ensures that they develop no problems
What is the problem with my rabbit’s digestive system?
There is not actually a problem with your rabbit’s digestive system, but it is important to know that compared to other animals, your rabbit has a relatively small stomach and a delicate one that gets upset by an intake of too much starch or sugar. Rabbits also have a special digestive organ called the cecum and this organ ferments the fibres found in the grasses that form your rabbit’s basic diet. If too much sugar or starch is added to your rabbit’s diet, this can upset the delicate balance of bacteria in your rabbit’s cecum. The result is that if this happens, your rabbit will suffer from stomach ache caused by gas trapped in his stomach.
If your rabbit suffers from this problem repeatedly, he can develop a potentially fatal problem called GI Stasis which is when his digestive system stops functioning properly – this is best avoided at all costs.
What is the ideal basic diet for rabbits?
To ensure your rabbit remains healthy, he needs a good basic diet that is low in calories. To this basic diet you can add a variety of other fruit, vegetables and herbs – but always given in very small quantities. This diet will give your rabbit all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients he needs to keep him healthy.
The best basic diet for a rabbit is one of unlimited amount of fresh, good quality hay, rabbit pellets and plenty of fresh drinking water. These foods should be given to your rabbit every day. On top of these basic foods, rabbits should also be given a variety of fresh, leafy vegetables every day. The amount that they need every day is 1- 2 tablespoons of leafy vegetables per 500g of their body weight. The ideal choice of leafy green vegetables include romaine lettuce (but not iceberg lettuce) curly kale, bok choy and celery are among the leafy greens that are good for rabbits and the list also includes carrot tops, watercress, kohlrabi, broccoli leaves, and coriander (cilantro).
As well as enjoying a fresh portion of leafy greens every day, you should give your rabbit an array of different fruit and vegetables. Some of these foods do contain sugar so should only be given once or twice a week in small quantities as a treat. Your rabbit will benefit from eating a wide selection of foods as this will ensure that they get plenty of different vitamins and minerals. It is important to adhere to guidelines on the quantities you should feed your rabbit. Rabbits only have small stomachs and it is important that they do not fill them with just one food, leaving no room to eat other more nutritious foods. If this pattern of filling their stomach with less nutritious foods continues over a period of time, your rabbit can suffer from malnutrition. If the bulk of his diet is sugary and starchy he will end up obese and could also have problems with his teeth. Rabbits can also suffer from diabetes.
So is sweet potato bad for rabbits?
In a nutshell yes. If you give your rabbit sweet potato, his digestive system can react badly and he could appear lethargic with a bloated stomach and in pain. This would signal that he is having an adverse reaction to the sweet potato. Other symptoms that can your rabbit could display is not eating or drinking properly or a change in his stools – either constipation or diarrhoea. If you spot any of these symptoms in your rabbit, it is best to get him along to see your Vet because if a serious problem is developing your rabbit will need veterinary help.
When can sweet potato be fed to a rabbit?
Some Vets do advocate that if your rabbit is underweight that you do serve him a very small amount of cooked sweet potato. Sweet potato is high in calories so this can be beneficial, but should only be given in very small quantities as advised by your Vet and you need to monitor your rabbit closely to ensure he is not having problems digesting it.
With so many different foods to safely feed your rabbit, it is best to avoid sweet potatoes. Your rabbit may well enjoy eating them because of their lovely sweet taste but it just isn’t worth risking the possible health issues that your rabbit could incur. Keep your rabbit really healthy by sticking to the recommended basic diet plus leafy vegetables. As occasional treats your rabbit can enjoy a piece of apple, orange, some slices of strawberry or carrot and these are all better options for your rabbit than giving him sweet potato.