Elderberries come in various colors, but the most common berries are black. As they are so common, you may have thought about feeding them to your pets. However, most parts of the elderberry should not be given to your rabbits, and the fruit itself only occasionally as a treat.
Most parts of the elderberry plant are poisonous to rabbits, as the plant contains cyanide-containing substances. These include the stem, leaves, and seeds. You can give your rabbits ripe elderberries raw, but only in small quantities. Although the cyanide content in the berries is low, it is still noticeable. However, you can cook elderberries thoroughly to remove the cyanide-containing substances. Your rabbits can then consume them without hesitation. Elderflowers, on the other hand, can be fed to rabbits as they do not contain any harmful substances.
You should, therefore, be careful when feeding elderberries to your rabbits. Nevertheless, elderberries have significant health benefits.
While rabbits should not eat the stems and leaves, ripe elderberries and elderflowers can be prepared in many delicious and healthy ways.
Is Elderberry Poisonous to Rabbits?
Elderberry is a common plant in many varieties and produces showy flowers and fruits. It is also known for its health benefits and is a popular dietary supplement.
However, elderberry is harmful to rabbits in its raw form, except for the flowers.
The leaves, twigs, and fruit of elderberry contain cyanogenic glycosides. When these substances are consumed, they release cyanide, i.e., hydrocyanic acid.
The content of these substances varies in each part of the plant, and the different elderberry varieties appear to have different toxicity levels. However, elderberry is generally dangerous to eat.
Other plants, such as potatoes, are also poisonous to rabbits. This also applies to rhubarb, which is dangerous for rabbits.
So always find out before you introduce a new food.
How to Identify Elderberries
Elderberry is a plant that grows along roadsides, bushes, and hedges. It can be found worldwide, including in Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia.
The two most common varieties are the black elderberry and the red elderberry. The following list explains how to recognize the toxic parts of the elderberry:
- Whole plant: Mature plants are 5 to 12 ft. (1.50 to 3.50 m) tall and spread about 5 to 12 ft. (1.50 to 3.50 m). As a whole, the elderberry looks bushy, with most of the stems growing at the base of the plant.
- Elderberry leaves: One of the most striking features of elderberry leaves is their edges. Look for serrated or saw-toothed leaves. The leaves are placed in opposite pairs, with 5 to 9 pairs on each stem. The leaf veins are lighter in color and become narrower towards the edges.
- Elderberry twigs: In its first year, elderberry has green stems. Older elderberry plants show bark on most parts of the branches and trunk. The bark has small bumps, while larger stems have vertical lines.
- Elderberries: The berries grow in clusters and have a deep purple to black or red color, depending on the variety. In other regions, there are also elderberries with white berries, for example. The berry has a diameter of around 0.3 in. (8 mm) and grows in the fall and summer.
Are Elderberries Harmful to Rabbits?
Elderberries are indeed poisonous. However, this does not mean eating elderberries is fatal for your rabbit.
Ripe elderberries can be safely eaten in small quantities. Wild cottontail rabbits have even been known to eat elderberry plants if there are no other food sources in the area.
Toxicity is a relative term. It refers to the ability of a substance to cause harm in smaller quantities than most other substances.
Even too much water can kill a person, which is called water intoxication. In fact, water intoxication is a common condition among athletes.
However, water is not considered a toxic substance in the general sense of the word. The lack of awareness may be because the condition is not usually widespread.
Also, the fact that something is poisonous does not mean that any kind of contact with it will result in death.
Some people may be more sensitive to a substance than others. What causes a headache in one person may cause unconsciousness in another.
This means that if your rabbits have eaten raw elderberries, chances are they will be fine.
Ideally, these fruits should be fully ripe and their seeds removed.
Rabbits should also not be given large numbers of elderberries, as well as other berries such as blueberries or raspberries.
When Should You Call Your Vet?
If you think your rabbit has swallowed too much elderberry, a poisonous part of the elderberry, or is otherwise affected by cyanide poisoning, you must contact your vet immediately.
Unfortunately, cyanide is a fast-acting poison that can quickly lead to organ deterioration.
Rabbits also have a higher risk of intoxication as they cannot vomit or regurgitate. They are, therefore, unable to excrete the poison themselves.
Watch for the following symptoms of poisoning in rabbits:
- Sluggish breathing
- Loss of appetite
If you notice these symptoms, regardless of the cause, act immediately. Remove the possible toxins and move them out of reach.
If you have other pets, isolate the affected rabbit from the other pets. Then, call your vet and request medical assistance.
You should also generally prevent your rabbits from coming into contact with poisonous substances, poisonous plants, or other things. Ensure that sources of poison and toxic substances are not within reach of your animals.
When Can Rabbits Eat Elderberries?
If you have found a handful of elderberries, you should not throw them away immediately.
Despite their toxicity, you can quickly cook elderberries to prepare them for consumption. Cooking removes the cyanide-containing substances so that the berries can be eaten in any quantity.
Please note, however, that the poison in the seeds is not rendered harmless by cooking. You should, therefore, always remove the seeds.
Elderberries should only be prepared and eaten when ripe. Not all varieties are poisonous when unripe, but with many elderberry varieties, it is better to be careful.
To determine whether your elderberries are ripe, you should check whether the elderberry has the following three characteristics:
- The berry is plump
- It is slightly soft to the touch
- It is entirely dark in color
Toxicity also depends on the plant variety. To be on the safe side, stick to black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), as other varieties may have a higher toxicity.
All other parts of the plant, except for the flowers, should not be given to your rabbits under any circumstances.
Other parts of the plant have a higher cyanide content and also contain a lot of lectin, which can cause stomach problems.
Are Elderflowers Suitable for Rabbits?
If you are looking for a safe alternative to elderberries, you can feed your rabbit elderflowers.
Elderflowers grow in flat to round clusters and are about half a centimeter in size per flower. They are star-shaped and cream to white.
Most elderberry varieties only flower once a year. However, if you put up with the wait, you can eat the elderflowers without any preparation and with all the health benefits.
Elderflowers are also often made into wine, tea, and herbal liqueur.
Health Benefits of Elderberries
The presence of cyanide may be concerning, but elderberries still have many health benefits that make them a healthy snack for your rabbits.
Throughout history, elderberry has been used to treat disease, promote longevity, and even improve complexion.
Several properties make elderberries healthy:
- High energy content: elderberries contain 73 kcal per 100 grams, making them an ideal snack. However, due to the high sugar content, you should only give elderberries as a snack to a limited extent.
- Rich in vitamins: Elderberries contain about 12 times the amount of vitamin A as blueberries. Elderberries also have a large amount of vitamin C and B-complex vitamins.
- Rich in minerals: Besides healthy carbohydrates and vitamins, elderberries are also rich in minerals such as calcium, potassium, manganese, iron, and phosphorus.
Rabbits are leaf eaters by nature, and this should be reflected in their diet.
The green, leafy parts of vegetables should make up most of your rabbit’s diet as they are high in fiber and low in calories.
If you want to feed your rabbits elderberries, it’s best to give them flowers or ripe berries without seeds. But even then, you should limit the consumption of berries and only consider elderberries as a treat.