Rhubarb is a vegetable that has long green leaves and a white to red stalk. As it is a tasty and nutritious food, you may wonder if your rabbits can safely eat rhubarb. Unfortunately, rhubarb’s health benefits do not apply to rabbits. Instead, rhubarb is bad for rabbits, even in small amounts.
All parts of the rhubarb plant are toxic to rabbits. However, the most toxic parts are the leaves. The reason for this is the oxalic acid contained in all parts of the plant. Oxalic acid poisoning can lead to loss of appetite, weakness, and listlessness. In more severe cases, it may lead to neurological damage, seizures, and even death in rabbits.
To prevent your rabbit from eating rhubarb, you should know how to identify the plant.
In the worst-case scenario, if your rabbit suffers rhubarb poisoning, you should act immediately and contact your vet.
What is Rhubarb?
Rhubarb intended for human consumption is known as common rhubarb, vegetable rhubarb, or curly rhubarb.
You can find this rhubarb in grocery stores and kitchens. It is known as Rheum rhabarbarum.
Rhubarb can be recognized by the red stalk tips, ranging from dark red to light pink to light green. This color makes rhubarb very nutritious.
One of the health benefits of rhubarb is its high anthocyanin content.
In practice, these compounds can help prevent diabetes, reduce the risk of cancer, and improve motor function, among other things. However, none of these benefits apply to rabbits.
Why Can’t Rabbits Eat Raw Rhubarb?
Rhubarb contains a compound called oxalic acid in addition to the good stuff. This is poisonous to rabbits in any quantity. Rhubarb damaged by frost is even more deadly, as frost damage increases the oxalic acid content.
The lethal dose for rabbits has not yet been determined. However, there are numerous cases in which the deadly effect has been proven. Oxalic acid poisoning can lead to acute kidney failure in rabbits.
The effects of oxalic acid have also been observed in other animals. One study describes how oxalic acid can treat mite problems in honey bee colonies.
Oxalic acid was found to be 99.44% effective in all colonies tested.
By consuming oxalates, rabbits can no longer absorb calcium properly. Without this vital mineral, many health problems occur in rabbits, especially kidney failure.
How to Identify Rhubarb
Rhubarb has evident characteristics that allow it to be distinguished from other harmless plants. Look for the three main components: stalks, leaves, and flowers.
The most distinctive feature of rhubarb is its stalk, which can be pink, red, or green. This color is due to the presence of anthocyanins.
You can also recognize the rhubarb plant by its leaves. The leaves are large, triangular, and often deep green in color. In addition, the curly, wrinkled shape and light-colored veins are the most striking features.
Rhubarb can also be recognized by its flowers. These tiny flowers can be greenish-white to pink-red. The flowers are arranged in clusters on branches.
Is Rhubarb Suitable for Rabbits?
Rabbits should never be fed with rhubarb, not even in small quantities.
Rabbits have a more sensitive digestive system and a more petite body. This means that the oxalic acid in rhubarb can still be dangerous, even in small doses.
Rhubarb Greens and Stalks
As rhubarb greens and stalks are edible for humans, you might think they are safe for your rabbits, too.
However, this is not the case. Oxalic acid is present in all parts of the rhubarb plant and, therefore, it is poisonous to your rabbit.
However, the stems contain the least amount. If a rabbit eats a bite or two, it may not feel the poisoning as much. Still, it will be poisoned, so you shouldn’t take this easily.
The rhubarb leaves are probably the most dangerous part for your rabbits as they contain the highest concentration of oxalic acid.
The level of oxalic acid in the leaves is so high that it is unsafe to eat, even for humans. Between 5 and 15 grams can be fatal to a human, who has the advantage of body mass over a rabbit.
If a rabbit eats any part of the leaves, take it to a vet immediately.
Raw rhubarb is poisonous to rabbits. In the wild, rabbits naturally avoid raw rhubarb.
Farmers even use rhubarb to keep wild rabbits out of their fields. They can be an effective barrier against wild animals as they sense the toxicity of this plant.
However, domesticated rabbits may lack this instinct. Domestic rabbits have been bred to be trusting of their owners.
Therefore, your rabbit will probably eat anything you put before it, provided the taste is not bad.
If your rabbits seem to avoid rhubarb, that’s good news. However, this is probably due to the selective nature of domesticated rabbits and not a primal instinct.
Nevertheless, it is unwise to leave your rabbits unattended near this poisonous plant.
Rhubarb is often made into cakes and can also be found in pies and other baked goods. However, it would be best not to feed it to your rabbits.
Not only the toxicity but also the added sugar in any dish containing rhubarb can be harmful to your rabbits. We don’t want to make matters worse!
What to Do if Rabbits Eat Rhubarb
When your rabbits have accidentally eaten rhubarb, you must take immediate action. Perhaps the rabbit has eaten a piece that fell on the floor while you were cooking.
Rhubarb is toxic to rabbits in any dose. However, the symptoms’ severity can differ depending on the amount of rhubarb eaten. The parts eaten also play a role.
For example, if a giant rabbit consumes a few bites of rhubarb stalks before you catch it, it may fully recover after a visit to the vet.
It may not even have any long-term side effects. However, in a small rabbit that eats more rhubarb leaves, it can cause organ damage, nerve failure, and even death.
First, determine how much rhubarb the rabbit has eaten. This will give you a better idea of how harmful the effects can be.
Examine the plant for bites or missing leaves. With this information, you can tell the vet about the possible dosage of oxalic acid. This will allow the vet to act faster and more precisely to help your rabbit.
Symptoms of Rhubarb Poisoning in Rabbits
Even if you have not observed your rabbit eating the rhubarb, you can recognize the signs of rhubarb poisoning.
This manifests itself in a variety of symptoms that can occur immediately or within a few hours of eating the plant.
- Lethargy and weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Digestive problems
In some severe cases, rhubarb poisoning can lead to neurological damage or death. If you notice these symptoms, you should take further action.
Other foods that are toxic to rabbits can also cause similar symptoms. For example, if a rabbit eats onions, the symptoms will be similar.
Treatment of Rhubarb Poisoning in Rabbits
All symptoms of poisoning in rabbits should be treated as soon as possible. If you think your rabbit has ingested rhubarb, you should see your vet immediately.
It’s not a problem that you should sit out at home. Your rabbit will often not recover quickly.
Your vet will check the rabbit and assess if oxalic acid poisoning causes its symptoms.
Once confirmed, your vet will administer emergency medical treatment, including checks that no other toxins impact your pet. Your doctor will prescribe an antidote.
In more severe cases, your rabbit may require life support. This may include artificial respiration and an infusion.
Once treatment is complete, your rabbit can go home with you.
However, you must continue to monitor the rabbit closely. This includes watching for further symptoms and alerting your vet if the rabbit does not seem to be recovering.
Most importantly, keep your rabbit in an enclosed space where it has plenty of access to water. It is crucial to keep it hydrated.
This helps to reduce the fluid loss that the body may have suffered during the poisoning. It also helps the rabbit better to flush the traces of poison from its body.
Conclusion: Can Rabbits Eat Rhubarb?
It’s tempting to share all the tasty vegetables you eat yourself with your rabbits. However, this well-intentioned gesture should only be done responsibly.
Instead of giving your rabbits a taste of rhubarb when preparing dinner, consider other vegetables such as zucchini, spinach, or peppers that are more suitable for rabbits.
Rhubarb may be a healthy treat for humans, but it is poisonous to rabbits. It is better to stick to safer alternatives.