If you’re a person that’s into healthy eating, your friends probably mock your salads as ‘rabbit food’. But can bunnies eat iceberg lettuce? Surprisingly, no, though they can gnaw at other members of the lettuce family. Let’s take a deeper look at the mechanics of this plant.
Can Bunnies Eat Iceberg Lettuce?
Lettuce is part of the aster family, which includes unexpected members like sunflowers, daisies, dandelions, marigolds, thistles, endives, safflowers, and artichokes. The scientific genus of this plant family is Asteraceae or Compositae, while the scientific order is asterales. In common language, you’ll hear them referred to as the daisy family or composite family.
As for the lettuce itself, its Latin name is Lactuca sativa – no relation to hemp. At least 16 types of lettuce are common in the grocery aisle, and lots of them are safe for rabbits. In fact, many members of the daisy family are popular with rabbits, including various weeds. But can bunnies eat iceberg lettuce? It’s recommended in some places, but no, they shouldn’t.
While we know about 16 lettuce sub-types, they’re generally categorized into four groups:
- Celtuce aka Augustana– narrow leaves, edible stem e.g. asparagus
- Head aka Capitata – leaves fold into a dense, compact head e.g. cabbage
- Curled aka Crispa – curled leaves that form a rosette e.g. leaf lettuce
- Cos aka Longifolia – smooth, loose, oblong leaves e.g. romaine
These sub-groups are called botanical varieties, and iceberg lettuce is part of the capitata variety. Capitata is further subdivided into butterhead lettuce and crisphead lettuce. Butterheads have thick, oily leaves e.g. bibb lettuce. Crispheads e.g. iceberg lettuce have crunchy, brittle leaves. Iceberg lettuce can withstand slow shipping so they’re a top import.
Cottage Core vs Commercial Cuties
Is your rabbit a pet or a product? You’re reading about bunnies, so it’s probably a pet. But you might know of commercial farmers that keep rabbits for their meat and fur. These rabbits mostly eat hay, particularly oat, alfalfa, and timothy. It’s good for their teeth, optimal for their health, and easily available, so it’s a good dish to consider for your fluffy friend.
On farms, hay makes up the bulk of a rabbit’s diet, and they eat roughly their body size every day. But at home, you’re more likely to rely on fruits or vegetable scraps. And since iceberg lettuce is so popular in The States, it’s likely to wind up in your bunny’s food dish. But it’s not the smartest option because it has a lot of lactucarium. (Not to be confused with lactarium!)
In case you ever find yourself on a game show, a lactarium is a bank for breast milk (yes, they exist!) but lactucarium is the milky sap you find at the base of lettuce stems. It’s a natural pain killer with calming properties, so it works as an analgesic sedative. Some call it lettuce opium. And yes, people do smoke it, so in the right format, you can get high on lettuce latex!
While this could imply why we love lettuce so much, the lactucarium in iceberg lettuce is bad for your bunny. Think of it this way – your bunny’s body is a fraction of the average human weight. So if a little lettuce can help a human chill out, imagine what it could do to rabbits! That opiate effect can be quite risky, especially if bunnies eat too much of this crunchy leaf.
Let Us … Not?
Another disadvantage of iceberg lettuce is that it’s mostly water. Rabbits get the bulk of their nutrients from their caecal droppings. This is a special kind of poo that they only excrete at night, and it’s made of partially digested food. So the rabbits eat their night poop to redigest it. But iceberg lettuce has high water content and no vitamins, so it could cause diarrhea!
(Also, before you get grossed out, rabbits only eat their caecal droppings, not their regular ones … but the night poop does smell a lot more, so it’s still an uncomfortable idea. #Nature) Of course, not all lettuce is bad for your bunny. And rabbits love to nibble on dandelions and similar weeds. As a rule of thumb, the lighter the lettuce leaf color, the more water it has.
So if you’re really into lettuce, look for darker variants like romaine, arugula, or watercress. Their deeper green displays their higher nutrient content. If you’re keeping your rabbit as a pet and you’re not interested in hay, green leafy vegetables should be the bulk of what they eat. Go with 75% greens, 15% non-leafy veggies, and 10% fruits. You can add pellets as well.
As for daily portions, your bunny’s greens should be one packed cup per kilo of body weight. 1kg is roughly two pounds. So a 6lb rabbit would need 3 cups of vegetables every day. Their intake of non-leafy vegetables should be minimal – 1 tablespoon (5g or 0.167oz) per day for every kilo (2.2lbs) of body weight. For fruit, offer one teaspoonful per kilo on alternate days.
The Downside of Greens
While dark, leafy greens are great for rabbits, many of them contain oxalic acid. It’s fine in small amounts, but if your bunny gets too much, oxalic acid can make your bunny’s skin and mouth tingle before eventually damaging your rabbit’s kidney. But because greens have varying amounts of the acid, you can dodge the damage by mixing your dark, leafy dishes.
Spinach, mustard greens, and parsley have the highest levels of oxalic acid. And sometimes, kale is classified with the other three, but it has a much lower level of oxalates. That said, all these leaves are good rabbit food. You just have to mix and match them to keep your bunny happy. Ideally, your bunny’s daily salad should have at least three different types of greens.
Most greens have zero oxalic acids, so combine one oxalate with two non-oxalates. This way, your rabbit can get all the nutrients it needs while minimizing its exposure to oxalates. And because you have so many leafy options, offer different oxalates every week for variety. Make a menu to rotate these greens. For example, try parsley one week and mustard the next week.
But why can’t rabbits eat iceberg lettuce? Technically, they can, but only a leaf or three. If they ingest more, they may get a stomach upset. The lactucarium may also cause sleepiness if your bunny takes it in high doses – that’s why it’s nicknamed rabbit opium. So to avoid overdosing your bunny buddy, go easy on the rabbit iceberg lettuce, or leave it out altogether.
Try a Little Grass
When you’re planning your bunny’s diet, remember that rabbits rarely find fruit, veggies, or starch in the wild. They mostly eat grass. That’s why hay is so important. It’s high in protein, the fiber is good for rabbit digestion, and it stops their teeth from getting too big. Plus it doubles as bedding, which is fine because rabbits do eat their night poop (aka coprophagia).
Apart from parsley, spinach, and mustard greens, other greens with lots of oxalic acid include radish tops, Swiss chard, and beet greens. So your bunny’s salad sandwich should only contain one of these. Mix it with two non-oxalates like endives and dandelion leaves. Also, while root vegetables are healthy, you should give preference to their leafier sections.
|High Oxalic Greens||Low-to-No Oxalic Greens||Fruits Options|
· Beet Greens
· Mustard Greens
· Radish Tops
· Swiss Chard
· Bok Choy
· Borage Leaves
· Carrot Tops
· Dandelion Greens
· Green Leaf Lettuce
· Red Leaf Lettuce
· Romaine Lettuce
· Lamb’s Lettuce
· Kiwi Fruit
Fun fact: in the old days, lactucarium – that sap from iceberg lettuce stems – was used for cough symptoms (in humans) and sometimes prescribed for insomnia. But if you take too much, you may get blurry vision and hallucinations. A few leaves are fine for bunnies though. And romaine has lactucarium too but in far smaller amounts plus a higher nutritional value.
(Don’t) Do it Like Bugs!
Roger Rabbit and Bugs Bunny are the world’s most famous rodents. And they both love carrots. Bugs totes his like a cigar while Roger prefers it as a cake. So it makes sense that bunny keepers rush to the orange section of the grocery store or farmer’s market. And yes, rabbits do like carrots. They’re sweet and crunchy, which are a bunny’s top tasting notes.
But because they have high sugar content, carrots and sweet fruits should be a minimal part of your rabbit’s diet. Think of them like potato chips – they’re divine and satisfying, but unless you’re a gamer or a frat boy, you don’t want them as your primary food source! So yes, carrots are great, but your bunny should get one tablespoon (about half an ounce) per kilo.
Other veggies your bunny may enjoy include celery, capsicum (aka bell peppers), broccoli, zucchini, snow pea pods (aka Chinese pea pods), cabbage, cauliflower, summer squash, broccolini, and Brussels sprouts. Fruity options weigh in at one teaspoon per kilo per day, and you can try apples, pineapples, papaya, strawberries, blueberries, mangoes, or bananas.
Also, while commercial rabbit pellets are the most convenient choice, they’re like nuts for humans – you’ll eat way too many and the calories build up! Bunnies consume pellets faster than veggies or hay, but that means they end up eating more and can easily get overweight. Instead, serve a small portion of enriched pellets to help your bunny supplement minerals.
Let Us Eat Lettuce!
Can bunnies eat iceberg lettuce? No. It’s safe in small amounts but toxic in large quantities, so it’s better to avoid it altogether. If you want to give your bunny a treat from the lettuce family, try endives, romaine, or arugula (aka rocket). You can also go with dandelion greens. Does your bunny like iceberg lettuce? Tell us its favorite foods in the comments section!