Can a bunny eat apple? Whether it is safe for rabbits to eat an apple is a common concern due to the fruit’s chemical composition. This article will outline why apples are the source of debate and whether they are harmful for rabbit consumption.
Apple seeds contain many chemical compounds, one of which is called amygdalin. Cyanide is a toxin that can be fatal when taken in high enough doses and is a subcomponent of amygdalin. This chemical’s presence is a cause for concern but does not eliminate apples from a healthy rabbit’s diet.
Rabbits can safely enjoy apples as part of a balanced diet, as long as it is in moderate amounts. Rabbits have a highly specialized gastrointestinal system that needs to be regulated. Unlike other mammals, they are perfectly adapted to digest and extract the nutrients from fiber-dense plant matter. Rabbits consume apples in the wild, but cyanide in their seeds makes many people unsure if it is safe to feed their pet rabbits apples.
Are Apples Deadly?
“There are no reported cases of a rabbit dying from eating apple pips. In the autumn, wild rabbits feast on windfalls, including the pips, with no ill effects.”Frances Harcourt-Brown, BVSc, FRCVS, (source)
Why Apple Seeds Are Questionable
Apple seeds contain an amount of amygdalin, as mentioned previously. Amygdalin is a chemical that contains a cyanogenic glycoside called cyanide. It is a highly reactive substance, and when in the digestive tract, it is hydrolyzed and broken down into the toxin HCN, hydrogen cyanide.
According to a study at the University of Leeds, one gram of apple seeds contains 1 – 3.9 mg of amygdalin. Apple seeds can potentially release 0.06-0.2mg of cyanide per gram of seeds, but a human needs to consume 0.5-3.5mg/kg of body weight for cyanide toxicity to occur. Varieties of apples contain differing levels of amygdalin on average. Golden delicious seeds contain the highest amount of amygdalin at 3.9mg/g in this study. (source)
However, in another study, the cyanide content found in a range of apple seeds was significantly higher. The National Institutes of Health Toxicology Data Network (US) has determined that hydrogen cyanide poisoning for a human being would require 50-300mg to be consumed. To hit cyanide levels high enough to be fatal, a person would have to eat 83-500 seeds or 800g of apple pomace. (source)
Can a Bunny Eat Apple? Consider Cyanide Toxicity In Rabbits
The lethal dose of cyanide for rabbits is 0.66mg/kg. (source) So a rabbit weighing an average of 2kg would have to consume 660 apple seeds to receive a fatal dose. Wild rabbits often come across apples and eat those that fall to the ground, including the seeds. It is doubtful that your rabbit will be affected by the cyanide present in apple seeds and will be able to consume the core of an apple without harm. However, as the apple seed itself carries little additional nutritional value to your rabbit, it might be best just to cut out the core.
Rabbit veterinarian, Frances Harcourt-Brown, had this to say about feeding a rabbits apples:
“Although, it is true that apple seeds contain a small amount of cyanide, the toxin is protected by the hard seed coating so it passes straight through the digestive system of most animals. Although there is a possibility that a rabbit might chew the seeds so the contents would be released into the gut, the cyanide is present in such small quantities that it can be detoxified by the body. The rabbit would have to eat a large number of apple seeds to suffer any ill effect. There are no reported cases of a rabbit dying from eating apple pips. In the autumn, wild rabbits feast on windfalls, including the pips, with no ill effects.” (source)
Cyanide is an extremely reactive substance, breaking down quickly and does not remain in biological organisms. So there is no need to be concerned about the chemical building up in your rabbit’s body over time.
Your Rabbit’s Digestive System
Designed For Efficiency
GI (Gastrointestinal) tract has an intricate design. A large number of bacteria aid digestion. Since the digestion of a rabbit depends on a delicately balanced collection of gut flora, it can cause the onset of disease when that balance is upset.
How quickly nutrition moves through the GI of a rabbit is paramount to its healthy functioning. Gastric motility refers to the contractions in the digestive tract (peristalsis) that moves food through it. Since the rabbit uses high amounts of energy, the food it consumes needs to be able to move through its body quickly to keep up with the rate of energy extraction; as such gastric motility is essential to the proper functioning of the rabbit’s digestion. Additionally, as a prey animal, a rabbit needs to move quickly to escape predators. If the weight of a full gut impairs the rabbit, its chances of being caught and eaten are heightened.
The normal function of a rabbit’s gastric motility can be interrupted if the rabbit is not eating or undergoes a stressful event. This halt of motility is known as gastrointestinal stasis. To ensure this does not occur in a rabbit’s diet should heavily consist of fiber. If a rabbit ingests too many carbohydrates, the hormone motilin, which controls motility, will be rendered ineffective.
Indigestible fiber is an essential part of a rabbit’s diet. It ensures that the gut is never empty and promotes motility. If motility within the intestine slows down, a rabbit runs the risk of GI stasis which is where food stops moving through the gut and can be fatal. Stress and not eating can affect gastric motility’s normal functioning, which can potentially cause serious problems. So the diet of a rabbit is vital to its wellbeing (source)
How To Feed Your Rabbit
A Healthy Diet
Foods To Avoid
The following is a list of foods you should avoid giving your rabbit, why, and the health problems resulting from too much exposure. (source)
|Food Type||Reasons||Health Consequences|
|Yogurt drops||Encourages growth of bacteria||May cause a toxic overgrowth resulting in enterotoxemia|
|Bread, pasta, cookies, crackers||High in carbohydrates and sugar||May cause enterotoxemia|
|Cereals such as flaked maize, pellets, grains, seeds, nuts, peas||Starchy, low in fiber, and low in calcium||Can cause dental and digestive problems|
|Iceberg lettuce||Contains lactucarium||Causes a lethargic state, can also cause stomach upset and diarrhea which is potentially fatal.|
|Chard, also known as silverbeet||High in oxalic acid||It can cause colic and bloat.|
|Hamster food||Low in fiber and nutritional content||Can cause malnutrition|
|Walnuts||Low in fiber, high in fat||It can negatively affect motility in the gut.|
|Oatmeal||Low in nutritional content||It will not harm your rabbit but does not provide nutritional content.|
|Chocolate||Contains caffeine and theobromine||Stimulates a rabbit’s nervous system, may cause seizures, arrhythmia, and dehydration.|
Controlling Fruit Intake
As rabbits are concentrate eaters in the wild, they go for the most accessible, nutrient-dense, easily digestible food. A rabbit will not be able to limit the amount of fruit it consumes by itself. Be aware that 90% of fructose will be digested in the rabbit’s small intestines, another reason to monitor its intake. (source)
Fruits are high in fructose which, when overly consumed, can disrupt a rabbit’s GI tract as well as cause other health problems such as weight gain and dental damage. High levels of starch and sugars in the GI tract can affect pH levels in the cecum, a pouch containing bacteria at the beginning of the large intestine. Rabbits fed sugary and high starch diets are at risk of developing health issues such as GI disease or enterotoxemia (bacterial overgrowth). (source)
It would be rarer for a rabbit to come across fruit in the wild, so our domestic rabbits’ diet needs to reflect that fact. For every 2lb (roughly 1kg) of body weight, you can feed your rabbit up to 1 teaspoon of fruit. In other words, if your rabbit weighs 3kg, you can give them three teaspoons of fruit which would equate to 10-20g. While fruit is a natural part of a rabbit’s diet, it is essential to limit the amount of fruit your rabbit eats.
Food Perfect For Your Rabbit: A Veterinarian’s List
Susan A. Brown has compiled a list of fruits and vegetables that you should include in your rabbit’s diet. A few are listed below: (source)
Leafy and Non-Leafy Vegetables
- Carrot tops
- Spring greens
- Dandelion greens
A large part of your rabbit’s diet should consist of high fiber foods such as hay.
Apples Are Safe In Small Amounts
Apples can be part of a nutritious and balanced diet for your domestic rabbit. While there is controversy over how poisonous apple seeds are, if your rabbit accidentally consumes one or two, it will not come to any harm. Apples provide your rabbit with fiber but are high in fructose which should be noted. Fruit should make up about 10% of your rabbit’s diet and should be given as a treat. Whether you wish to include apples as part of your rabbit’s diet is at your discretion as a responsible pet owner.
- Plant Toxicity, Frances Harcourt-Brown, Frances Harcourt-Brown. https://www.harcourt-brown.co.uk/articles/free-food-for-rabbits/lant-toxicity-the-problem-with-lists Accessed 08/03/2021
- Determination of Amygdalin in Apple Seeds, Fresh Apples and Processed Apple Juices, Islamiyat F. Bolarinwa, Caroline Orfil, Michael R. A. Morgan, University of Leeds. http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/81239/2/Determination_of_amygdalin_in_apple_seeds%2C_fresh_apples_and_the_processed_apple_juices%5B1%5D.pdf Accessed 08/03/2021
- https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/76/12/893/5063624 Accessed 08/03/2021
- A Comprehensive Analysis of the Composition, Health Benefits, and Safety of Apple Pomace, T Chris Skinner, Joseph C Gigliotti, Kang-Mo Ku, Janet C Tou, Nutrition Reviews https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuy033 Accessed 08/03/2021
- https://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/pdfs/ROWinter10p7.pdf Accessed 08/03/2021
- https://www.peta.org/living/animal-companions/foods-rabbits-shouldnt-eat/ Accessed 08/03/2021
- The Rabbit Digestive System, A.wilson, Rabbit Welfare https://rabbit.org/digestibility-in-the-rabbit-diet/ Accessed 08/03/2021
- Disorders of the Cecum, Marie Mead with Drs. Susan Brown, Tomáš Chlebeček, Bill Guerrera, Angela Lennox, and Scott Stahl, House Rabbit Society https://rabbit.org/disorders-of-the-cecum/ Accessed 08/03/2021
- Suggested Vegetables and Fruits for a Rabbit Diet, Dr. Susan A. Brown, Rabbit.org https://rabbit.org/suggested-vegetables-and-fruits-for-a-rabbit-diet/ Accessed 08/03/2021
- Dental Problems in Rabbits. PDSA. https://www.pdsa.org.uk/taking-care-of-your-pet/pet-health-hub/symptoms/dental-problems-in-rabbits Accessed 08/03/2021
- Feeding Rabbits, Angela Dacombe, Straven Road Veterinary Centre http://www.veterinarycentre.co.nz/feeding-rabbits.php Accessed 08/03/2021