The humble cucumber is frequently praised as the hydrating miracle of the fruit family. Or, is it the vegetable family? Whichever way, the cucumber has found its way into salads, face masks, sandwiches, smoothies, sushi and even cakes. But, are these cool hydration bullets safe enough to feed to your rabbit?
Interestingly enough, the cucumber is botanically classified as a fruit, despite its deep green color. Believed to have originated in the Southern parts of Asia, the cucumber is found in a variety of shapes and sizes. The common cucumber we use for salads are called a “slicing cucumber” or “telegraph cucumber.” They are approximately 12 to 15 inches in length and have dark green skins that can be smooth or bumpy.
Vitamin And Mineral Content Of Cucumbers
Cucumber contains impressive amounts of vitamin K as well as good doses of potassium and magnesium. Although fairly low in other vitamins, it contains plenty of fiber and antioxidants. These fruits, which are related to watermelons, contain around 95% water and extremely few carbohydrates, making them a great snacking food for those watching their calorie intake.
However, when it comes to your rabbit’s diet, the requirements are certainly different than your own. Not all foods that are healthy are necessarily safe to feed to pets. So, can rabbits eat cucumber?
What Do Rabbits Eat In The Wild?
The majority of rabbit species – of which there are more than sixty – are believed to have originated in Europe where they lived in areas abundant in grass and herbs. Today there are roughly 45 domesticated rabbit species found all over the world and their dietary needs show hardly any difference to that of their cousins in the wild.
A rabbit’s teeth resume to grow throughout its life, therefore the biggest part of its diet needs to consist of grass and hay with a rough enough texture to aid in wearing down its teeth. The digestive system of a rabbit is adapted to feed almost entirely off grass, and a lack of plant roughage in the diet can cause the intestines to become sluggish. Fruits and vegetables that are high in sugar, should be limited in their diets. High amounts of calcium – that are often found in nutrient-enhanced rabbit food – are known to cause urinary tract infections or even sludge or stones in the bladder.
What Should You Be Feeding Your Rabbit?
At least 75-80% of a rabbit’s diet should consist of grass or hay. These should be made available freely and around the clock. The most recommended grasses are timothy hay, meadow hay, orchard grass and oat hay. The fresher, the better; your bunnies should never be given feed that shows signs of mold, dust, or insects. Ideally, a green shade should still be present in the color of your rabbit’s hay.
Hay-based rabbit pellets can also be given, but should never replace hay. Many veterinarians even advise that you should not be feeding your rabbit pellets, unless they are still growing. Besides, your rabbit will really enjoy languidly chewing on stalks of hay, so do not deny it this pleasure!
Fresh vegetables should form roughly 15-20% of an adult rabbit’s diet and approximately two thirds of that should consist of leafy greens. This can include various types of lettuce, cilantro, kale, radish leaves, bok choy, and herbs. Quantities can be adjusted according to the age and health of your rabbit, but feeding one cup of tightly packed leafy vegetables for every two pounds of its body weight is a useful guideline. The other third of fresh vegetables can consist of non-leafy types such as bell peppers, broccoli and carrots. About a third of a cup of non-leafy vegetables should be fed for every pound of your rabbit’s weight.
Care should be taken to rotate these vegetables constantly. Variety is extremely important, and ideally at least three or four types of fresh vegetables should be fed in a day. Vegetables that are high in oxalic acid, such as spinach, Swiss chard and parsley should be limited to one choice per day. Beans, legumes and starchy root vegetables such as potatoes are generally not tolerated well by a rabbit’s digestive system and should be avoided.
Fruits should not make up more than 5% of your rabbit’s feed and will add up to approximately one to two teaspoons for every pound of body weight. Bunnies love the skins of most fruits and vegetables, so there is no need to peel them!
Common Digestive Problems In Rabbits
The most common digestive problem under rabbits is developing runny droppings or bloating due to a diet that does not contain enough hay, or contains too many soft or sugary vegetables and fruit. Such a diet also causes dental problems, as the rabbit’s teeth can become overgrown and cause inflamed gums.
Rabbit droppings can say a lot about a rabbit’s digestive system. The majority of your rabbit’s droppings should be of the dry and firm type. Rabbits also produce a soft, moist type of dropping, but this is re-eaten almost immediately and is a normal part of their digestive process. It is common for animals with high amounts of cellulose in their diets to re-digest a large portion of their food, and while some grass eaters such as cows regurgitate their meals, rabbits excrete the partially digested food and feed on it, in order to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from it. However, these type of droppings will seldom be seen and can easily be distinguished from their regular droppings, which should always be hard, round and dry. If you notice that they are runny, falling apart or contains hair, it is a sign that you should re-evaluate their diet. Too many vegetables and fruits or sudden dietary changes can cause mushy or runny droppings, therefore new foods should always be introduced gradually and in small amounts, even the healthy varieties!
Many experts warn against feeding vegetables and other leaves that are high in calcium or oxalic acids, as they can cause kidney and bladder problems. However, healthy rabbits can process these efficiently as long as they are fed in small amounts. The most important nutritional elements that should be avoided are sugars, fats and carbohydrates.
When calculated by body weight, rabbits consume more water than most other pets such as cats and dogs. They enjoy drinking from an uncovered water bowl – which they should have access to at all times – and often get frustrated with drip-style water dispensers. Despite being thirsty little animals, rabbits do not always react well to eating foods that are high in water. Therefore, foods with high water contents should be given in limited amounts, while monitoring the consistency of their droppings.
Dairy, nuts, chocolate, honey and fermented foods should always be avoided, as a rabbit’s digestive system is not adapted to break these down successfully.
Can Rabbits Eat Cucumber?
Although cucumbers are classified as fruits, they are considered as a vegetable in the dietary world. Cucumbers do not contain anything on the list of elements rabbits should steer clear of: no high amounts of sugar, oxalic acids, calcium or fats. They can, therefore, be safely fed as part of your rabbit’s non-leafy vegetable rations.
Since cucumbers have a high water content, they should be introduced slowly and in small amounts, while monitoring the effect on their digestions carefully. If you see any signs of diarrhea or bloating, remove the cucumber from your rabbit’s diet for a few days and reintroduce it again in smaller amounts.
How To Prepare Cucumber For Rabbits
Cut the cucumber into pieces that are small enough for your rabbit to nibble on comfortably. Cucumber skin contains a substantial amount of cellulose and fiber and rabbits usually prefer them over the flesh and cucumber seeds. Feeding the whole cucumber – including the cucumber seeds – is fine, but your rabbit might end up eating only the skin-covered parts. Since cucumber should be fed in relatively small amounts, some owners might choose to feed only the skin-covered cuts. Experiment with different cuts to see what your rabbit seems to favor and do not be concerned if it prefers to eat only the skin.
Your rabbit’s cucumber – or any of its food – should never be cooked, steamed, fried or spiced in any way and should be fresh and firm. Freezing a cucumber damages the structure of the cellulose and spoils its texture, which means your rabbit will probably not find it appealing. Make sure that your rabbit’s cucumber serving, along with its other non-leafy vegetables for the day, do not exceed one third of a cup per pound of body weight.
The leaves of the cucumber plant are low in alkaloids and are also perfectly safe to feed to your rabbit! They are tasty and juicy and can be counted as one of its leafy green vegetables. However, the cucumber leaves are not always easy to get hold of, so growing your own cucumber plants can be a great way of adding two healthy foods to your rabbit’s diet.
What Can Rabbits Eat Instead Of Cucumber?
Cucumbers are grown year-round in most countries and it is unlikely that you will have trouble obtaining them. However, if they are unavailable in your region, or simply do not appeal to your rabbit’s palate, there are several other non-leafy vegetables that you can substitute cucumber with.
Broccoli is a great alternative to cucumber, as it is also high in vitamin K and potassium and low in carbohydrates. Some owners complain of broccoli causing gas in their rabbits, but overall, moderate amounts of broccoli seem to be well tolerated in healthy rabbits.
Asparagus does not contain as much potassium as cucumber, but is high in antioxidants and fiber and contain more vitamin K than cucumber; therefore a suitable replacement for cucumbers.
Bell peppers are often praised for their high amounts of vitamin C. However, rabbits’ bodies can produce their own vitamin C, which means that this should not be the main motive for choosing a rabbit feed. Fortunately, bell peppers are also high in antioxidants, fiber and vitamin A, and make a healthy, safe choice as a non-leafy vegetable for your bunny.
Zucchini is a distant cousin of the cucumber and is a good choice for your rabbit’s menu, as they are low in carbohydrates, sugar, calcium and contain reasonable amounts of fiber. They contain plenty of antioxidants and vitamin A, and decent amounts of potassium, magnesium and vitamin K.
Tomatoes, with all leaves and stems removed, can also serve as an alternative to cucumber, as they are high in potassium, vitamin A and vitamin K. However, they are notably higher in sugar and carbohydrates, and have a high water content, so they should be fed in small amounts and never on a daily basis.
Other safe non-leafy vegetables include fennel, eggplant, sprouts, celery and turnips. Don’t forget that all non-leafy vegetables should be rotated and not fed on a daily basis. Variety is always key!
Feeding your rabbit cucumber is safe, as long as it is supplementing a hay-based and varied diet. Cucumber is high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamin K, potassium and magnesium. Rabbits will mostly likely favor the skin of the cucumber, so the high water content of the cucumber and cucumber seeds will seldom be a problem. However, rabbits who are not accustomed to cucumber in their diets may develop runny droppings from the sudden addition of watery veggies.
Your rabbit’s cucumber can be substituted and should be rotated with various other non-leafy vegetables that are low in carbohydrates, oxalic acids and sugar, such as broccoli, zucchini and asparagus.
Cucumber leaves are edible and safe, so adding cucumber plants to your garden is a great way to ensure you always have fresh, organic produce. There is no reason why your rabbit’s menu cannot be as cool as a cucumber!