The beloved pet rabbit – of which there are over 45 breeds – is believed to have been domesticated from European rabbits, and are now found all over the world. They, along with the hundreds of breeds of wild rabbits and hares were once thought to be rodents, due to their ever-growing bottom teeth and the need to keep them trimmed by eating plant roughage.
Rabbits have since then been put in their own class: leporidae. While their health and digestion seem to points toward an ideal diet of grass, hay and herbs, they have become notoriously famous for a different reason. Not only do they love vegetables, but they get a thrill from raiding vegetable gardens and helping themselves to fresh crispy bites of produce, leaves and stems.
Although literature has created the impression that rabbits eat mostly carrots, they relish almost any kind of vegetable and fruit crop they can get their teeth on. Yet, bunny owners will tell you that vegetables should be limited in a rabbit’s diet and some vegetables can be harmful to a rabbit’s health and digestive system.
When it comes to vegetable gardens, a particular favorite seems to be green beans. Rabbits eat not only the green pods, but also the leaves and parts of the stems. Does this mean green beans are safe to safe to eat for rabbits?
Vitamin And Mineral Content Of Green Beans
“Green beans” is an accurate description of what it is: beans that have not yet ripened. Despite being unripe, they are flavorful and nutritious. The pods do not continue to mature after being harvested from the plant, but retain their soft and crunchy texture. Green bean pods are naturally closed and are eaten whole, with the young seeds inside. Although most green beans are green, there are a few varieties of beans that produced pods with a yellow, pink or purple color.
The typical green beans grown for eating and bought at supermarkets are mostly the young pods of lima, haricot, kidney, navy or pinto beans, but there are dozens of other varieties that produce safe and edible green bean pods.
Green beans are known by various names, such as string beans, snap beans and French beans. The description “string bean” was derived from the tough string-like fiber that runs along the sides of some varieties of bean pods. This has been bred out of a lot of varieties to make preparation and eating easier, and “string beans” is often used to refer to green beans in general.
Green beans contain high amounts of vitamins C, A and K as well as manganese, folates and copper. They have a reasonably high fiber content and contain many phytonutrients such as carotenoids and flavonoids which help to keep cells in the body healthy and protect against cancers. However, many rabbit owners are concerned about including green beans in their furry friend’s diet, despite the high nutritional value. Let us examine the reasons for these concerns.
What Should Pet Rabbits Eat?
All rabbits should live on a diet consisting mainly of hay, supplemented by vegetables, herbs and very small portions of fruits. A nutritious and good-quality hay, such as timothy hay, meadow hay, oat hay or orchard grass, should make up 75-80% of this diet.
Another 15-20% of their diet can consist of vegetables and herbs, leaving room for about 5% of fruits. Rabbits are ferocious little eaters and there are few vegetables they will not devour. It is, however, important to make sure that they eat a diet that has the correct balance of vegetables. Too much of some types of veggies can cause problems such as bloating, runny droppings and urinary tract infections.
Roughly two thirds of their vegetable rations should be leafy greens, such as lettuce, kale, carrot greens and herbs. A good guideline is to feed your rabbit about one cup of lightly compressed leafy vegetables for every pound of body weight. It is best to get your rabbit properly weighed, but the average pet rabbit weighs between three to five pounds.
The remaining third of your rabbit’s veggies can be of a non-leafy type. Most vegetables that are low in starch and sugar and not too high in water content, such as bell peppers, fennel, zucchini and carrots, are safe choices to include in your bunny’s diet.
Care should be taken to limit vegetables that are high in oxalic acid – which is a compound found in plants, vegetables and seeds, that can hinder the body’s absorption of minerals. Green and leafy types of vegetables are especially high in oxalic acids – also referred to as oxalates – and even more worrying than the decreased mineral uptake is the fact that this compound often binds to minerals to form crystals such as kidney and bladder stones. Vegetables that are high in oxalic acid, such as spinach, rhubarb and beet greens, should be fed sparingly, and not more than one of these varieties should be given per day.
Experts recommend to also avoid feeding foods that are high in calcium. When rabbits eat high-calcium foods, they increase their chances of developing kidney stones and other bladder problems.
When planning your rabbit’s diet, it is important to steer clear of all legumes: this includes peas, chickpeas, lentils, beans and peanuts. These are all foods that grow inside pods, and although they contain an impressive amount of nutrients and fiber, they also contain antinutrients such as lectin and phytic acid. Antinutrients are compounds that inhibit the absorption of other nutrients – especially minerals – and can lead to bowel irritation and the formation of gas in the digestive tract. Although the effects of these compounds in humans can be greatly diminished by cooking and soaking, rabbits’ digestive systems are extremely sensitive to such foods and they should not be eaten in any form.
Can Rabbits Eat Green Beans?
This brings us to the question of green beans: should they be considered as a bean or a vegetable? Although a member of the legume family, their green crunchy, supple texture resembles nothing of the hard, dried beans that are so infamous for causing gas and bloating.
Green beans do not have the same nutritional composition as mature beans. Although lower in fiber and protein, green beans are higher in vitamin content than mature beans and are soft and safe enough to eat raw and unsoaked. The harmful lectins and phytic acids found in legumes are not present in green beans, as they only form during the final stages of ripening. Green beans are therefore a safe and nutritious snack to feed rabbits, as long as they are harvested young!
How Many Green Beans Should Rabbits Eat?
Green beans pods are counted as part of rabbits’ non-leafy vegetable portions; together with at least one or two other non-leafy varieties, it should be equal to roughly a third cup per pound of body weight per day.
Although not in dangerously high amounts, oxalic acids are present in green beans, so they should be fed in combination with vegetables that are low in oxalates, and never on two consecutive days. If green beans are a new food for your bunny, introduce them in small amounts, and stop feeding them for a few days if any symptoms such as diarrhea or bloating develop.
How To Prepare Green Beans For Rabbits
Green beans should be fed in the pod and as fresh as possible. Always try to opt for green beans that are light to bright green in color, as these will be the least ripe ones and have a smaller chance of containing trace amounts of lectins and phytic acids. The pods should be firm, but bendable. There is a reason why green beans are nicknamed “snap beans.” If the pod does not make a “snap” sound when you break it, it is probably not fresh enough to feed to your rabbit.
The pods should be free from dark spots and holes, as these could be signs of mold, fungal growth, or insects feeding off the pod. Avoid green beans that are wilted or seem bruised. Green beans should always be thoroughly washed to remove any possible pesticides on them.
Freezing and cooking diminish the nutritional value of green beans and destroy the crunchiness that bunnies savor, so make sure to always feed the beans raw, with nothing added to them. Other than rinsing, you do not need to process the beans in any way; most bunnies will be delighted to munch their way through from one end of the pod to the other. For smaller bunnies, you can slice each pod in half, if necessary.
Green bean pods with or without strings along the sides are safe for rabbits to eat. Some people believe that beans with strings are tastier, and your bunny will probably enjoy the extra roughness the string provides.
The leaves, flowers and stems of bean plants are also safe for rabbits to eat. Although the stems are sometimes made into a hay-like feed and sold, these parts of the plants are not readily available to buy. Growing your own green bean plants is surprisingly easy and is a great way to provide your rabbits with fresh and delicious treat food.
Alternatives To Green Beans For Rabbits
Store-bought green beans are often grown in greenhouses and are available year-round. However, if they are unavailable in your area or if you find that your rabbit’s digestion does not respond well to eating them, there are various other non-leafy vegetables that you can substitute green beans with.
Zucchini is low in starch, sugar, fat and calcium and makes a great alternative. This cucumber-shaped vegetable is high in antioxidants and fiber as well as vitamins A and K, manganese and potassium. It contains similar amounts of folates and copper than green beans, but are somewhat higher in water content, so start by experimenting with small portions.
Broccoli is another tasty and nutritious alternative to green beans, but should be fed in small servings. Although containing plenty of vitamin K, folate and antioxidants, and reasonable amounts of fiber and manganese, broccoli has a higher water and starch content than string beans. Although owners warn that broccoli may cause gas in rabbits, small amounts are generally well tolerated by healthy bunnies.
Fennel bulbs are the thickened stems that form the base of fennel plants and rabbits love their crunchy texture. Fiber, iron, manganese and potassium are found in substantial amounts in fennel bulbs and both the bulbs and the leaves of the plant are high in antioxidants and contain antibacterial properties. As the strong flavor of fennel can be an acquired taste for some bunnies, make sure to introduce it in small doses.
Although rabbits should live on hay-based diets, they love to eat vegetables. These can be fed to them safely in the appropriate amounts.
Green beans are often approached with caution by bunny owners, as they are members of the legume family. Rabbits should never be fed ripened legume seeds due to their harmful antinutrients and irritants, but as the unripe beans do not contain these, they are safe to feed.
Not only do green bean pods provide lots of fiber, but they are high in vitamin C, A and K and other nutrients such as manganese, folates, and phytonutrients, which act as antioxidants.
Green beans should be introduced gradually and in small amounts, as they could in some cases cause gas and runny droppings. Rabbits that don’t tolerate green beans well, can enjoy vegetables like zucchini, broccoli and fennel instead.
If your bunny enjoys a green bean snack, it is a great idea to grow some in your own garden, as the leaves, stems and flowers of the bean plant are all safe to feed to your rabbit. Having your own green bean crop at home will ensure you always have some extra-snappy beans to be enjoyed by you and your rabbit!