Ever heard the story of how cabbage saved an entire ship's crew from scurvy? The crew members who ate cabbage did not get sick, and the members who did not eat cabbage developed scurvy.
The ship doctor noticed that and mandated that cabbage should be an integral part of every ship's food reserves. Ever since then, we know how beneficial cabbage is. We use it in many ways and many recipes.
But what about rabbits? Can rabbits eat cabbage? Cabbage is readily available and easy to grow, tastes fantastic, and serves as a refreshing treat.
As surprisingly as it may sound, feeding cabbage to your rabbit comes with certain risks and considerations. Let's dive in and learn what makes the difference between cabbage the safe snack and cabbage the risky treat.
Can Rabbits Eat Cabbage?
Yes, rabbits can eat cabbage. It is a low-calorie veggie with antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Although bunnies can enjoy cabbage, following the feeding guidelines is essential to prevent bloating, gas, and other stomach upsets in some rabbits.
Cabbage is undeniably healthy and can be an important part of the rabbit's diet
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
Additionally, we should emphasize that 80-90% of your rabbit's daily food intake should consist of high-quality hay. Hay is vital for proper digestion and dental health. Always ensure that your rabbit has unlimited hay available along with fresh water, pellets, healthy veggies, and an occasional fruity treat.
Just remember that baby rabbits should not be given cabbage. Because of their sensitive gastrointestinal systems, baby bunnies are incredibly prone to tummy issues. Baby rabbits should grow on their mother's milk and, and when the time is right, slowly introduced to hay and pellets. Fruits and veggies are off-limits at least until bunnies are 12 weeks old.
That said, adult rabbits can absolutely eat cabbage as there is nothing toxic about this crunchy veggie. Whether or not they like it will depend on the individual rabbit. Most rabbits love everything about cabbage – the taste, the texture, the moisture, and of course, the opportunity to munch.
Can rabbits eat cabbage leaves, stalks, and roots?
The leaves and stalks are edible. However, the leaves are better suited for rabbits. Because of their hard digestibility, stalks are better left out of your rabbit's menu. You shouldn't offer the roots to rabbits, and even if offered, most rabbits will refuse to eat them.
Which Type of Cabbage Is Best For Your Rabbit?
There are plenty of different cabbage types – green cabbage, red or purple cabbage, white cabbage, savoy cabbage, Chinese cabbage (also known as napa cabbage), and bok choy.
Darker varieties such as spring greens, savoy cabbage, and cavolo nero are healthier options.
It goes without saying that each type is different nutrition-wise and comes with various benefits.
When it comes to rabbits, darker varieties such as spring greens, savoy cabbage, and cavolo nero are healthier options. This is because they are richer in fiber and antioxidants.
Simply put, rabbits can eat cabbage but in moderation. As with any other veggie, overeating comes with certain risks. In the case of cabbage, one of the more considerable risks is the goitrogens content. Cabbage is a goitrogenic veggie – but only if fed excessively.
So, let's go deeper into the subject and learn how to get most of the cabbage's benefits without risking adverse effects.
Health Benefits: Is Cabbage Good For Rabbits?
Cabbage is associated with plenty of health benefits. Although the exact benefits depend on the specific cabbage type, here are some general insights into the cabbage's expected health boosts.
Great source of vitamins and minerals
Cabbage is loaded with healthy and essential vitamins and minerals, including:
- Vitamin C – Promotes a strong immune system, healthy vision, and reproductive system. Supports normal growth.
- Vitamin B6 – Helps the protein metabolism.
- Manganese – Regulates metabolic processes.
- Magnesium – Ensures healthy blood sugar levels.
- Calcium – Important for healthy bones and strong teeth.
- Potassium – Regulates blood pressure, normal nerve and muscle functioning, and prevents unnecessary water retention.
Cabbage is also rich in vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, phosphorus, and iron.
A satisfactory amount of dietary fiber
It is no secret that rabbits thrive on roughage and need fiber-rich foods for smooth digestion. Cabbage is exactly that – a fiber-packed roughage that promotes healthy digestion and proper intestinal motility.
Cabbage is well-hydrating, nutrient-dense, and beneficial.
Too little fiber in their diet could cause gut stasis, which is a life-threatening condition for rabbits where the digestion of food slows down or stops completely. Symptoms include:
- reduced appetite
- small or no droppings
- grinding teeth
If you notice any of these signs and suspect gut stasis, always contact a vet immediately for advice.
Alternative to vitamin K supplementation
Cabbage is particularly rich in vitamin K. As one of the blood clotting factors, vitamin K is a vital part of the blood-clotting cascade. Vitamin K is especially s crucial for pregnant rabbits.
In fact, one of the mandatory supplements for pregnant rabbits is vitamin K. Feeding cabbage in the recommended amounts ensures your rabbit gets enough vitamin K thus eliminating the need to use vitamin K supplements.
Cooling and hydrating treat
With 92.1 grams of water per 100 grams, cabbage is a water-packed veggie. Eating cabbage ensures your rabbit will stay well-hydrated even on hot summer days.
Feeding cabbage does not mean your rabbit will not need a constantly available freshwater source. However, it is a good way of encouraging adequate water intake, which will keep your bunny's digestion moving.
Health Risks: Is Cabbage Bad For Rabbits?
Although rabbits can enjoy cabbage, and it comes with many health benefits, there are some downsides to it as well. Here are the risks you need to consider before adding cabbage to your rabbit's menu.
Digestion issues and gassiness
Cabbage, just like any other brassica vegetable, is rich in sulfurous compounds, which some rabbits may find troublesome. Another issue with cabbage is the non-digestible carbohydrates content.
Together, the sulfurous compounds and starches make digestion a bit challenging and, given the right circumstances, can cause diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, and gassiness.
Bloating and gassiness are dangerous in rabbits because rabbits are not efficient when it comes to passing gasses. The gasses build up and contribute to the bloating issue, which eventually may have fatal consequences.
The signs of bloat include:
- loss of appetite and not eating
- no droppings
- stomach pain
- hunched posture
- grinding of teeth
- not moving
Again, if you see any of these signs and suspect your bunny may be suffering from bloat, you should contact a vet for assistance.
When it comes to rabbits, cabbage is relatively high in sugars. Sugars are not a healthy part of the rabbit's diet as they are associated with many health risks, including obesity, diabetes, heart issues, and tooth decay.
Calcium and kidney damage
Calcium is a healthy mineral vital for strong bones. However, in excess amounts, calcium has a damaging effect on the kidneys. Cabbage is rich in calcium, which is why too much calcium can have a detrimental effect on the rabbit's kidneys.
The goitrogenic factor
Cabbage is traditionally classified as a goitrogenic veggie. However, recent discoveries suggest that the goitrogenic effect becomes an issue only if the cabbage is fed in unreasonably high quantities.
Namely, according to the House Rabbit Society one study done on rabbits found out that it takes enormous amounts of goitrogenic veggies fed daily and over the course of several weeks for the goitrogenic effects to kick in and cause blood abnormalities. (1.)
Goitrogens are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in certain veggies. They cause thyroid gland enlargement, which impairs the thyroid's function and leads to abnormal thyroid hormone levels.
Still, although it would take huge amounts of cabbage to cause this type of problem, you should take it into consideration and offer your bunny a varied diet of different veggies for a variety of different nutrients.
Pesticides and parasites
Cabbage is frequently treated with pesticides during growing. It is also a common habitat for many parasites. Both pesticide chemicals and parasites can endanger your rabbit's health.
To avoid these issues, it is always advisable to buy organic. If this is not possible, you need to pay extra attention to the cleaning part of preparing cabbage for rabbits.
Feeding Guidelines: Cabbage for Rabbits
To stay on the safe side and avoid cabbage-related issues in your rabbit, you need to follow these feeding guidelines carefully.
How much cabbage can a rabbit eat?
Rabbits should eat around 1 cup of greens per pound of body weight each day. Considering it is advised to offer at least three different greens every day, cabbage can safely account for one-third of the rabbit's daily greens intake.
Cabbage is a healthy way of adding diversity to the veggie portion of your rabbit's diet. However, it is also a bloating concern and should be fed rationally.
The other two-thirds can include greens like romaine lettuce, dandelion, clover, endive, carrot tops, cilantro, celery, dead-nettle, coltsfoot, collard green, Bermuda grass, and ground elder.
If feeding cabbage for the first time, start with small amounts and gradually work your way up until reaching the recommended daily serving size. Some rabbits may not handle cabbage as well as others, and giving smaller amounts at first will prevent digestive problems.
How often can I feed my rabbit cabbage?
With the rabbits' love of cabbage in mind, it is safe to assume that your rabbit will not complain if offered cabbage on a daily basis. However, to add diversity to the menu and avoid overfeeding, it is advisable to limit the serving frequency to four times a week.
How to prepare cabbage for rabbits?
Adding cabbage to your rabbit's menu starts with shopping. Luckily, cabbage is readily available and can be found at the local farmer's market or in any supermarket's salad section. Before explaining how to choose the right cabbage, it is worth mentioning that it is always a better idea to buy organic if possible.
The cabbage you choose should appear fresh and healthy. If it looks like something you would not eat, then it is not good for your rabbit either. Cabbage that has discolorations or moldy and slimy patches is decaying, and it is not safe for rabbits. Namely, feeding your rabbit overly ripened cabbage will cause diarrhea.
Cabbage can be sold whole or chopped and packed in a plastic bag. The packed version is already washed, thus eliminating the need to spend time on thorough washing.
The cabbage sold as a whole must be washed because of the pesticides and parasite risk. Once the cabbage is washed and cleaned, you can safely store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The cabbage can safely stay stored for several days.
It should be emphasized that any uneaten pieces of cabbage should be removed from your rabbit's food bowl. If you leave the uneaten pieces for more than an hour, they will start decaying. That way, you risk your rabbit eating spoiled food and risk spreading bacteria throughout the cage.
What about other cabbage products?
As far as rabbits are concerned, raw cabbage is the gold standard - it is crunchy, watery, and has tons of healthy nutrients.
Processed cabbage is a no-go for rabbits as it contains too many additives rabbits are not equipped to digest.
Baked cabbage is also a no-go because it has added oil and spices. Both oil and spices can wreak havoc on the rabbit's sensitive tummy.
Cooked cabbage, if plain, is generally safe but lacks the nutrients raw cabbage offers.
Frozen cabbage is not the ideal option for rabbits. Before freezing, the cabbage was pre-cooked and blanched. Pre-cooking and blanching are processing forms which once again is not a good fit for rabbits.
Canned cabbage is loaded with preservatives and salt and, again, not a healthy food for rabbits.
Finally, sauerkraut and pickled cabbage should be off-limits for rabbits. Not only are they processed cabbage products but also packed with additives and have extremely high salt levels.
These are the nutrients in 100 grams of cabbage:
- 25 kcal energy
- 92.1 g water
- 1.28 g protein
- 0.1 g total fat
- 5.8 g carbohydrates
- 2.5 g fiber
- 3.2 g sugars
- 40 mg calcium
- 36.6 mg vitamin C
- 76 mg vitamin K.
Cabbage also contains the following helpful vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin A
- B-complex vitamins
This short insight into the cabbage's nutritional analysis shows that cabbage is a healthy, vitamin-packed cruciferous veggie for rabbits. It is well-hydrating, nutrient-dense, and beneficial.
However, it is also a bloating concern and should be fed rationally, following the above-provided guidelines.
Regardless of its color, cabbage is an excellent veggie for rabbits. However, it is not a staple food, and it cannot be used as an alternative to a healthy and well-balanced meal.
Combined with hay, pellets, and water, cabbage can be a part of the vegetables and leafy greens mix. It is packed with nutrients rabbits can benefit from significantly.
Provided you serve it correctly, cabbage is a healthy way of adding diversity to the veggie portion of your rabbit's diet. By correctly, we mean purchased fresh, thoroughly washed, and served per the listed guidelines.
When someone mentions rabbits, the first thing that comes to mind is the picture of a bunny eating either cabbage or carrots. The depiction looks perfect, but I had two rabbits, and neither wanted cabbage.
The point is, cabbage is undeniably healthy and can be an important part of the rabbit's diet. However, some rabbits are not fond of its taste. In such cases, you should not force the feeding.
If your rabbit loves cabbage, that is great – it will receive tons of vitamins, minerals, and fiber in a crunchy and nicely textured veggie. And, if your rabbit dislikes cabbage, do not worry, as there are plenty of other rabbit-friendly leafy greens.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
Ivana Crnec is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine specialized in domestic carnivores. She graduated from the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. Ivana is a certified canine nutritionist and also certified in HAACP food safety system implementation. She currently works as a veterinarian while completing her postgraduate studies. Her research has been published in international journals.
NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your rabbit’s specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.