April 21, 2021

Can Rabbits Eat Oranges Safely? A Vet Explains

rabbit dreaming of oranges

Vet Explains

Oranges originated in Asia's tropical regions, potentially somewhere in Indochina. After being introduced to the old continent, Europeans praised this fruit as a high-value medicine.

Today, orange is the largest and most famous member of the citrus family. As surprising as it may sound, there are over 600 types of oranges. We are amazed by their taste and use them raw, squeezed in juices, and incorporated in baked goods and cakes.

Considering how often we eat and use oranges, it is only logical for bunny parents to question can rabbits eat oranges as well? And this really is a good question. We know rabbits love sugar, and oranges are sugary fruits – but are they safe for our hopping friends?

Well, if you want to find out, just keep reading, as we will explain everything you need to know about adding oranges to your rabbit's menu. We'll go over the risks, the benefits, and how you can offer this food to your rabbit without risking its health.

Can Rabbits Eat Oranges?

Yes, rabbits can eat oranges. They are packed with many minerals and healthy vitamins, such as immune-boosting vitamin C. However, oranges are not a staple food for rabbits, so follow our feeding guidelines. Because oranges contain a lot of sugar and water, they pose a risk of diarrhea, gut stasis, dental problems, and obesity to rabbits.

It is best to use oranges as occasional treats.

However, the good news is oranges are not toxic to rabbits. Nonetheless, never forget that the foundation of a good rabbit diet is hay, and it should make up 80-90% of your bunny's diet. In those terms, veggies are a great addition – they add variety, enrichment, and healthy nutrients. Fruits and berries are similar when fed in moderation. Still, hay and pellets keep rabbits strong and healthy with smooth working tummies and well-trimmed teeth.

So, do rabbits eat oranges?

Absolutely, yes – rabbits are notorious for their sweet tooth and, if given the opportunity, will happily devour an entire orange. But just because they can, it does not mean they should be allowed. Serving the right portion size is an integral part of keeping your rabbit healthy (more on the serving size and frequency later).

How about baby rabbit – can bunnies eat oranges?

Sadly, the answer is no. Youngsters and babies should feed on their mother's milk and then slowly get introduced to high-quality hay and pellets. Oranges and fruits, in general, are not suited as they can quickly do harm to their sensitive tummies. Although some young bunnies can safely digest this juicy fruit, you shouldn't risk it.

oranges on table

What about the peel, leaves, branches, and seeds?

Nutrition-wise the peel is packed with healthy ingredients, and rabbits have the power to munch on its rough texture. So in terms of edibility, the peel is rabbit-friendly. However, it is rarely advisable to offer the peel to your rabbits as there is a high risk of lingering pesticides. Therefore, only serve the peel if the oranges are organically grown.

The leaves and branches are safe, but they are not particularly rich in nutrients and covered with pesticides, making the cons of feeding them more significant than the pros. Finally, the seeds must always be removed as they pose a significant choking hazard.

Basically, oranges are safe when used in moderate amounts and not too frequently. But since oranges do come with some possible health risks, it is good to know all the benefits and dangers before adding them to the menu. 

Health Benefits: Are Oranges Good for Rabbits?

We already mentioned that oranges have been praised as medicine for years. Well, just like with humans, these juicy fruits have a lot to offer to rabbits too. These are some of the health benefits of offering oranges to your rabbit.

These juicy fruits have a lot to offer to rabbits.

Vitamin C boost

Vitamin C strengthens the immune system and has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant, thus protecting the cells from the free radicals' damaging effects. Finally, vitamin C promotes healthy cellular and tissue renewal.

No more cholesterol

Oranges are rich in several phytonutrients, including flavonoids. Recent studies show that flavonoids have the potential to reduce blood cholesterol levels in rabbits suffering from high cholesterol. In fact, these phytonutrients can decrease cholesterol levels by as much as 48%.

High pectin levels

Pectin is a type of fiber rabbits need for proper digestion. Pectin promotes good intestinal motility and cleanses the colon. It is also good for a healthy heart and maintaining normal cholesterol levels by inhibiting its reabsorption.

A good hydration trick

Oranges are high in water which makes them a well-hydrating and refreshing fruit. What is more, orange juice can be used to encourage water appetite. All you have to do is put a drop of orange juice into the water bowl, and your rabbit will fall in love with the taste of water.

If your rabbit is dehydrated, orange can be a good way to get in that important hydration.

Other vitamins and minerals

Oranges are rich in several important vitamins and minerals, including:

  • Vitamin A – vital for impeccable eyesight and healthy skin and coat
  • Vitamin B6 and B12 – important for adequate body metabolism
  • Calcium – promotes strong and healthy bones
  • Potassium – maintains normal blood pressure and healthy nerves and muscles
  • Magnesium – necessary for several metabolic processes.

Now that we have learned why oranges are good for rabbits, you might think it's a beneficial fruit that can be served even every day. But although there are benefits, there are some potential health hazards it's better to be informed of.

Health Risks: Are Oranges Bad For Rabbits?

With so many health benefits, oranges are an excellent choice for rabbits. Well, not so fast. As with any other food, moderation is the key to safety. Before serving too much orange or doing it too frequently, consider the following health risks.

Too much citric acid

For the rabbit's body to work correctly, the acid-base balance should be maintained in an optimal range. Oranges are rich in acids, thus disrupting the normal balance.

Studies suggest that eating too many acidic foods put rabbits at risk of developing metabolic acidosis – a condition associated with an array of health issues, including:

  • Immune deficiency
  • Cardiovascular damage
  • Yeast and fungal overgrowths
  • Inefficient food digestion and absorption
  • Obesity and diabetes
  • Osteoporosis and joint issues
  • Eye inflammations
  • Decreased energy levels.

In the short term, eating too many oranges may result in mouth ulcers because the citric acid can damage the rabbit's sensitive gums.

orange with peels

Gut stasis and tummy issues

Because of their high sugar and high water content, oranges are not very good at promoting digestive health for rabbits. On the one hand, the sugar content may lead to bloating and gut stasis. On the other hand, the water content can trigger diarrhea and severe dehydration.

Both gut stasis and dehydration in rabbits are considered life-threatening conditions and require urgent veterinary attention. In rabbits, things can go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.

Lethargy, lack of appetite, soft or hard droppings, or any other worrying sign means you should consult a vet to ask if your pet needs veterinary help.

Vitamin C overload 

Too much vitamin C is not always a health benefit. Namely, rabbits can synthesize their own vitamin C and do not depend on foods as vitamin C sources. Therefore, if your rabbit's diet is overloaded with this vitamin, the excess vitamin C can cause significant kidney damage. 

Obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay

When listing the health risks associated with high-sugar foods, obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay are primary concerns in both humans and rabbits.

Because of their modern lifestyles with little exercise, pet rabbits are already at risk of becoming obese. If you add the sugar oranges contain on top of that, you will get a fat rabbit in no time. Obese rabbits are more likely to develop skeletal issues and have trouble grooming.

Diabetes is not particularly common, but it is worth mentioning, while tooth decay is both common and dangerous. Rabbits depend on their teeth to munch rough-textured foods, and decayed teeth will quickly lead to poor general health.

Sugar addiction and regular food avoidance 

Why munch on hay and pellets when you can enjoy the addictive sugary taste of oranges? Considering the rabbits' love of sweet foods and the sugar's addictive potential, rabbits can become more interested in oranges than in regular foods.

However, rabbits cannot thrive on sugary fruits alone, and if they become picky regarding their eating preferences, they can quickly become nutrient deficient and malnourished. Don't let your bunny fill up its stomach with sugary treats because his or her health depends on a balanced diet consisting mostly of hay.

Seeds are a choking hazard 

Rabbits can get all hyped when offered a sugary fruit such as oranges. In an effort to gobble down the offered piece, they can easily choke on the seeds. Therefore, when offering oranges to your rabbit, you need to make sure the seeds are removed first.

Feeding Guidelines: Oranges For Rabbits

From what we already said, it is safe to assume that feeding oranges to rabbits comes with both health benefits and health risks. The only way of getting the benefits while avoiding the risks is following the feeding guidelines – which means proper serving size and frequency.

You can give your rabbit the white fibrous pith that is beneath the peel. This part is heavier with nutrients than the pulp yet safer than the peel in terms of pesticides.

How much orange can a rabbit eat?

Rabbits can safely eat between one and two small orange wedges. If you prefer serving them in the form of a fruit salad with other fruits, then downsize on the oranges portion.

As already noted, you should never serve baby rabbits oranges because they are prone to digestive issues.

When offering your rabbit oranges for the first time, do not offer the whole portion. Instead, start small and if there are no signs of tummy trouble, gradually increase the portion size over the next few weeks.

How often can I feed my rabbit oranges?

Rabbits should not eat oranges more than twice per week. In fact, even twice per week is too much if you offer other fruity and sugary treats such as pineapples, mangoes, grapes, peaches, and melons.

How to prepare oranges for rabbits?

Oranges are relatively easy to prepare.

1. Start by shopping for fresh oranges from the supermarket or local farmer's market. Either way, it is advisable to choose organic oranges as the commercially grown varieties are heavily treated with pesticides.

2. If buying organic is not an option, you should throw the peel away or give the oranges a thorough washing.

3. Before serving, peel the orange and remove the seeds as they pose a choking hazard for rabbits.

4. Oranges are sticky, and it is best to serve them in a separate bowl. If your rabbit fails to eat its orange portion within an hour, discard any leftovers because they may spoil quickly.

What about clementines, mandarins, satsumas, tangerines, or orange juice?

Clementines, mandarins, satsumas, and tangerines are all rabbit-friendly fruits. Their feeding guidelines are the same as for regular oranges – once or twice per week and when not feeding other sugary fruits. The rules regarding the peel are also the same – safe only if organic or thoroughly scrubbed.

Orange juice makes an excellent occasional treat for rabbits as long as it's homemade. Store-bought orange juices are not suitable for rabbits because they are often additionally sweetened using artificial sweeteners. The most frequently used sugar substitute in these products is sucrose, and rabbits do not handle sucrose well.

What about dried oranges? Dried oranges are usually free of added sugars, but the fact they are dehydrated means a smaller chunk contains more sugar and more calories than a fresh orange. Simply put, dried oranges are safe if offered once or twice per month in amounts that do not exceed more than two bite-sized chunks.

Nutrition Facts

According to the USDA, one medium-sized orange (2-5/8 inches in diameter) weighing around 131 grams offers the following nutrients:

  • 62 calories
  • 1.2 g protein
  • 0.16 g fat
  • 15.4 g carbohydrates
  • 12.2 g sugar
  • 3.1 g fiber
  • 0 mg sodium
  • 69.7 mg vitamin C
  • 237 mg potassium
  • 52.4 mg calcium.

Oranges also contain the following vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Folate
  • Phosphorus
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Iron.

From the above-listed stats, it is safe to assume that oranges are vitamin bombs, especially when it comes to vitamin C. However, they are also loaded with sugars, and sugars are not a rabbit-friendly ingredient.

Bottom line – Can Rabbits Have Oranges?

Yes, luckily for rabbits, oranges are labeled as safe and bunny-friendly fruits. However, oranges are not a staple food and should not be fed carelessly.

It is best to use oranges as occasional treats. In the meanwhile, your rabbit should be served high-quality hay, pellets formulated for rabbits, an array of leafy greens, and some rough-textured veggies.

Vet's Comment

Oranges are irresistibly tasty, but they lack rabbit-specific nutrients. Therefore, their use should be limited. It is worth mentioning that the amount of healthy nutrients in the peel is four times the number of nutrients in the pulp.

However, because of the high pesticide content in the peel, it is best advised not to offer it to your rabbit.

Anyway, you can still give your rabbit the white fibrous pith that is beneath the peel. This part is heavier with nutrients than the pulp yet safer than the peel in terms of pesticides.

- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM

Ivana Crnec doctor of veterinary medicine

Vet-Approved by
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.

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