Can rabbits eat squash? Or is it unhealthy for them, or even toxic? Does the type of squash matter? I love using food as part of puzzles and games to make my pet’s habitats as fun, stimulating and enriching as possible. So I’m always on the lookout for new edible treats to try. Rabbits can eat squash in small quantities, but it’s important not to go overboard, since too much can bring about some nasty health problems. It’s been hit and miss whether my bunnies like it or not, too. Here’s everything you should also know about feeding squash to rabbits safely, and how it can benefit them when you do.
- Can rabbits eat squash?
- Do rabbits like squash?
- Is squash safe for rabbits?
- Potential risks
- Does it have any benefits?
- Serving squash safely
- Tasty alternatives
Can rabbits eat squash?
Rabbits are active and curious little pets, and any bunny owner knows it takes a lot of thought and effort to provide them with all the exercise and mental stimulation they need. Sharing new foods, and incorporating special treats into toys and games, are popular ways of making buns’ lives a bit more rich and satisfying. Squash – both summer and winter varieties – are safe to offer to rabbits as part of this, but there are a few things to bear in mind if you do.
Do rabbits like squash?
Squash can mean summer squashes like zucchini and curly tromboncini, or it can mean winter squash like butternut, acorn and kabocha. The difference is that summer squashes are picked when they are immature. They contain more water, fewer calories, less fiber and less starch. Winter squashes are allowed to fully mature. They contain less water, more calories, more fiber and more starch. Both types are low in fat but high in sugar and vitamins C and B6.
Rabbits are naturally ‘concentrate selectors’, which means that when faced with a choice of things to eat, they will always start with the most energy-dense option. In the wild, this helps them survive by minimizing the amount of time they spend out in the open, exposed to predators. It’s also likely that part of this survival adaptation is having a preference for sweet flavors. So, lots of rabbits will like the sweet taste of squash, especially winter squashes.
That said, rabbits’ food preferences are also as unique and individual as they are. And whilst we know that in general they are attracted to sweet and energy-dense foods, we also know that their palate is also heavily influenced by their mother’s diet when they were weaning age. Furthermore, their tastes become relatively fixed at a pretty early age, and the older they get, the more resistant they become to trying new foods. So it’s less like that your bunny will be interested in squash if they are older, and they have never tried it before.
Is squash safe for rabbits?
Squash is safe for rabbits in the sense that it is not toxic. Small quantities served in moderation are unlikely to cause any unpleasant side effects for your bun. Something important to consider though is how to minimize the risk of choking when you offer them squash, since its texture is so different from their usual diet and may be unfamiliar to them. Chopping squash into match sticks or shaving it into ribbons is a good way to make it as safe as possible. And limiting each serving to just one or two match sticks or ribbons will help to prevent you overfeeding squash to your rabbit too.
Potential risks of feeding your bunny squash
Whilst squash is safe as an occasional treat, feeding too much, too often can have unfortunate consequences for your pet’s health. Specifically:
- Tooth decay
- Digestive upset
Rabbits are adapted to graze large volumes of grass and vegetation. These are high in fiber, but low in sugar and starchy carbohydrates. Overall, their natural diet is low in calories by volume, and they rely on eating a lot of it. On the other hand, squashes – especially winter squashes – contain a lot more sugar and starchy carbohydrates. By volume, they contain a lot more calories than grass too. So, replacing too much of your bunny’s usual hay diet with squash can result in them consuming too many calories, and gaining weight.
Gaining weight increases a rabbit’s chances of further health complications like:
- Difficulty grooming and feeding on cecotrophs, which also increases the risk of flystrike.
- Problems breathing, especially for flat-faced breeds like the Netherland Dwarf.
- Strain on their joints and organs, especially their heart.
Since squashes are more sugary than their usual diet, eating too much of them can increase the risk of plaque, tooth decay, and gum disease. Furthermore, rabbits’ teeth grow continuously, and they rely on the action of chewing tough grasses to keep them worn down to a healthy length. Squash doesn’t have the same effect of mechanically wearing down their teeth, and if their teeth get over long it can lead to pain, ulcers, and even puncture wounds.
Rabbits are hindgut fermenters, which means that after food has passed through the small intestine, digestible fiber is diverted into a caecum – a chamber full of bacteria which breakdown the fiber so the rabbit can absorb the energy from it. Starchy carbohydrates and sugars are usually digested in the small intestine, but if a bunny eats too many of them, the residual sugars can end up in the caecum, and cause the bacterial population there to become imbalanced. When this happens, you bun may experience symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea.
Is squash good for rabbits?
Squashes are high in vitamin C. We tend to think of this as a good thing, because we can’t make our own vitamin C, and we rely on getting it from our diet. However, rabbits do make their own vitamin C in their liver, so dietary vitamin C is less important for them. Researchers have drawn mixed conclusions about whether eating a lot of vitamin C rich foods has an overall positive or negative effect for them though.
Fundamentally, rabbits are adapted to thrive on a high fiber, low nutrient diet. Their ideal meal plan is mostly hay, with small supplementary quantities of rabbit pellets and leafy greens. Sticking to this will have a significant impact on how healthy they are, how long they live, and their quality of life. Squashes have negligible nutritional benefit for them, but if they enjoy it it could be used as part of environmental enrichment, which is also good for them.
Safe and fun ways to share squash with your bunny
Environmental enrichment is a way of describing all the things we do to make our pet’s lives as fun and engaging as possible. This includes providing opportunities to practise natural behaviors, which we know is good for their wellbeing.
If your bunny has a soft spot for squash, hide small cubes or matchsticks of it in toilet roll tubes or paper bags stuffed with hay. This creates a fun food puzzle, which encourages natural foraging behaviors and helps foster mental well being. Alternatively, use tiny pieces as training treats to reward behaviors like responding to their name, or hopping up to a low platform on cue.
Some squash alternatives to try
Squash is best enjoyed by your pet as part of a balanced and nutritionally appropriate diet, which is mostly hay. Try to alternate squash with other fresh produce and plants from your yard that are lower in sugar, such as:
- Celery leaves
- Pak choi
- Carrot tops
- Beet tops
- Wild strawberry
These are all healthier snack choices for rabbits.
Can rabbits eat squash – summary
Squash is a safe treat for rabbits, and lots of bunnies do enjoy it. However, if they are already fully grown and they’ve never tried it before, you might find they’re not interested in giving it a go now. Only serve squash to your pet in small, occasional quantities. Too much can have unpleasant side effects for them. Try hiding the squash in a paper bag of hay to create environmental enrichment, or use it as a training treat to teach a cue word like ‘come’ or ‘hop up’.
Finally, let us know if your rabbit likes squash using the comments box down below!