If you have a rabbit in your home, you might wonder whether he or she can eat whole oats. I know that we had a rabbit as a child, and he would eat almost anything we put in front of him; however, that does not mean that he should! Rabbits are not like cats and dogs.
Their digestive tracts and GI systems are not the same. Therefore, it is important to think carefully when deciding whether to give your rabbit whole oats.
Rabbits Can Eat Oats, But Should They?
Yes, rabbits can eat oats. In fact, they can eat whole oats and cooked oats. This doesn’t mean they should. Therefore, if your rabbit has some Quaker rolled oats sprinkled into its morning bowl, this shouldn’t be a problem; however, they might not do a great job of maintaining health and fitness.
To figure out if your rabbit should eat oats, there are a few points to consider.
Rabbits Are Herbivores
I grew up in a house with a rabbit, dogs, and cats. As a young child, I assumed that all animals ate the same thing. It didn’t take long for my parents to yell at me and explain that rabbits differed from cats and dogs.
This is because rabbits are herbivores. If you go to the pet store and look at rabbit food, it often looks like lawn clippings that have been baked in the summer heat for a few days (or weeks). On top of this, many bags of rabbit food only contain hay.
While this is important for fiber content, rabbits need more to round out their “balanced diet.”
Our food pyramid contains a healthy serving of whole grains as its foundation; however, the food pyramid of a rabbit is markedly different. Oats are high in starch.
This means that they can cause problems in rabbits, who are grazing herbivores and don’t have digestive tracts that are meant to consume a lot of starch.
Therefore, oats are fine as a treat from time to time; however, giving your bunny whole-grain toast and Quaker oats oatmeal every morning could be problematic. This includes both adult bunnies and babies.
When Can Rabbits Benefit from Oats?
With the nutritional picture clear, there are certain times when your rabbit might benefit from oats in small quantities. In fact, this is the same reason why most rabbits should avoid them. This has to do with weight.
Oats are incredibly dense in calories. This is why they are the foundation of breakfast for most kids. They contain calories that are needed to grow up big and strong.
They contain energy. For this reason, rabbits might actually benefit from oats if they are significantly underweight.
I remember that we had a young rabbit that simply was not able to stay on the growth curve as a bunny. It seemed like every time we brought our rabbit to the vet, he was gaining weight; however, the vet said he wasn’t gaining weight fast enough.
The vet actually recommended we add a small helping of oats to his breakfast every morning and return in two weeks for a checkup. Man, did our bunny gain weight quickly!
Why did this happen? Oats are rich in complex carbohydrates. These carbs are different from the “simple” sugars that are found in a bag of candy. Complex carbohydrates provide energy to fuel the body’s growth and repair process.
Oats also contain small amounts of fiber and protein. Fiber is important for the bunny’s digestive tract, while protein is found in hair, skin, muscle, and nails.
Because oats contain a lot of calories, they can help underweight bunnies catch up with the growth curve; however, it is important to do this in moderation, as oats can also cause rabbits to become obese quickly.
The Importance of Fiber
While oats are not recommended in high amounts for most rabbits, the fiber content makes them a good choice for rabbits that need to gain weight.
Humans are, somehow, able to survive even if their diets are lacking in plant food. This is not the case. Plant foods are high in fiber, which rabbits need to stay alive.
Without adequate fiber, the GI tract of a rabbit will basically grind to a halt. This will cause all of a rabbit’s organs to shut down in short order. This is because fiber is required to keep the gut moving.
If rabbits eat diets that are high in starch without fiber, the result is a condition known as cecal dysbiosis. The food will sit in the digestive tract for a long period of time and throw off the gut’s cecal flora.
This will lead to wet, liquid poop that seems to stick to the outside of the rabbit’s fur and send horrible smells through the house. Obviously, it is better to avoid this issue.
Considerations for Rabbit Diets
While oats are an important part of “growth” formulas for rabbits that might be small, they are not a recommended part of most rabbit diets.
Given that many domesticated rabbits don’t move that much, they simply do not need the calories. This could lead to an overweight rabbit that develops health problems down the road.
Obesity in rabbits can lead to serious quality of life issues. Furthermore, it is hard to get an obese rabbit down to a healthy weight.
Therefore, the best weapon in fighting rabbit obesity is the same one in fighting weight problems in humans: avoid it from the beginning.
Even small quantities of oats can lead to digestive problems in rabbits without providing any real benefits if the rabbit is a healthy weight.
Therefore, try to stay away from providing your rabbit with oats on a regular basis. Its GI tract is better off sticking to fibrous foods, such as hay and vegetables.
If your rabbit is underweight, then talk to the vet about supplementing with whole oats.