Most rabbits LOVE their vegetable snacks and it’s just so easy to give them a piece of whatever human food you are snacking on too. However, there are some foods that are safe for humans, but can be harmful to your pet bunny. One common food, basil, is often in question: Can rabbits eat basil safely?
Dr. Jess explains the answer below:
What Are Rabbits?
Rabbits and bunnies are lagomorphs, small mammals that hop around from place to place.
They are commonly seen as pets with their sweet eyes, floppy ears, furry faces, and cute whiskers.
Rabbits come in many colors, shapes, and sizes, most commonly seen in shades of white, brown, black, and patches or combinations of those colors.
They can be seen with a large ear for their body size and even have long-eared varieties with even larger drooping ears.
Rabbits have long incisors (front teeth) that are constantly growing and needing to be filed either naturally or by the help of some intervention, both discussed further into this article.
What Do Rabbits Need From a Healthy Diet?
A well-balanced rabbit diet will need to deliver a multitude of things to the bunny ingesting it.
Just like humans, rabbits need the right combination of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and water to keep their organs working and functioning properly.
However, the daily nutritional requirements for a rabbit differ quite greatly from that of a human, and that is reflected in the common diet that most healthy and happy pet rabbits eat.
What Does a Typical Rabbit Diet Consist of?
An adult rabbit’s main source of food in their diet should come mostly from high-quality hay.
Hay is a forage that is low in calories and high in fiber, easy on the rabbit’s digestive system.
Other pieces of the rabbit’s diet may include commercial pellets and/or treats and snacks such as fruits and vegetables.
However, not all fruits and vegetables are safe for your bunny to have.
More on Lagomorphs Digestive Systems:
Lagomorphs, which are rabbits, hares, and pikas, are hindgut fermenters.
What the heck does that mean?
Well, just as the name suggests…. these mammals digest by fermenting in their hindgut, or the lower section of their digestive system.
Let’s dig in a little more so the rest of this article makes a little more sense….
Lagomorphs require a bulky fiber-rich diet that would be incredibly difficult for most other mammalian digestive systems to break down, digestive, and absorb.
Food is digested in the stomach and broken down nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine, just like most other mammals digestive systems.
Certain fibrous foods get transported further down the digestive tract, to a section called the cecum.
The cecum is a blind-ended pouch that contains yeast and bacteria that can help breakdown these fibrous cellulose-rich foods.
These fibrous foods are then transformed and turned into sugar, a process known as hindgut fermentation.
The process is somewhat like the fermentation process of other products that you may be more familiar with.
Let’s Talk Basil:
Basil is a annual plant used as a herb and a spice in cooking.
People in the United States refer to “basil” as the leaves and stems or stalks of the plant.
Most people describe the taste of basil leaves as earthy, sweet, and strong or pungent.
There are many different types of basil, but the most common types of basil consumed in the United States include sweet basil, lemon basil, and Thai basil varieties, just to name a few.
Basil contains some of essential nutrients including calcium, antioxidants, and vitamins A and K, that can be helpful in keeping your rabbit healthy. It also has some other potential health benefits for your pet rabbit:
- Inflammation/Antioxidants: Multiple studies show that basil is a great source of anti-inflammatory compounds that help in fighting against inflammation.
- Vitamins: Basil contains vitamin K and others like vitamin A. Rabbits require these vitamins to stay healthy. Vitamin K helps rabbits stay safe and adequately clot blood when needed. Vitamin A is necessary for proper eyesight as well as other healthy body systems.
- Blood Sugar: Basil may help lower blood glucose levels in the bloodstream.
- Toxins: Basil has the potential to detoxify the body from some types harmful toxins.
May Reduce Inflammation
Multiple research studies have shown that basil is a source of anti-inflammatory compounds, which effectively can help fight different forms of inflammation.
Basil is packed with these potential anti-inflammatory molecules called antioxidants.
Antioxidants are thought to help reduce inflammation inside the body by binding (attaching) to and suppressing (decreasing) inflammation-promoting molecules known as free radicals. [source]
While many of these studies are promising, I definitely would like to see more research studies conducted on the antioxidant benefits of basil.
May Lower Blood Sugar Levels
It is widely known in medicine that individuals having elevated blood sugar levels are at higher risk for Type 2 Diabetes [source].
Basically, basil has been proven to be an effective tool in the process of lowering blood sugar levels [source].
Fighting Off Infections
According to a study discussed in Medical News Today, basil may help combat bacterial infections in the body:
“Various practitioners of traditional medicine have used basil as an antimicrobial agent, and some scientific research supports this use. In 2013, researchers applied sweet basil oil to various strains of Escherichia coli , or E. coli. The bacteria came from people with respiratory, abdominal, urinary, or skin infections, as well as from hospital equipment. The results showed that the oil was active against these bacteria. The researchers concluded that certain preparations of basil oil could help treat or prevent some types of infection.”https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266425#benefits
Do Rabbits Eat Basil?
Many rabbits will munch on basil when offered.
In a veggie garden, most rabbits will chose vegetables like peas, beans, beets, and carrots.
But just because rabbits DO eat basil does not necessarily mean that this is the best or safest choice for your pet.
Don’t be too worried if your rabbit does not eat basil that is offered- it’s normal. You will find another veggie alternative as a source of fresh food that your bunny can enjoy eating.
Is Basil Safe? Can Rabbits Eat Basil?
There are some foods that us humans can eat that are actually toxic to your rabbit and need to be avoided all together.
While there isn’t anything toxic to rabbits in the actual basil itself, you shouldn’t give them too much because problems may arise as I will discuss further down in this article.
Pet owners can chose to feed basil to their rabbits, but it should not make up their entire diet. Rabbits prefer munching on grass, a combination of fresh mixed greens, commercial feed pellets, and hay, along with a continuous supply of clean, fresh water.
You see, rabbits are herbivores and need a diet which is high-in fiber and low in sugar and fat.
They get their fiber supplied in the form of plants, such as hay which is a roughage that contains a lot of fiber.
This fiber is beneficial for two reasons:
- Dietary fiber keeps the rabbit’s digestive system running smoothly (it’s the same reason why some people take a fiber supplement like Metamucil!).
- The physical roughage (hay) helps keep the rabbit’s teeth healthy and worn down as their teeth are continually growing and need to be filed in order to prevent overgrowth.
So, long story short- Yes!
Adult rabbits can have basil, if offered to them safely, and I’ll cover that in just a bit.
You do not want to feed the wrong basil or the wrong amount or frequency, potentially making your furry friend unintentionally sick.
Can Baby Bunnies Eat Basil?
Compared to their adult counterparts, baby rabbits have much more sensitive gastrointestinal systems.
Avoid feeding baby bunnies any kinds of fruits and vegetables until they reach 12 weeks of age to allow their stomachs to mature with them.
Then, when ready to introduce them to juicy vegetables, take it very slowly, waiting at least 24 hours to observe any potential adverse side effects, before moving on and trying more of the same veggie snack or a different tasty treat.
Remember – baby and young, and juvenile rabbits have more sensitive digestive systems!
Wait 24 hours to see their reaction.
If everything is fine, you can move to the next treat.
How About Basil Stems?
There’s no reason that bunnies can’t enjoy chewing on basil stems unless they just don’t like basil at all.
They love having little things in their mouths to chew on and to keep them occupied and entertained throughout their busy days!
The stem texture is not too tough and you cut them in medium-sized pieces,for them to nibble on.
But just like anything else that they can stick in their mouths, these can be a choking hazard so monitor your rabbit while snacking on these stems!
Can Rabbits Eat Cooked Basil?
Do not give your rabbit any cooked basil.
Any cooked or processed basil is not recommended since your rabbit is an herbivore and they rely on raw foods to get their nutrients.
Everything a rabbit needs can be provided in fresh and raw form. Your rabbit’s stomach is just not made to handle cooked food, including basil.
One big advantage with offering raw vegetables is that it’s not only healthier for your rabbit, but it is much less effort on your part!
Medical & Health Concerns of Feeding Basil to Rabbits:
Are there any circumstances when basil might be bad for your pet?
Yes, some of the common issues seen with feeding basil to rabbits include:
- Pesticides: Basil should always be washed to make sure they are free of any pesticides or chemicals that could be harmful to rabbits.
- Parasites: Basil should be checked over for parasites that can lead to potential parasite problems with your rabbit
- Overly Ripened: Avoid rotten fruits and vegetables that can cause diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset.
- Baby Bunnies: Baby bunnies have a more sensitive digestive system than their adult counterparts do, and therefore you shouldn’t give your rabbit friend any fruits or vegetables until they reach around 12 weeks of age.
How To Feed Basil To A Rabbit:
First step to focus in on is the serving size that you are giving your fur baby. Start with offering your rabbit just a bite or two of basil and if no adverse signs appear, then you can slowly increase the amount you feed.
Depending on your rabbit’s size, the average basil portion should be about 1 – 2 stems with basil leaves worth of fresh, cleaned basil.
Rabbits can be fed basil on a daily basis, but only in small quantities mixed with other fresh greens that are healthy for your rabbit to consume.
Moderation is key here!
How Much to Feed:
Fresh vegetables should be as a supplement to your pet rabbit’s already well-balanced diet.
Depending on your rabbit’s size, the average basil portion should be about 1 – 2 stems with basil leaves worth of fresh, cleaned basil. Veer on the smaller side if you have a smaller bunny, and can venture on the larger side for a larger rabbit.
Keep in mind that too many vegetables too often can cause digestive distress.
Common Signs of Adverse Reaction:
- diarrhea/loose stool
- excessive or increased itching/scratching/licking of skin or paws
Rabbits can have ripe, clean, fresh basil in moderation.
Too much basil can cause a multitude of health problems for your bunny.
Do not feed immature rabbits or rabbits with underlying health conditions basil even as a treat.
If you have concerns regarding feeding your rabbit basil, contact your local veterinarian beforehand.
- Oglesbee B. The 5 Minute Veterinary Consults Ferret and Rabbit, Blackwell 2006
- Rabbit Care
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.