We all consider oats and oatmeal to be a very healthy food choice and many of us eat them frequently, but can rabbits eat Quaker oats? Is it safe for them to do so?
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Oats grow as grasses in the wild, and it’s easy to imagine that rabbits munch away on them if allowed to do so. But is that indeed a reality? Are oats something rabbits choose to eat if given a choice? After all, we see that other tiny creatures appear to like to eat grains.
Can Rabbits Eat Quaker Oats?
Rabbits may indeed eat Quaker oats, but this doesn’t mean that they should. Oats, both whole and rolled, and oatmeal, both raw and cooked, are safe for rabbits to eat in small quantities and on an infrequent basis. So, if you’ve thrown a few rolled oats into your bun’s bowl, they’ll be okay. Just know that oats may not be the ideal choice for your furry friend. An abundance of oats in your rabbit’s diet will not help them stay active or healthy.
A rabbit’s digestive system isn’t built the same as ours and doesn’t process food the same way either. A rabbit’s stomach is designed to process large amounts of plant-based fiber, also called cellulose fiber. Cellulose fiber is found in hay and grass. A rabbit’s digestive system has a specialized pouch, called a cecum, which is specifically designed to digest cellulose fiber.
Rolled oats, on the other hand, are very starchy and full of carbohydrates. A rabbit’s system doesn’t handle carbs well and can become very sick if eaten in excess. A healthy rabbit can eat oats as an occasional treat, and oats can even be used to help a rabbit gain weight, but oats shouldn’t be fed to rabbits daily.
Introducing New Foods to Your Rabbit’s Diet
If your rabbit has never eaten oats before, it’s best to introduce them (and any new food your bun has never eaten before) slowly. Your bunny’s diet should mainly consist of grass and hay, such as timothy hay. A rabbit’s digestive system is specifically designed for foods that are made up of cellulose fiber. Vegetative matter such as grass and hay is high in cellulose fiber. Foods that are high in starch and carbs, such as Quaker oats, are very hard on your bun’s digestive system. Eating too many carbs can cause digestive distress for your furry friend, causing them to develop problems such as GI stasis, diarrhea or constipation.
So, why is a diet high in cellulose fiber so important? It’s because their digestive system is different from ours. As food passes through their digestive system, it goes through a specialized pouch, called a cecum, which specifically digests this kind of fiber. A diet made up of 80% fiber, provided by grass and hay, is best for your furry friend.
When introducing new foods to your rabbit’s diet, do so slowly. The first time you share oats with them, give them a few flakes of rolled oats to allow their digestive system to become accustomed to the new food. If the oats don’t cause any problems for your furry friend, then you can give them a slightly increased amount a few days later. Slowly repeat this process giving their gut flora time to adjust, which will reduce their chances of developing digestive issues such as “poopy butt” or “sticky butt”.
Are Oats Safe for Rabbits to Eat?
Before it’s harvested, all parts of the oat plant are available to rabbits in the wild. Oat straw and seed heads that fell to the ground during harvest are also available. Does this mean that your bun should eat oats? What parts are safe for a rabbit to eat?
Quaker oats are oat grains that have been rolled, turning them into the flat flakes you use to make oatmeal. Oat grains are nutritious, but they are also high in carbohydrates and starch. Rabbits can safely eat small quantities of rolled oats on an occasional basis once they have been slowly introduced into their diet.
Oat hay, sometimes called oaten, is produced when the oat plant is cut and dried before it has fully ripened. Oat hay has a nutty and crunchy flavor. The stalks are hard and thick, making them great for rabbits to nibble on. Oat hay provides the fiber rabbits require; however, oat hay is higher in starch than other hay types. Typical carb levels in various types of hay include:
- Legume hays such as alfalfa range between 8% to 13% with an average of 11%
- Grass hays such as timothy range between 7% to 18% with an average of 13%
- Oat hay ranges between 14% to 29% with an average of 22%
If feeding oat hay, mix it together with timothy hay or alfalfa which are both lower in starch to reduce the overall starch content.
Oat straw is a by-product created when mature oats are harvested for the oat kernels. It doesn’t have as much nutritional value as that of oat hay and is often used as bedding material for animals, both large and small. Oat straw tends to develop mycotoxin – a common type of mold – if it isn’t kept absolutely dry or wasn’t totally dry when baled/harvested. Mycotoxins can be a serious health risk to all domestic animals including rabbits.
If you use straw as bedding in your rabbit’s pen, it can be a health hazard because buns like to nibble on their bedding. With this in mind, it might be better to avoid using straw in your rabbit’s bedding.
Are Quaker Oats Beneficial to Rabbits?
Feeding oats to a healthy, normal-weight rabbit can result in obesity if fed in excess or too often. Conversely, feeding oats to an underweight rabbit can help the rabbit gain weight. A weak, underweight rabbit benefits from the consumption of processed carbs, protein and fiber. Oats are great in this regard since they’re high in all three. Additionally, oats are also easy to digest. In fact, rescue organizations often feed cooked oatmeal to underweight buns to help them gain weight.
Risks of Feeding Oats to Rabbits
Although oats aren’t toxic to rabbits, giving even small amounts has risks which include:
The high carbs found in oats may overload your bun’s digestive system and lead to enteritis. Enteritis is inflammation in the digestive tract. It is one of the most common disease conditions in rabbits. Enteritis is characterized by watery diarrhea (along with “poopy butt” or “sticky butt”); however, symptoms of reduced feed intake and constipation generally precede diarrhea and often go unnoticed.
Gut Motility/GI Stasis
Oats have low levels of indigestible fiber; therefore, it doesn’t move through the digestive system like foods containing cellulose fiber would. GI stasis (when the rabbit’s digestive system slows down or totally stops) can develop without the consumption of enough cellulose fiber-containing foods.
Due to the oat’s high starch content, the consumption of excess oats can lead to obesity and associated illnesses such as diabetes. Overweight rabbits are more prone to illness than normal-weight rabbits.
Conclusion: Can Rabbits Eat Quaker Oats?
Oats aren’t toxic to rabbits; therefore, they can eat them. But … oats may not be the most beneficial food for rabbits to consume. Some forms of oats, specifically oat straw, have very little nutritional benefit and can be risky to allow rabbits to eat due to the possible presence of mycotoxins.
Rolled oats, like Quaker and Bob’s Red Mill, can be fed to rabbits, cooked and uncooked; however, you shouldn’t add other ingredients (such as milk, sweeteners, butter or salt) to oatmeal intended for your rabbit. Rabbits will also eat grouts and steel-cut oats. Read the labels to make sure the oats are free of additives and/or preservatives.
Although rescue groups feed oatmeal to bunnies to restore their weight and condition, consult your vet before feeding oatmeal to your bun, even if it’s underweight.
Oat hay can be fed to your furry friend to provide a bit of diversity to their diet. Oat hay tastes and smells differently than other types of hay, providing stimulation for your bun as well. Oat hay can change the color of a rabbit’s fecal pellets; therefore, don’t be alarmed if this change occurs.
Should your furry friend develop digestive difficulties after eating oats, consult a veterinarian who can diagnose and help deal with any digestive difficulties that develop.