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Bunny Herbology 101
In my experience, it can be hard to find a veterinarian who specializes in rabbits and their health care. More than likely, the veterinarian that you take Fluffy the cat and Rover the dog to does not have the license or expertise to explain why Thumper the dwarf rabbit is feeling sluggish. People who own exotic pets like rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, and mice often turn to other methods in order to keep their pets healthy and happy. If you are having trouble finding a rabbit vet, or if you’d like to explore the benefits of what mother nature has to offer your bunny, herbs may be a solution for you. The following are a select few plants that are common and safe for rabbit consumption.
Cautionary note: Use sparingly in pregnant animals; could cause fetal damage.
Used for: Digestion; stress relief
Parts of Plant to be used: Leaves, stems, and flowers; feed fresh or add dried bits to water (also provide fresh water source in addition)
The next time your rabbit is exposed to a potentially stressful environment, such as a trip or show, pluck a small stem of catnip for him. Catnip may make kitties go crazy, but it produces a calming effect on other animals and even people. The oils in the leaves are anti-spasmodic, which means that if your bunny’s stomach is in knots, (from stress) they can provide relief from that pain.
Cautionary note: Very safe plant, but do not feed in large quantities
Used for: Gut health; skin growth; hairball remedy
Parts of Plant to be used: Leaves, stems, and flowers; feed fresh in small amounts
Chickweed may be a common pest in your gardens, but it’s a bunny’s friend when it comes to gut health. The oils in chickweed act as a lubricant, which help soothe the lining of a rabbit’s digestive tract. They can also help with minor skin irritations, like a fly bite or bee sting. The roughage provided by chickweed can help with the dissolution and expulsion of hairballs in the gut.
Cautionary note: For safety, do not use the root of the plant; do not feed in large quantities
Used for: Anti-inflammatory; mastitis; bone health; respiratory issues
Parts of Plant to be used: Leaves; feed fresh or dried in small quantities, or in a poultice
Comfrey was used in poultice form in the Civil War to stimulate bone growth and repair. Today, you can use the leaves of comfrey to feed to your rabbit for the same thing. If you see that your rabbit is favoring a foot, it is best to take it into a veterinary clinic for x-rays; however, when you get home, you can feed it some of this plant to help ensure a speedy recovery. Comfrey contains allantoin, a natural chemical compound that speeds up cell reproduction in bones and other internal tissues. It also contains rosmarinic acid which acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. To help a rabbit with mastitis, apply a warm poultice to the doe. If your rabbit has a case of the sniffles, first and foremost quarantine the animal. Upper respiratory infections in rabbits are hard afflictions to beat, but comfrey can help. It acts as an expectorant while soothing and promoting tissue regrowth in the lungs.
Cautionary note: Do not feed to a pregnant doe until she is in labor
Used for: Stimulation of contractions
Parts of the plant to be used: the brown/golden silk on top of a corncob
Corn silk may just be a laboring doe’s best friend. In addition to being a good kidney and liver flushing agent, corn silk has been proven to stimulate contractions in rabbits; therefore, it is very important not to feed a doe corn silk until you notice that she is in labor (in a nestbox, breathing heavily, occasionally ducking head under her belly). By feeding her corn silk, you can help make her kindling a much easier ordeal.
Cautionary note: Make sure the specimen you are feeding has not been exposed to chemicals.
Used for: Digestion aid, liver health, anti-inflammatory
Parts of the plant to be used: Leaves, stems
Dandelion, when given in small commodities to rabbits, serves them as a daily vitamin serves humans. Dandelion greens are full of vitamins C, K, D, and B complex, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and other trace minerals. By feeding the leaves as an occasional treat, you give your rabbit a healthy boost.
Cautionary note: Use conservatively
Used for: Milk production; anti-bacterial
Parts of the plant to be used: Flowers, seeds
Did your doe produce an abnormally large litter? Is your doe older and you’re afraid she won’t be able to make enough milk for her litter? Dill may be your answer. It may help increase your doe’s ability to produce enough milk, in addition to providing beneficial microbes to that milk.
Cautionary note: Use sparingly; use only in adult rabbits
Used for: Anti-fungal; anti-tumor; anti-viral
Parts of the plant to be used: Cloves
In older bunnies, garlic can be fed as a means to slow the growth of tumors. This in turn may or may not prevent certain kinds of cancer. It also serves as an anti-fungal agent, in case your older bunny has skin issues. The cloves of garlic also act much like dandelion, in that they contain many beneficial nutrients and compounds, such as protein, fiber, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc, vitamin A, and riboflavin. That said, garlic should only be used in older, adult rabbits because it has been known to cause anemia in young animals if used excessively.
Cautionary note: Thistles are prickly, so before feeding scrape off sharp points with a blade
Used for: Liver protection; poison control
Parts of the plant to be used: Flowers, leaves, and stems
If you believe your rabbit ate something it shouldn’t have and may have been mildly poisoned, a few clippings of milk thistle may save its liver from any permanent damage. The silymarin compounds found in milk thistle plants are a liver’s friend in a crisis situation—it accelerates protein synthesis and cell production, so that dying cells can be quickly replaced. This is not a for sure cure, so be sure to take your rabbit to a vet before treating with thistle.
Cautionary note: Do not overfeed; feed once after birth but not again, may hinder lactation
Used for: Healing in does after kindling; digestion; joints
Parts of the plant to be used: Leaves and stems
A friend of mine gave me a few sprigs of parsley at a show which was some distance from my home. When I asked why she fed her rabbits the herb, she replied that it helped keep her bunnies on feed. Parsley can be used as an appetite stimulant, and it also strengthens the gut tract, liver, and kidneys. After a difficult pregnancy, does could use a boost of parsley in their diet because of its ability to speed up the recovery process for their uterine walls. In older rabbits, parsley can have a positive effect on stiff joints, because of its ability to flush uric acid from gouty areas.
Cautionary note: Wilted leaves may cause upset stomachs; watch for thorns
Used for: Recovery after giving birth; diarrhea relief
Parts of the plant to be used: Leaves, stems, fruit
I have used this herb/fruit for many years. I’ve found positive results of the effect that the plant has on does after they give birth to their litters. The compounds within the plant act as a female tonic, to be used both before and after pregnancy, as a means of strengthening uterine walls and muscles. The leaves and fruit are high in vitamin C, so you can feel free to feed it to the bucks in your care as well. Be sure not to feed any wilted leaves, as it can cause upset stomachs. Raspberry is also thought to be a good combatant of diarrhea.
Cautionary note: Overfeeding may cause diarrhea
Used for: Estrogen production
Parts of the plant to be used: Flowers, leaves, and stems
Got a doe that doesn’t want to be bred? A handful of red clover may help her get in the mothering mood. The compounds and nutrients found within the plant promote good health, blood flow, and estrogen production. On the plus side, red clover is thought to be an anti-cancer plant due to its ability to prevent the harmful compound benzopyrene from being absorbed into the liver.