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What plants are poisonous to rabbits?

Rabbits are, of course, very well adapted for eating plant matter, and giving them an assortment of plants to nibble on is one way to make sure that they get a good, balanced diet. However, there are a number of common plants in the UK that are seriously poisonous to them, and potentially even fatal. Some of the more common and more toxic plants are listed here:

Bulbs e.g. Bluebells, daffodils, irises and tulips

These plants contain chemicals that seriously irritate the stomach and gut lining. However, a rabbit cannot vomit, so once eaten, they stay inside, damaging the gut. Fortunately, they usually taste pretty bad!

Deadly Nightshade

OK, this should have been obvious! The toxin alters the heart rate and may cause death by cardiac arrest. It also shuts down the gut, leading to gut stasis, which can also be fatal.

Elder

Causes gut irritation and hypersalivation; this is unpleasant but is rarely fatal.

Foxglove

It’s well known that this plant alters the heartbeat – in fact, foxglove extract (digoxin) is sometimes used (in very low doses!) to treat heart disease in humans and dogs. However, it is potentially fatal to rabbits, slowing and stopping their hearts.

Ivy

This parasitic plant can cause a range of problems, including skin irritation and heart problems, although fortunately the UK species are less dangerous than their American cousins.

Lily of the Valley

This can cause gut irritation, and again, heart problems.

Lobelia

Although toxic, this usually presents with severe hypersalivation, and is usually non-fatal.

Lupin

Another gut irritant, that can also cause inflammation and swelling of the mouth and gums, leading to excessive salivation.

Privet

Privet hedges are a bit old fashioned now, but they still exist – and can cause gut or heart problems.

Ragwort

This nasty plant can be absorbed through the skin (so be careful yourself and wear gloves when getting rid of it!). It causes cumulative damage to the liver that builds up over time. The fresh plant is rarely eaten, but when dried, some rabbits develop a taste for it. Sadly, once symptoms appear, weeks or months later, it is usually too late for treatment

Rhododendron

These attractive shrubs (or trees if you let them grow!) are highly irritating to a rabbit’s mouth, stomach and intestines.

Yew

These attractive trees are utterly lethal – avoid at all costs!

Other poisonous plants include anemone, antirrhinums, azalea, bittersweet, bryony, buttercups, caladium, chrysanthemums, clematis, columbine, cyclamen, dahlias, delphinium, dog mercury, fig, figwort, fool’s parsley, hellebore, hemlock, holly, hyacinth, juniper, kingcup, laburnum, Leyland cypress, marsh marigold, meadow saffron, mistletoe, monkshood, morning glory, poppies, St. John’s wort, spurges, wisteria, woody nightshade, and potentially almost any evergreen tree.

If there are so many toxic plants, why are rabbit poisonings so rare?

We don’t know if they are or not! Sadly, many rabbits that fall sick or die unexpectedly never get properly diagnosed – so we don’t actually know what caused their illness or death. In addition, of course, most rabbits, most of the time, won’t eat most toxic plants – poisonous plants usually taste nasty so the bunny won’t eat enough to harm themselves. However, if the rabbit is hungry enough, or silly enough, they may eat a toxic, or even fatal dose; some plants (such as yew) are so poisonous that just a mouthful can be fatal.

My rabbit has eaten some of the plants on your list and was fine!

In that case, you have a lucky rabbit! There is no poison on earth that is so toxic that a single molecule can kill a rabbit (not even botulinum, which people sometimes mistakenly make that claim for). The thing with plants is that, depending on their age, stage of growth, and nutritional status, the amount of the poisonous chemical(s) in their stems and leaves will vary. One plant may have lots, while another nearby has hardly any.

In addition, as with any other species, different rabbits will have different sensitivities to poison – that’s why the technical term for the “lethal dose” is the LD50 – the dose of the toxin at which 50% of animals will die.

Remember, too, some of these poisons may take a while to work – so if he ate it an hour ago, he could still be in danger – so call us right away for advice!

If your rabbit has eaten any of these plants, or you are at all concerned about them, give us a call right away, day or night. Our vets will be able to tell you if you need to come in and be seen.