Anyone who has owned rabbits for any length of time knows that the majority of their diet is made up of grass, hay and a wide variety of leafy green vegetables and roughage.
With enough of that and little else, rabbits can live quite well, but some variety doesn’t hurt either to make sure they are getting everything they need.
But you’ve got to be cautious when feeding your rabbit leafy greens because not all of them are good for rabbits in unlimited quantities.
Let’s take a look at one of the most popular superfood greens out there, kale. Is it safe for rabbits to eat it?
Yes, kale is safe for rabbits and is very healthy, but they must only eat it and strictly limited amounts as part of their usual diet. This is because kale contains high amounts of oxalic acid which can cause your rabbits serious bladder and kidney problems.
Kale is one of the healthiest greens around, and your rabbits can definitely benefit from the nutrients it has to offer, but if you give them too much it is a guarantee that they will eventually suffer.
This isn’t to scare you off from serving kale to them, but it is an effort to get you to pay attention to the overall composition of their diet and specifically the amount of kale they receive. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you what you need to know down below…
Do Rabbits Like Kale?
Yes, rabbits love kale. Kale is one of those types of foods that pretty much all rabbits enjoy, be they wild or domestic.
Like I said above, rabbits subsist on a diet that is predominantly leafy greens assuming they aren’t getting hay in captivity, and kale definitely fits into that niche.
Is Kale a Healthy Food for Rabbits?
Yes, kale is definitely healthy for rabbits but with a major reservation that we’ll talk about in the next section. For the moment, looking at the nutritional content of kale, we see that there is a whole lot to like…
Kale has a surprising amount of protein for a leafy vegetable and plenty of carbs in the form of dietary fiber and sugars, with fiber being in the lead. Kale also contains just a little bit of fat, more than you might expect for a veggie of this type.
But it is the vitamin and mineral content that has set it apart as one of the world’s healthiest vegetables. Kale contains a tremendous amount of vitamins K and c, a lot of vitamin A besides, and a great assortment of the B-complex vitamins, including B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and folate.
The mineral content is similarly very impressive, and it leaves many other veggies in the dust.
Kale has a huge amount of manganese and a considerable amount of iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and selenium along with just a little bit of naturally occurring sodium.
It is no exaggeration to say that all of these nutrients, together, can improve nearly every facet of a rabbit’s health, from tissue and skeletal growth and healing, to organ function, metabolism, circulation, nervous system function, eyesight, fur, digestion and more. Amazing!
But as good as it is, it still isn’t truly nutritionally balanced for rabbits, and they can’t live on kale alone. Worse, feeding rabbits too much kale can actually cause substantial health problems.
What Problems Does Kale Cause for Rabbits?
So, kale is incredibly packed with vitamins and minerals. What’s the problem?
The problem is that kale contains very high amounts of oxalic acid, sometimes referred to as oxalates. While harmless to rabbits and other mammals in small doses, high doses can cause increasingly severe health issues relating to its calcium-binding properties.
At the less harmful end of the scale, excess kale ingestion can prevent a rabbit’s body from taking up calcium found in food, including in the kale itself.
It can also prevent proper use of calcium when it is already in the body. Naturally, this can lead to brittle bones and related issues over time.
Oxalic acid can also interfere with iron and oxygenation of the bloodstream by preventing the formation of healthy red blood cells. Over time and with sustained high doses this can result in a type of anemia that’s devastating to rabbits.
At worst, and most pressing of all, is oxalic acid will cause calcium and other minerals to start clumping together in the urinary tract, potentially causing kidney stones, bladder stones, and eventually block the elimination of urine entirely.
This is a condition known as bladder sludgeand it can subsequently result in increasing toxicity in the bloodstream, typically with fatal effects.
Sounds like a terrible fate just because you fed your rabbit too much glorified lettuce, and it is. But it’s absolutely true and highly likely if you give them too much. This is why it is so important that you carefully measure how much they get and how often!
What Other Veggies Are High in Oxalic Acid?
It’s a good idea to switch out the different kinds of greenery that you’re giving your rabbits periodically, and that especially counts for kale. However, there are several other kinds of leafy greens that rabbits love, and that are good for them, that also contain lots of oxalic acid.
If you drop the kale only to replace it with one of the veggies on this list, you might be going from bad to worse especially if you increase the amount they can have.
Be sure to only give rabbits limited amounts of the following, and make their primary leafy greens something else:
- ❌ Chard
- ❌ Spinach
- ❌ Radish greens
- ❌ Beet greens
- ❌ Mustard greens
- ❌ Parsley
- ❌ Sprouts
Can Rabbits Have Cooked Kale?
No, even though this is sometimes recommended. The reason why it is recommended is because cooking kale, specifically boiling, greatly reduces the amount of oxalate present. Nominally this will reduce the risks when they eat it, but the downside is that cooking it drastically reduces the nutrients, also.
Can Rabbits Have Canned Kale?
No. Canned kale is cooked, and usually canned in a salty or sugary brine to improve flavor, if not other kinds of preservatives that rabbits just shouldn’t have.
Give your rabbits fresh, raw kale according to the schedule I’m about to share with you or don’t give it to them at all.
How Often Should Rabbits Eat Kale?
Rabbits should only have kale once or twice a week at most as part of a well-rounded diet that has other leafy greens in it. This requires a little bit of math on your part to figure out the right serving size for your rabbit.
The general rule of thumb is that a rabbit should get a single packed cup of roughage for every 2 pounds that it weighs. But kale should be no more than a third of that given serving size after you calculate it.
So, for instance, if you’re a rabbit weighs 6 pounds it should get 3 cups of roughage. Twice a week, 1 cup’s worth of roughage that you give them daily can be kale.
What’s the Best Way to Serve Kale to Rabbits?
All you need to do to serve kale to your rabbits is hand the leaves over and let them chow down. If you have a picky or fussy eater, you might chop or tear them into smaller bits to make them more appealing.
Also, don’t forget to wash and thoroughly dry the kale before serving along with other greens.
Never Give Rabbits Spoiled Kale
You’ve already got to be careful with kale when serving it to your rabbits, but you can make things even worse if you give them spoiled kale.
Any kale that has started to wilt, turn brown or go slimy, or any kale that is showing signs of fungus or mold, is very bad news for rabbits.
Any contaminants like that or any other kind of spoiled produce can easily make a rabbit horrendously ill. My personal guideline is that if the veggies aren’t fresh enough for me to eat or serve to my family, I won’t serve them to rabbits. I suggest you do the same…
Is Kale Safe for Bunnies, Too?
Kale is only safe for bunnies with lots of caution. First, I would not serve kale to any bunny that was not at least 14 weeks old. This will give their digestive system enough time to stabilize and prepare for various kinds of produce.
Second, I would cut the recommended allowance I detailed above and half for bunnies. They are even more vulnerable to the effects of oxalic acid compared to completely mature adult rabbits, and any of the possible negative health outcomes will be even more devastating for them at this fragile stage of life.
If you don’t even want to take the chance, I don’t blame you: there are plenty of other healthy and much safer leafy vegetables that you can give to bunnies in the meantime.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.