Substances poisonous to rabbits
There are many substances that are potentially poisonous or dangerous to rabbits. Knowing what these are and how to avoid them is important for your rabbit’s safety.
What plants are poisonous?
Rabbits often have access to a variety of plants and flowers, but some can be poisonous to rabbits, although they vary in their severity. Although documented cases have not been identified, anecdotal reports suggest that symptoms of ingestion may include hyper-salivation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, seizures, liver damage, collapse and possibly death if large quantities of toxic plants are consumed.
Any plant that grows from a bulb must be avoided. Other commonly encountered potentially dangerous plants, trees and flowers include buttercups, rhubarb, foxglove, ragwort, deadly nightshade, evergreens, hemlock, ivy, poppies and yew. There are many others, so before picking and feeding something to your rabbit, or allowing them access to your garden, you must ensure you have correctly identified what they have access to and if it is safe for them to eat. Whilst rabbits often do seem to avoid plants that are potentially poisonous, this cannot be relied upon.
What chemicals are dangerous?
There are some chemicals that must be avoided with rabbits. The most commonly encountered issue is with products containing Fipronil. This is often found in flea treatments for cats and dogs, with the most well-known brand being ‘Frontline’. Fipronil is the active chemical and has been documented as causing deaths in rabbits. It must therefore never be used on rabbits and if you have dogs and cats in the household that you use Fipronil on, they must be kept well away from the rabbits until it has completely dried, in case the rabbit ingests it. If Fipronil is applied to your rabbit you must wash it off straight away (just the affected area not the full rabbit) and contact your vet for emergency advice.
Weed killers, slug pellets and some fence protection products are also dangerous if consumed. To be on the safe side never allow your rabbit to graze on areas where you have used weed killers or placed slug pellets down. Do not coat your rabbits housing in fence protection products unless they state they are safe to use around animals. Even then they may not be safe if consumed, so do not coat the inside of the enclosure which the rabbit may chew.
What about antifreeze?
Antifreeze is often associated with poisonings in cats since they are free roaming and can come across leaks of antifreeze or have the potential to drink from puddles that have been contaminated with antifreeze.
The active ingredient that causes the poisoning is Ethylene glycol. Antifreeze is sweet tasting so attracts animals to drink it. Sadly, once consumed crystals start to formulate within the kidneys, sending the animal into renal failure within a matter of hours. By the time the clinical signs start to appear; ataxia, seizures and collapse, the damage is irreversible, and euthanasia is the only option.
Rabbits may come across antifreeze if they have free access to a garden or garage where it is stored, or if there has been a spillage of it within their environment. Be extremely careful and mindful – always keep antifreeze locked away from your rabbit and if you suspect your rabbit has ingested any then speak to your vet straight away. Minutes could be the difference between your rabbit living and dying.
Is lead paint dangerous?
Lead paint is no longer used in the UK, but older houses may still have some on the walls. Rabbits may ingest the paint if they chew at the walls. House rabbits are more likely to be affected then those kept outside.
The consumption of lead causes lethargy, a reduced appetite and ataxia. The signs may progress to overall weakness or collapse and on blood work the rabbit may appear to be anaemic.
If the rabbit has consumed solid particles of lead in the paint, or parts of lead from lead piping, then these will show up on x-rays.
Supportive treatment with syringe feeding, prokinetic medications and fluid therapy alongside medication to help eliminate the lead from the gut is the treatment of choice.
What do I do if I think my rabbit has eaten something poisonous?
You must contact your vet immediately!
Rabbits cannot vomit, so once a rabbit ingests something it cannot be made sick, therefore other treatments must be given to resolve a dangerous substance.
If your vet advises you to go to the practice and you have the packaging of the product or more of the substance, then take this with you as it will help your vet identify the best course of treatment.