The short answer to “Can rabbits eat spinach?”
Yes, rabbits can eat spinach, but it should be limited to no more than twice a week because it is high in oxalates.
Instead, rabbits should have a diet that is mostly hay, and it should be supplemented with pellets and vegetables (preferably dark, leafy green vegetables).
What Is Spinach?
First, let’s look at what spinach is so that we can understand the role it plays in rabbits’ diets.
Spinach is a flowering plant from the family Amaranthaceae (which includes chard, beets, and quinoa) whose leaves are a commonly consumed vegetable.
There are three basic types of spinach:
Savory spinach which has dark, curly leaves that are kind of crinkly (hence why it is also called curly leaf spinach).
Flat-leaf spinach which has smooth, broad leaves that are in the shape of spades.
Semi-savoy spinach which is a hybrid variety that has slightly crinkly and curly leaves.
While humans like both cooked and raw spinach, rabbits can only properly digest raw spinach.
Many rabbits love the taste of spinach (especially baby spinach which has a sweeter taste) and will gladly eat their veggies!
Fun Fact: Baby spinach is a type of flat-leaf spinach. Also, flat-leaf spinach is the most popular spinach type in the US.
Benefits of Spinach for Rabbits
There are some benefits of spinach for rabbits other than being tasty.
Spinach is very fibrous and is therefore beneficial for rabbits’ digestion.
Because rabbits do not have constant stomach movement (called peristalsis), they rely on their diet to provide enough fiber to help aid them in digestion instead.
The reason fiber is crucial to rabbits’ diets is that without it they can develop GI stasis which is where their digestive tract slows down or stops completely. Not only is this incredibly painful, but it can even lead to death if their stomach becomes blocked.
The stalks and stems of spinach are the most fibrous parts (and the roots are higher in sugar than other parts of the plant). Therefore, you should always cut off the roots, and you can feed your rabbit just the spinach stalks and stems if you are worried about their fiber intake.
Spinach is also high in water, which helps to keep rabbits hydrated. Raw spinach is about 91% water.
Another benefit of spinach is that it is very high in beta-carotene and vitamin A which are incredibly important for rabbits’ body development.
Beta-carotene is a provitamin A carotenoid which is just a fancy way of saying that it’s a type of pigment that the body can convert into vitamin A. Plants are one of the primary sources of provitamin A, which makes them an important part of your rabbit’s diet. Bring on the veggies!
Spinach also has many other vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, calcium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.
Fun Fact: There are only 23 calories in 100 grams of spinach.
Cons of Spinach for Rabbits
While spinach is not poisonous and is generally considered safe in limited quantity for rabbit consumption, there are some cons to feeding rabbits spinach.
The main con of spinach is that it is high in oxalates (also called oxalic acids) which are organic compounds found in plants that can reduce the absorption of certain nutrients from the digestive system.
The two main nutrients that oxalates affect in spinach are iron and calcium. The oxalates bind to these nutrients and prevent their absorption. This can lead to many health issues if oxalates are eaten in large quantities.
When it comes to iron, high levels of oxalates can not only prevent absorption, but they can even bind to and remove existing iron from the body.
Low levels of iron can lead to anemia in rabbits which is where their blood does not have enough healthy red blood cells.
When it comes to calcium, high levels of oxalates can bind to the calcium in spinach and decrease its absorption. This can create a buildup of calcium in their bodies which can lead to kidney, urinary tract, and colon problems.
Calcium buildup can also cause kidney stones, bladder stones, or even what is known as bladder sludge (which is a build up of too much calcium in the urine). Sounds delightful!
These problems related to excess calcium are due in part to the fact that rabbits, unlike humans, absorb all the calcium that they eat. In contrast, most mammals normally absorb only what they need.
Some common symptoms of bladder sludge and bladder and kidney problems are blood in the urine, straining to urinate, frequent urination, sediment in the urine, diarrhea, and excessive water drinking.
If you are worried that your rabbit is experiencing kidney or bladder problems, then please see a veterinarian!
Due to its high oxalate content rabbits should only eat spinach one to two times a week.
Another concern with spinach is if you feed it to rabbits in a pile, then it can very quickly wilt, turn yellow, grow mold, become slimy, or start to ferment. All of which can lead to severe stomach upset in rabbits.
You should always spread out spinach when feeding it to your rabbit.
Foods You Should Not Combine with Spinach
Your rabbit should be eating a small salad consisting of dark, leafy greens daily. This salad should consist of five different vegetables/herbs/plants that are rotated daily for variety.
However, the following foods should NOT be combined with spinach because of its high oxalate content.
Foods That You Can Combine with Spinach
The following foods are low in oxalates and CAN be mixed with spinach:
Fun Fact: E. C. Segar, the creator of the iconic spinach-eating character Popeye, was a vegetarian who wanted the character to help promote the importance of eating vegetables!
Yes, rabbits can eat spinach, but it should be limited to no more than twice a week because it is high in oxalates. Instead, rabbits should have a diet that consists mostly of hay supplemented with pellets and vegetables.
There are some benefits to feeding rabbits spinach: it is full of fiber, high in water, full of beta-carotene and vitamin A, and has many other nutrients that are beneficial to rabbits.
There are some cons to feeding rabbits spinach: it is high in oxalates which can prevent absorption of iron and calcium, and it can cause stomach upset if kept piled up too long.
Some reminders to keep in mind when feeding rabbits spinach:
- Never feed rabbits cooked or frozen spinach (only raw spinach).
- Try to cut off spinach roots and mainly feed rabbits the stalks and stems.
- Always spread spinach out, because it can quickly wilt, turn yellow, grow mold, become slimy, or start to ferment (all of which can upset rabbits’ stomachs).
- Rabbits should eat a small salad daily that consists of dark, leafy greens (and these vegetables should be rotated as well).
- Rabbits should only be fed spinach one or two times a week maximum.
- Never combine these foods with spinach, because they are also high in oxalates: beets, mustard greens, parsley, radish tops, sprouts, and swiss chard.