Gardening Tips and Tricks : Garden Plants That Are Safe for Your Rabbits and Guinea Pigs
You can gather a variety of garden plants/weeds for feeding to either rabbits or guinea pigs. During periods of bad weather, when the animals are confined to their hutches, they will appreciate a handful of mixed grass clippings with the incorporated weeds. They prefer relatively short lawn grass to coarse, long meadow grass, however. The supply of wild plants will depend on the season, of course, with the greatest selection being available during spring and early summer. Do check before you feed any plants that they are not likely to be poisonous. If you are at all doubtful, the best approach is to ignore any plants unless you are absolutely sure they will not harm your stock. As a general guide, the following are all safe to use as food:
Bramble (Rubus fruticosus): Rabbits especially like the young leaves. You can also offer older leaves but take care that no thorns remain attached to the stalks if these too are fed. This is not a problem if one of the cultivated thornless varieties is available.
Chickweed (Stellaria media): Various forms of chickweed exist and their distribution can be rather localized. It is a lush growing plant under good conditions, however, and produces tiny white flowers.
Clover (Trifolium species): Not an easy plant to gather in bulk, since it often occurs sporadically in an area of lawn and is normally fed with grass. It is also often present in hay.
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara): This plant and its flowers are readily taken by both rabbits and guinea pigs. Grows in all types of soil.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): Easily cultivated from rootstock if desired. You can offer both the flowers and leaves, but preferably with other items, since this plant is said to have a laxative effect. As summer advances the leaves tend to die back and brown spots may appear on the surface. It is probably best to avoid leaves in this condition. Kept in a sheltered and moist environment, however, the plants continue to grow through much of the summer and well into the autumn. Other, similar plants which are normally available slightly later in the season are various forms of Sow-thistle (Sonchussp.) and Nipplewort (Lapsana communis).
Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris): A common weed which can act as a laxative, but is often contaminated with a white or reddish fungus on the undersides of the leaves. Do not use plants affected in this way for feeding to rabbits and guinea pigs.
Mallow (Malva sylvestris): More likely to be encountered in a rough area of grassland than in the average garden, but nevertheless useful for feeding purposes.
Plantain (Plantago species): Various forms are recognized, and the plants are sometimes described as ‘Ratstails’ because of their long seedheads which develop in late summer. Some types have broader leaves than others.
Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris): Traditionally used by rabbit-keepers as a natural means of preventing scouring, this plant is quite distinctive when in flower. It has small white flowers, followed by characteristic triangular seedpods on the central stem.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Also known as Milfoil; this plant has delicate feathery leaves and a composite flowerhead. Yarrow is most obvious during late summer.