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24/06/2016, 09:00

Don't feed rabbits lettuce

The owners of pet rabbits are used to feeding their animals lettuce, carrots and other salad vegetables - but now vets have warned that the diet could be seriously harmful.

Lettuce contains a chemical which has an effect on rabbits similar to opium, experts have revealed, which can make them lethargic and give them a euphoric high.

Instead of salad, rabbits should instead be eating a diet which mostly consists of hay, in sharp contrast to the usual image of bunnies munching through a pile of greens.

Even carrots, commonly thought to be rabbits' favourite food thanks to the likes of Bugs Bunny, should apparently be fed to the animals no more than once a week.

Scientists this week pointed to the dangerous effect of lactucarium, a milky chemical secreted by certain types of lettuce, particularly iceberg.

The substance has sedative and painkilling properties, as well as inducing 'a mild sensation of euphoria' when it is eaten.

Lactucarium has a mild opiate-like effect even on humans, but when rabbits consume it the effect can be seriously dangerous.

Carrots should also not be fed to rabbits too often, because their high sugar content can cause tooth decay and digestive problems.

Stereotype: Rabbits must only eat carrots once a week because of their high sugar content - despite the popular image of characters such as Bugs Bunny

Lucy Ross of Pets Corner, speaking in support of Rabbit Awareness Week, said: 'Iceberg lettuce - a popular staple among humans that can often make it into the pet food pile - is dangerous and should never be fed to rabbits.

'We are all familiar with Bugs Bunny, who would regularly whip out a carrot to munch on, but carrots are not the best thing to be feeding rabbits on a day-to-day basis.

'The bulk of a rabbit's diet should be made up of hay with 10 per cent of what they eat comprising of vegetables.'

She also revealed that among the foods which should never be eaten by rabbit are avocado, coconut, garlic, chillies, potatoes, tomato leaves and onions.

Among the items which can be eaten on a daily or semi-regular basis are bell peppers, watercress, kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

One rabbit lover, Colin Grant, said that his old pet Fluffy was 'out of it most of the time', adding: 'I wondered why Fluffy spent most of the day sleeping - I had no idea feeding him lettuce was bad for him.'

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