Rabbit ears are somewhat of an unusual treat, and chances are you probably haven’t come across them before. But maybe you’re looking for a nutritious, natural treat for your dog? Or even a treat which offers health benefits as well as being delicious? Rabbit ears might fulfil your needs, but maybe you want to check they are safe for your dog first?
In this article, we will discover why you might want to consider rabbit ears for your dog, and what benefits they provide, as well as their downsides and a few alternatives if you’re not so keen.
What are Rabbit Ears?
Rabbit ears are by-products of the rabbit meat industry. Most rabbit ears sold in the UK are sourced from Europe, however China is the largest producer of rabbit meat in the world, so it is important to check the packaging to see where they have come from. European rabbit farming welfare standards are far superior to China.
Once harvested, the ears are either air-dried (the most popular method) or freeze-dried, with or without hair. Both of these methods ensure they have an excellent shelf-life. Air-dried ears can be stored in an airtight container for up to 18 months, whereas freeze-dried ears can be stored for 30 days once opened, in a cool, dry place. Even so, your dog is probably going to go through them in a matter of days or weeks, so they won’t still be around towards the end of their shelf-life!
Are Rabbit Ears Good for Dogs?
Rabbit ears are highly nutritious for dogs, however the nutritional make up varies considerably between products. Nevertheless, all are high in protein which is excellent for maintaining healthy muscles, hair and skin, as well as many other bodily functions. The average ranges are:
Not only are they a nutritious treat for your dog, but they also have many health benefits, which include:
- Improved dental health: Since rabbit ears are dried, they create an abrasive action against the surface of the teeth as they are chewed. This removes plaque and food material build up.
- Improved digestion: Some rabbit ears are covered in hair. This is a type of fibre which is poorly digested. As the hair travels through the intestines, it gently brushes trapped, undigested food away, improving the ability of the intestines to absorb nutrients.
- Natural deworming: Much like how rabbit ears improve digestion, as the hair brushes the insides of the intestines, they also help to remove worms. They are not a completely effective dewormer, so worm egg counts and medicinal dewormers will still be required, however they help to keep the worm burden low.
- Improved anal gland health: As already mentioned, hair contains fibre, which helps to firm up the stools. If your dog struggles with recurrent anal gland impactions, firmer stools will help squeeze them as they pass by, resulting in fewer impactions and secondary infections.
- Decreased anxiety: Chewing has been scientifically proven to trigger a release of endorphins, which will help your dog relax and feel less anxious. Chewing is an ideal stress-relieving distraction during phobic events, such as fireworks or thunderstorms.
- Hypoallergenic: Many producers of rabbit ears claim they are hypoallergenic, and are suitable for dogs with food allergies. While this isn’t entirely true, as dogs can be allergic to rabbit proteins, it is very rare for a dog to be allergic to rabbit as it is a novel protein. Therefore, most dogs with allergies can tolerate it well.
Even though rabbit ears have many health benefits, and are highly nutritious, they should only make up a small proportion of your dog’s diet. Your dog predominantly needs to eat a balanced, high-quality food. Giving your dog a rabbit ear two or three times a week is plenty for him to be able to experience the benefits of them.
Are Rabbit Ears Safe for Dogs?
The most common concern about rabbit ears is whether the hair might cause an impaction. Hair is not easily digested, and therefore if eaten in large quantities it may struggle to pass. However, sticking to only two or three ears per week prevents this risk.
Since rabbit ears contain only cartilage, skin and sometimes hair, there are no bones which can get stuck or cause damage to the intestines. Nevertheless, if your dog tends to eat treats extremely quickly (for example Labradors), it is advisable to supervise them when eating the treat to ensure they are chewing it properly.
Rabbit ears are generally marketed as low fat treats, however as we’ve seen earlier, the fat content is highly variable. Therefore, if your pet is overweight, or suffers from conditions which are worsened by fat, such as pancreatitis, you should ensure you only buy rabbit ears with a guaranteed low fat content (under 15%).
Are Rabbit Ears Unpleasant to Have in the House?
Since it might take a few hours for your dog to munch through their rabbit ear (unless they are a greedy-type!), you might be wondering if it is going to be unpleasant to have it hanging around the house?
Rabbit ears are generally non-greasy, and relatively low odour, so compared to many other natural treats which are very smelly, they are a good option. There is some variation between products though, so some will be less off-putting than others.
Rabbit Ears for Puppies
Rabbit ears can be given to puppies from four months of age. This is the age which they begin losing their puppy teeth and replacing them with their adult teeth. Chewing the rabbit ears is an excellent way of soothing those itchy gums, and your puppy will be very grateful for them!
Can Rabbit Ears Cause Diarrhoea in Dogs?
Some dogs with sensitive digestive systems develop diarrhoea after ingestion of a rabbit ear. However, in moderation, most dogs tolerate rabbit ears very well.
Can Rabbit Ears Cause a Blockage?
Theoretically, hair on rabbit ears could cause a blockage, but there is not enough hair on a single ear to cause a problem. Therefore, unless your dog eats the whole bag at once, blockages should not be a concern.
How are Rabbit Ears Harvested?
Rabbit ears are by-products of the rabbit meat industry and are not usually sourced from culled wild rabbit. China is by far the largest producer of rabbit ears, with Europe coming in second (mainly Spain, France and Italy). It is important to check with the manufacturer where they source rabbit ears from, as the standards of welfare will differ greatly from wild rabbits to European to Chinese meat rabbits.
Alternatives to Rabbit Ears
Thinking about rabbit ears, but not quite sold on the idea yet? Here are some alternatives:
- Chicken feet or duck feet: Chicken and duck feet are all-natural treats which dogs love to chew on. They are usually raw or dehydrated, and contain bones. However the bones are very tiny, and crumble rather than crack when chewed, so they don’t pose a risk of gastrointestinal damage. They are great for dental health and also an excellent source of glucosamine and chondroitin, to keep your dog’s joints healthy.
- Pig ears: These are another natural treat which improves your dog’s teeth through chewing on them. They can be smelly though, and are high in fat, so are not suitable for dogs with pancreatitis or who are overweight.
- Deer antlers: If you’re looking for a natural treat which is long lasting, deer antlers are a real winner. They can last months, and don’t splinter or break, like bones. The chewing action on the deer antlers helps your dog deal with their anxiety, as well as clean their teeth. These are perfect for dogs who need a low fat alternative, as they are generally not ingested.
- Chicken necks: These are similar to chicken feet, apart from they are obviously from a different part of the body! The bones are a little more prominent than chicken feet though. Even though they should crumble as your dog eats them, you should still monitor them carefully.
- Dental chews: Looking for something which has a good shelf life and no smell? Dental chews might be a good alternative. Even though they are not natural, they help clean your dog’s teeth, as well as freshen their breath. However, they are high in calories, so should only be given in moderation, and an alternative should be considered for dogs who are overweight. In addition to that, they often have a vague ingredients list, and you never really know what’s in them.
Rabbit ears can provide your dog with some unique health benefits, such as improved digestion, improving dental health, decreasing anxiety and decreasing worm burdens. Not only these, but they are healthy and natural, and available with both hair on and off, depending on your needs. However, you should always be vigilant about where your rabbit ears are sourced to ensure the rabbits have been kept under high welfare standards. And if your dog has sensitive guts, monitor for diarrhoea after they’ve tried them for the first time. But for most dogs, rabbit ears are an excellent treat option several times a week, and your dog is sure to love them!