What is ragwort and is it poisonous for rabbits?

Last year we have had a serious health issue with Mac, our black and white rabbit, which led to her having to urgently visit the vet and have some treatment.  Thankfully she is recovered quickly and is back to her normal self, but for a while, she was quite ill.

What is ragwort?

Ragwort is a fairly common weed on agricultural land in the UK and according to the RHS, it is a poisonous weed.  It can grow anywhere up to 3ft and flowers from July to October with clusters of yellow flowers which could be mistaken for daisies.  The image below shows what ragwort looks like in flower.  Ragwort can be found in gardens but is less common.  It is one of five plants covered by the Weeds Act 1959, which means it is an offence to not control the growth of ragwort if asked to do so.   

Why is it an issue?

Despite its colourful appearance ragwort is highly poisonous to a high proportion of wildlife.  There have been issues with horses, cows and sheep becoming ill from eating ragwort as it is highly toxic.  All those animals are far bigger than rabbits and their bodies more adept at coping with toxic food sources.

How to remove it?

If you do find any ragwort you should remove it immediately and don’t allow any animals to graze near it until it is removed.  You should wear gloves when removing it as it has been known to be an irritant on human skin as well.  Once removed it should either be disposed of through a compost bin or safely burnt.  There are pesticides that can be used and there are some examples here, however make sure you read the information for them about using in the vicinity of pets.

What happened to poor Mac?

We don’t know for sure but we suspect that she ate a tiny piece of ragwort.  Her and Cheese had been out in the garden during the day and in the evening she was not herself.  She was very hunched up and not moving around at all, normally they are pretty active rabbits and even us getting close to them will cause them the hop around.  She was also grinding her teeth with is an indication of discomfort and her heart was beating a lot faster than normal.  As soon as we noticed something was not right we called the vet and they said to bring her in immediately.  Just to add to the stress this is in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic which meant once we got her to the vet we couldn’t actually go in with her and had to wait outside. 

Fortunately, the vet informed us that it did not look too serious and seemed to be more of a digestion issue.  He gave her an injection to help with that and as soon as she was back home she was back to normal, being her mischievous self with her sister.    

The vet gave us some medicine to help with digestion and some pain relief which had to be administered for the next few days but thankfully she seemed to be back to normal almost immediately.

We did find a small ragwort plant at the side of the house so we have disposed of that safely and no further issues have come about.  If you do ever notice any strange or abnormal behaviours from your rabbits be sure to contact the vets straight away, rabbit organs and incredibly small and cannot withstand discomfort for any length of time.

As you can see below she is back to her normal self now.  

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