Preparing pine cones for rabbits is a simple process that can provide your rabbit with a fun and enriching activity. It is also a crucial step that can rid this nature’s chewing toy of potential nasties that are toxic to rabbits.
This might sound scary but don’t worry, pine cones make excellent toys and chewing materials for rabbits. However, if you’re going to collect them from the wild, treating pine cones for rabbits is essential to turn them into safe chew toys.
Making a new toy for your bunny out of a wild pine cone is a relatively long-ish process. Still, the benefits are worth the extra time and effort, as your rabbit will be able to safely enjoy its new and exciting toy while you get to save money on buying commercial toys.
Here’s everything you need to know about making pine cones safe for rabbits, including a step-by-step guide on how to do it.
Why give pine cones to rabbits?
There are several reasons why giving pine cones to pet rabbits is a good idea. Here are just a few of them.
Staving off boredom
Any good rabbit owner knows that a bored bunny is an unhappy bunny.
As such, it’s important to provide your furry friend with plenty of toys and chew materials to keep them occupied.
Boredom and lack of mental stimulation in rabbits can result in destructive behavior. This includes chewing on cords and walls, digging the carpet, and sometimes even urine spraying.
Pine cones are nature’s own chew toys and are an excellent way to keep your rabbit entertained.
Rabbits love throwing and tossing them in the air. Think of pine cones as a rabbit equivalent of stacking cups (although you can find ones made for rabbits too).
Improved dental health
Rabbits have continuously growing teeth. As a result, they need to chew on something hard to help keep their teeth trim and healthy.
Pine cones are made of tough woody material which helps to keep your rabbit’s teeth in good shape.
Chewing on pine cones also helps to massage their gums and prevent gum disease.
A healthy mouth is essential for overall good health in rabbits as it can help prevent digestive problems and chronic dental diseases.
In order to stop pet rabbits from chewing on hard surfaces they shouldn’t (cords, furniture, carpets, and other objects), pet owners often have to buy them expensive chew toys.
Pine cones are a great alternative to commercial rabbit chew toys as they’re free (if you collect them yourself) and just as fun for rabbits to chew on.
While there are tons of chew toys to be found in pet stores, rabbits’ owners often run into the same problem. What at first looks like a durable tasty treat becomes scraps the next day.
Pine cones, on the other hand, are quite durable and long-lasting, so you won’t need to replace them as often as other rabbit toys.
Plus, as we’ve said before, even if your pet rabbit rips the pine cone to shreds, you can easily, and cost-effectively, replace it.
Are pine cones safe for rabbits to eat?
A lot of rabbit owners have probably wondered whether rabbits eat pine cones. The truth of the matter is, rabbits don’t exactly eat pine cones in a traditional sense. But they do love chewing on pine cones to wear down their continuously growing teeth.
Pine cones are made out of wood and are fairly hard, so they can do wonders for your bunny’s dental health.
Nevertheless, wild pine cones that have not been properly treated can be harmful to rabbits and cause digestive upset, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal stasis.
Why wild-collected pine cones can be dangerous for rabbits?
Pine cones that are collected from the wild may be contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals. These chemicals are toxic to rabbits and can cause digestive upset, leading to even more serious health problems in the long run.
What’s more, according to Central Washington University, a pesticide-treated rabbit diet can cause liver necrosis, pitting of kidneys, and growth of tumors.
It is important to be wary of the presence of pesticides in not only wild pine cones but also in store-bought ones that haven’t been labeled “safe for animals”.
Another problem with wild-collected pine cones is that they might be infested with insects, including fur mites. These tiny creatures can cause skin irritation, hair loss, and even anemia in rabbits.
There is also the matter of sap. Some pine cones, such as those from the Scots pine tree, are oozing with sap. This sap can be irritating to your rabbit’s skin and if ingested, can cause digestive upset.
Last but not least, unprocessed pine cones may contain harmful bacteria and fungi that can make your rabbit sick.
All of this is to say that if you’re going to give pine cones to your rabbit, it’s important to make sure they are safe.
Here’s how you do it.
How to prepare pine cones for rabbits?
While wild rabbits eat pine cones, it’s best to avoid giving them to your pet rabbit unless you take the necessary precautions.
1. Collect the pine cones
The first step is to collect the cones that have already fallen from the pine trees. These pine cones will already be open and won’t contain the seeds inside. You can normally find fallen pine cones in a forest during the fall season. However, if it’s been particularly rainy, make sure that the pine cones are not damaged by mildew or rot.
You can also buy pine cones online. Make sure they come from a pesticide-free source and that they weren’t treated for decorative purposes (these pine cones are usually covered in varnish that can be toxic to rabbits).
2. Wash the pine cones
Once you’ve collected them, it is time to wash the pine cones. Fill up a sink or basin with warm water and add 1 cup of white vinegar to it. Carefully clean each pine cone by scrubbing off dirt, bugs, dried sap, small branches, and all of the nasty that you don’t want your bunnies touching. Let the pine cones soak for 20-30 mins to fully dissolve the remaining sap and dirt.
3. Start air drying
After that, remove pine cones from the sink, rinse them thoroughly with fresh water and prepare to air dry them. Place them on paper towels somewhere sunny but be mindful that the air drying process can take a couple of days.
If you’re not looking forward to waiting several days for the pine cones to dry, you can also use a dehydrator to speed up this process.
4. Bake the pine cones
Next, take a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Spread the pine cones in a single layer on the cookie sheet and make sure each pine cone has room to “breathe”.
Also, make sure you haven’t cut the parchment paper too long or it may catch fire (just a PSA, happened to me before).
Place the baking sheet lined with pine cones in the oven and bake them for one to two hours at 200-250℉ (90-120°C ). The low heat will not only further the drying process but will also kill any remaining germs and insects. Additionally, it will help open up the pine cones and make them easier for rabbits to chew.
As with any baking endeavor, keep a close eye on the pine cones as they bake. If you notice any smoke or smell coming from the oven, immediately turn off the heat and open the door to let the smoke out.
5. Let cool
Once the baking process is done, remove the pine cones from the oven and place them on a cooling rack.
Afterward, you can offer the fully-cooled pine cone to your rabbit and watch as the little rascal plays with his new chew toy.
Just be sure to supervise him to make sure he doesn’t eat any pieces that are too big.
Can rabbits eat pine?
Since rabbits eat pine cones (or chew on them, at least) you might have wondered whether it is also safe for them to eat pine in general.
The answer is no, rabbits should not eat pine.
Pine and other evergreen trees contain toxins that are harmful to rabbits and can cause liver damage if ingested.
This is also the reason for properly cleaning the pine cones before you line a cookie sheet with them. Even small amounts of pine needles or branches contain toxins that are not safe for rabbits and can cause your bunny some very unpleasant digestive upset.
Why do rabbits need chew toys?
Chew toys are an important part of a rabbit’s life for several reasons.
First, as mentioned before, rabbits have continuously growing teeth. In order to keep their teeth at a comfortable length, they need to gnaw on something hard. Otherwise, the overgrowth of their teeth can cause problems with their gums and digestive tract.
Plus, overgrown teeth can be incredibly painful for your little friend, and we want to avoid that at all costs.
Second, chewing is a natural rabbit behavior. It’s how they explore their surroundings and keep themselves entertained. Chew toys satisfy this urge and help rabbits stay calm and happy.
Finally, chew toys can help rabbits relieve stress. If your rabbit is feeling anxious or nervous, chewing on something can help him feel more comfortable. It’s a way for him to self-soothe and relax.
Pine cones can make a great chew toy for rabbits, that will both help your rabbit with their natural instinct to gnaw, as well as provide mental stimulation.
If you have easy access to pine cones, making your own chew toys is also a very economical way to provide enrichment for your rabbit.
With a bit of patience, a basin full of warm water, paper towels, and an oven your pet rabbit can have a fun new toy to play with. Now that I’ve reread that sentence it sounds like I’m asking you to get your bunny an Easy-Bake Oven which is… Not a good idea. Don’t let your bunny try its furry paw at baking.
The task of preparing a pine cone for your rabbit lies solely on you.