Why Do Rabbits Eat Paper or Cardboard? Is it Bad?

Rabbits will chew on or through just about anything when given the chance, the more abundant, the better. That’s especially true when it comes to cardboard and paper, both of which are favorites of rabbits, which naturally begs the question – why?

And just as importantly, should you care?

On the one hand, rabbits love chewing and eating, so it might not come across as odd to you that they’d try to do so with paper and cardboard. On the other hand, is it really safe for them to eat paper and cardboard, and why do rabbits want to do so in the first place?

Let’s take a closer look at the paper and cardboard conundrum, and what you should do about your rabbit’s desire to chow down on each.

Can Rabbits Chew Cardboard?

To answer the big question first, yes, rabbits can chew on cardboard, but you need to be very careful in allowing them to do it.

If that answer seems odd, there are a couple of reasons why rabbits may want to do that, starting with the fact that cardboard contains cellulose, which rabbits may want to consume. That is part of the reason why they like to eat vegetables, so why should your rabbit care whether it gets that all-important cellulose in lettuce or a toilet roll?

However, just because it might not care doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care. On the contrary, while cardboard may have some cellulose, it does not have nearly enough to serve as a replacement for hay or leafy greens.

Another reason they nibble on cardboard tubes is the fact that it gives them a chew toy for their teeth. Rabbits like to chew on things to regulate the growth of their teeth, and cardboard provides something that’s soft enough to chew through and eat but, unlike paper, provides just enough resistance for them to chew away contentedly to give their mouths a bit of a workout.

That’s important, because rabbits like having some kind of stimulation while you’re away, and one of their favorite alternatives tends to be chewing on things.

Despite why they might like cardboard, however, the question of whether or not rabbits should be allowed to chew on it is more complicated than that.

For one thing, while cardboard itself is safe for rabbits, not all cardboard is free of contaminants. On the contrary, from toilet paper rolls with glue to keep the toilet paper in place to cardboard boxes with tape, there are all kinds of additives that you’ll find in cardboard that can be toxic to rabbits.

Wax and plastic printed on the cardboard, inks and paints painted on the cardboard, boxes with foil on the inside – there are all kinds of potential toxins that can give your rabbits major problems. This is why, despite the cellulose and the chewable nature, you need to be extremely careful when it comes to letting your rabbit chew away on it.

What About Chewing Paper?

If cardboard raises too many concerns, what about paper? It should be easy to get some printer paper without any ink on it and let your rabbit chew away on that without the fear of plastic or toxins for that sweet-sweet cellulose, right?

Well, not so fast. While your rabbit may be able to chew on and eat paper as well, this is another case where just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Packing paper and newspaper (despite the ink) are often used to line rabbits’ cages, and both can be safe to eat in small quantities. Newspaper ink isn’t dangerous here since most newspapers today make use of soy-based inks that are nontoxic.

However, hay, straw, pine shavings, sawdust, and wood pellets are all alternatives to paper lining for your rabbit, and you may want to pursue that instead to limit the amount of paper your rabbit has the chance to eat.

That’s partially because paper is made from an indigestible form of wood pump. As with cardboard, just because they technically can eat this stuff doesn’t mean that gorging themselves on it is good for them.

As with cardboard, the “nutritional value” of paper is far lower than that of actual vegetables and hay. Just as you wouldn’t want to fill up on bread at a restaurant, which is filling but not too nutritional, you don’t want your rabbit to get full on paper before it has the chance to eat more nutritious veggies.

What’s more, while newspapers with soy ink may be fine, other printed paper, such as the kind printed out by your printer or glossy magazine pages, can contain inks that are toxic to your rabbit.

How about paper towels? Not a good idea – this paper is designed to be absorbent, after all, so you don’t want it soaking things up and getting bloated in your rabbit’s stomach.

Paper towels that expand in your rabbit’s stomach can cause everything from gas to intestinal blockages, all of which can cause it pain.

Paper bags are another popular choice for rabbits, though once again, they aren’t the easiest to digest and aren’t the best for your rabbit due to the stomach problems they can cause. That said, you can stuff a paper bag full of straw or hay, which can provide them with something that offers a bit more resistance for their teeth as well as some much-needed nutrition.

What’s more, you don’t want your rabbit to spend too much time chewing paper at the expense of socializing with you or other rabbits. A little chewing is fine, but if your rabbit is doing this excessively, it may be a sign of boredom.

Alternatives to Paper and Cardboard

While a little bit of paper or cardboard may not be a huge problem, you shouldn’t make it a regular feature in their diet. What’s more, while they may want to chew on cardboard, you shouldn’t allow it to become a regular habit for your rabbit, either, and anyway, there are plenty of better alternatives.

For starters, wooden chew toys can be a much safer and more rewarding chew toy for rabbits. Not only are they safer, but they also provide more resistance, which can be better for their teeth.

Applewood sticks are another good alternative. Rabbits love chewing on these, and they are safe to eat.

The same goes for things such as pine cones. If you live someplace where you can find these things in abundance, you’ll be able to save big on rabbit chew toys, as long as you wash them thoroughly first.

Another good option to consider are wicker baskets. Once again, they offer cellulose and more woody-hay resistance for your rabbits to enjoy.

It is understandable why your rabbit may be interested in chewing on or even eating some paper or cardboard. It is also understandable why you probably don’t want your rabbit to do so to a great extent.

While a little paper or cardboard shouldn’t kill them, it won’t provide them with too much in the way of nutrition, it can give them digestive distress, and in the worst case scenario, it contains toxins.

There are plenty of better alternatives for your rabbit to chew instead of paper and cardboard, and you should offer and encourage them to try those in its place.