Shrubs grow readily in the wild and in home landscapes in most of the world's environments. Generally, shrubs occur in environments with additional plant life, from trees to grass and flowering plants. Many herbivores, or vegetarian animals, feeding on plant life in a given area eat a variety of the plants in that region, including shrubs. Animals that commonly feed on shrubs range from small rodents to large ungulates, or hooved animals.
A handful of small, common rodents feed on shrubs, most notably mice and voles. Wild rabbits also favor shrubs as a food source. Small animals generally consume the lower portions of shrubs and often chew on the bark and woody portions, causing severe damage to the plant. Burrowing rodents damage plant roots by disturbing and chewing through them.
Large animals throughout the world eat shrubs. In Africa, herbivores such as giraffes and zebras feed on the shrubs of sub-Saharan African grasslands. In the United States, the most prevalent large, shrub-eating animals are ungulates such as deer. Deer prove particularly damaging to shrubs because of their tendency to defoliate entire plants when food is scarce. Other animals of the Cervidae family -- large, hoofed animals with antlers -- that browse on shrubs include moose and elk, although elk prefer grass and resort to shrubs only when grass proves hard to come by.
Goats and sheep from India to Idaho have a propensity to feed on shrubs. Goats in particular exhibit indiscriminate eating habits in grazing regions, eating any plant they can find, shrubs included. Goats eat shrubs not because they find them palatable but because they crave variety in their diet. Some rangeland animals such as cows and horses will nibble on shrubs while grazing, although they prefer their standard fare of grass, hay and grain.
Preventing Damage to Shrubs
Protecting shrubs from most small mammals entails installing barriers to keep the animals from reaching the plants. Erecting a mesh hardware cloth around the base of the plant as high as the expected snow line or lowest branches of the plant thwarts rabbits. Burying the mesh at least 2 inches below the soil prevents mice and voles from burrowing under the barrier. Adequately protecting shrubs against deer and other ungulates is more difficult, especially in the winter months when natural food is scarce and animals tend to congregate. A high fence around the property containing the shrubs is the best defense but may be cost-prohibitive. Repellents that make the shrubs less palatable often work but must be reapplied after a heavy rain. Covering shrubs with a secured cloth during the winter months also deters deer.