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Obesity in your rabbit

Wild rabbits have to forage for food and flee if they sense danger. They will also use up energy just keeping warm in winter. However, the average pet rabbit is indulged with treats and has a mimimum of exercise and so can easily become overweight. Obesity is an excessive accumulation of fat in the body - it does not just mean being overweight.

Your questions answered

Is my rabbit obese?

It is often difficult to see if your pet rabbit is overweight. The weight gain is so gradual that you may hardly notice the change. In most cases it will be your veterinarian who will point out the problem. Neutered pets are more susceptible to weight gain.

If you stroke your rabbit's back and his backbones stick up in a ridge, then he's probably too thin. You should be able to run your hands over your rabbit's ribs and feel slight indents of the chest wall where the ribs lie. If you cannot feel the ribs, then your pet may be overweight. If you own a pedigree pure bred rabbit then you can look up the correct weight for the breed or go to a show and look at similar rabbits.

Extra folds of skin under your pet's chin (dewlaps) can be an indicator of excess weight, but it can be normal depending on the breed. The dewlaps will persist even after weight is lost. Obese rabbits not only have fatty pads on their shoulders, legs and groin area but they can also accumulate internal fat pads and these can cause serious health problems.

If your rabbit is overweight they will have reduced exercise tolerance, and find it difficult to groom and keep themselves clean particularly around the backend, stomach and back. If they are unable to clean properly around their bottom, problems such as 'fly strike' can occur where flies are attracted to the dirt and lay eggs on the fur.

How do I help my rabbit to lose weight?

There are only 2 ways to lose weight:

  • Increase the amount of energy used, ie through exercise.
  • Reduce the amount of calories taken, ie eat less food.

A good healthy diet consists of fresh leafy greens, fresh grass and good quality hay. Obese rabbits are often not very active as it quite hard work for them to run around. Encourage your rabbit to run up stairs, play games with him, let him run around in the garden (supervised).

If your rabbit is only mildly overweight, then a small reduction in the amount of dry food it is fed with an increase in the amount of fresh grass, hay and greens can help achieve a healthier pet.

If he is seriously overweight then a radical change to the diet is needed. Many of the rabbit diets produced are high in soluble carbohydrates and low in fibre. Your rabbit will obtain its calorific requirements but without the benefit of feeling full, so they keep eating.

Rabbits can be very fussy when introducing new foods or trying to change their diet so it needs to be achieved gradually. If you are changing the dry mix give half the old food with half the new food and gradually decrease the old and increase the new. Never leave your pet with a completely new diet in the hope that they will eat it, as no food at all can be more harmful to their health.
If your dry food is of good quality but fed in excess gradually decrease the amount and increase the amount of fresh grass, greens and unlimited good quality hay. All treats should be cut from the diet completely - if you need to give some treats give carrots or broccoli.

My rabbit has reached his target weight - what now?

You now need to plan his long-term diet. Continue with the healthier diet that you have been giving - providing the best hay, good quality rabbit mixes and fresh vegetables. DO NOT go back to giving any fattening treats. Continue with exercise as rabbits love to hop about out of the confines of their hutches. Exercise helps with healthy bone structure and encourages digestion and excretion of waste materials. Remember obesity is a serious health hazard. Fat rabbits are unable to groom themselves properly and this can lead to flystrike. Obesity can put a strain on the cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) and in older rabbits, it can make their arthritis worse. So don't ignore obesity!

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