Health & well being for your bunnies.

A little while ago I was contacted by Anne Martin, Education Director at House Rabbit Society.

She asked if we would like articles to publish to help educate bun owners, so I jumped at the chance.

This is the first in what we hope is series on bun health & wellbeing.

FACT SHEET 1: OBEISITY IN RABBITS

Obesity in Rabbits: A Dangerous, Entirely Preventable Problem Explained

Excess weight and obesity are common problems in most household pets. Rabbits suffer from it, almost as much as cats and dogs, though obesity is harder to detect in rabbits. 

Their thick coat of fur camouflages their actual body shape. Much of this can happen because of an imbalanced diet and unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle. Eating a multitude of treats and little physical activity paves the treacherous path towards obesity. 

 

What Causes Obesity in Rabbits?

Overeating and an inactive lifestyle are two chief causes of obesity in rabbits. Ideally, rabbits do a lot of running, hopping, and digging. This is why rabbits need more calories than they can burn through an active lifestyle. 

Wild rabbits have to scrounge around for food. They dig burrows in the ground and spend much of their time fleeing from predators. 

Pet rabbits who are caged most of the time suffer from it more than their wilder brothers.

The trouble, in this case, is that pet rabbits do not get the level of exercise than an average animal requires. Courtesy of being in a cage, they remain stationary most of their lives. This lack of exercise means that the rabbit does little except eat and sleep. And therefore, it is very easy for them to put on weight.

Furthermore, the dietary habits of rabbits are also a factor. Overfeeding of pellet type food and excessive amounts of treats, including apple, banana, carrot, means that rabbits get to eat a little amount of fibrous leafy vegetables. This unhealthy eating habit is another infamous contributor to obesity in rabbits.

 

Is Your Rabbit Too Fat?

It is important to know if your bunny is too fat and take necessary actions accordingly. However, diagnosing obesity for rabbits may be difficult. Their thick luxurious body fur disguises their true body shape and makes it difficult to feel body fat. 

Fatty pads are observed in the shoulders, limbs, tummy, ribs, and groin areas of rabbits. The shiny fur coat can fool into thinking your bunny is healthy. Give your pet bunny a firm rub. A physical examination can tell you what you need to know. Here are the ways you can check if your pet is obese.

  • See if you can distinguish the waist of your pet from the side.

  • Feel under your rabbit’s stomach and see whether it should go in, and not bulge out.

  • Check if you need to put pressure to feel the ribs, spine, and hip bones.

  • Feel the base of your rabbit’s tail and check if there is fat stored.

  • Moreover, a large dewlap, bulging skin, dermatitis are some of the symptoms of obesity.

  • Visit a vet to get a surer diagnosis.

 

Why is Obesity Bad?

Obesity is linked to a multitude of health issues and complications. Excess body fat puts stress on the cardiovascular system and worsens arthritis. Moreover, obesity causes other serious health problems too. 

  • An overweight rabbit is unable to groom itself or reach their anus to re-ingest caecal pellets. This leads to mucky bottoms which increases the risk of the sticky bottom syndrome and flystrike.

  • Flystrike: Fly eggs laid in the hardened caked feces hatch quickly to maggots. These maggots eat away the flesh, called myiasis. 

  • Pododermatitis is a common infection of the hock of the rabbit, causing sore hocks.

  • Fatty liver syndrome.

  • Reproductive issues and bladder stones.

  • Reduced lifespan.

 

How Can You Prevent Obesity in Rabbits?

Even though obesity has dangerous effects that affect the quality of life in rabbits and even shortens their lifespan. But there is nothing to be alarmed about. Obesity is very much preventable. With just a few lifestyle changes, you can ensure a good and healthy life for your bunnies. 

Take proper care of your bunny’s diet and make sure it contains all the required food components. Restrict the amount of food and treats that you give to your pet. An average rabbit ideally needs one tablespoon of food per kilogram of its body weight.

Prepare a hay-based diet for your pet. The staple food item for rabbits is hay which contains long-stemmed fiber. Grass hays are good for them, especially timothy, orchard grass, brome. Alfalfa hay is only for baby rabbits and pregnant ones as they are high on proteins. 

Timothy pellets can be fed sometimes sparingly. Rabbits love vegetables and most greens are safe for them. They love munching on vegetables. But regardless of their weight and breed, more than two cups of vegetables daily are overkill. Bell peppers, zucchini, carrot tops, Brussel sprouts, lettuce, and herbs are some of the vegetables you can feed them. 

Furthermore, ensure that the animal has enough space to move around in its cage or rabbit hutch. It should not spend much time in confinement. Exercise is crucial for your bunny’s healthy life.

 

Conclusion

When you adopt a rabbit and bring the pet home, you are responsible for its welfare. Attending to your pet and their needs is vital. Keep an eye on your bunny’s behavior. Look for any kind of change in behavior and signs of discomfort. Regular visits to the vet are important to ensure good health for your pet. A little love and care will keep your pet bunny happy and healthy.

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