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Let's Talk About... Obesity in Rabbits

We have seen over 850 rabbits pass through the rescue in the past 5 years and, like humans, they've been all sorts of shapes and sizes. However, we are becoming increasingly concerned by the weight of the rabbits coming in for surrender, boarding and bonding. At a rescue, you'd expect a lot of the rabbits to come in severely underweight and emaciated due to neglect, but this is actually less common than the rabbits coming into us incredibly obese, which, in turn, is another form of mistreatment of rabbits and can be very detrimental to their health.

Why is it dangerous for rabbits to be so overweight?

Like any other overweight animal, overweight rabbits can suffer from cardiovascular problems, due to the strain extra weight can put on the heart. The increased strain on the lungs and heart also makes anaesthesia and surgery more difficult - something to keep in mind if your rabbit needs neutering.

Obesity also puts abnormal strain on joints, meaning your rabbit may end up suffering from (or worsening) arthritis or other joint issues. The combination of arthritis and not being able to bend around to groom themselves can result in the rabbit having difficulty reaching and re-ingesting their caecotropes which, in turn, can deprive them of essential nutrition. This also leaves them with a mucky bottom and is especially dangerous in the warmer weather as flies lay eggs in the caked faeces which then hatch rapidly into maggots. This is called flystrike and is a nasty condition which can often be fatal.

How do I know if my rabbit is overweight?

Your rabbit's shape will always depend a lot on their breed. For example, if you think about dogs, you wouldn't expect a greyhound to be the same shape as a daschund!

Here are some top tips for checking your rabbit is a healthy weight...

  • If you stroke your rabbit, can you feel their backbone? If yes, they are probably too thin.

  • If you stroke your rabbit quite firmly, can you feel their ribs? If no, they are probably overweight.

  • Does your rabbit have a dewlap? If your rabbit is male, this may mean he is overweight. If she is female, this is normal, but shouldn't be too big!

  • Does your rabbit's head look too small for its body?

  • Does your rabbit struggle to keep their bottom clean? If yes, this could be caused by obesity.

If you're not sure, you can always take your rabbit to see the vet/vet nurse.

The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund created this Body Condition Score to rate a rabbit's weight from "emaciated" to "obese" using different physical criteria...

How can you prevent your rabbit from becoming overweight?

Many rabbits become overweight due to having too many pellets and not enough hay. Rabbit pellets were invented for human convenience and were, in fact, first given to fatten up meat rabbits. It's important to keep pellet food to a minimum to both prevent weight gain, and also to encourage your rabbit to eat the hay they need to stay healthy. We recommend an egg cup per day, per rabbit.

Many of us are guilty of spoiling our pets with a treat from time-to-time, but ensure the treats you give your rabbit are healthy, and not commercially-produced, high-fat, processed treats.

If you think about wild rabbits and how much they run about every day, you can understand why they need to consume so many calories. This is why it's so important to give your rabbits a generous, spacious enclosure to give your rabbits lots of exercise. Having a rabbit companion can also help with this!

Need advice? Get in touch! With a diploma in Rabbit Nutrition, we are more than happy to help!

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