We all need a certain amount of body fat to stay healthy, but an overweight rabbit can suffer some of the same health problems associated with excess weight in humans. How can you tell if your chubby bunny is a fat rabbit or simply sturdy? And if your rabbit is overweight, what can you do?
Why Do Pet Rabbits Get Fat?
In the wild, rabbits spend most of their time foraging for food. The average wild rabbit travels several miles a day in search of sustenance. They also have to dig the burrows that they live in. And, since lots of predators eat rabbits, a wild rabbit’s day often includes a bit of sprinting.
All of this means that bunnies’ bodies have evolved to be in constant motion, which keeps them at a healthy weight.
Unfortunately, pet rabbits rarely get that level of activity on a day-to-day basis. On top of that, many rabbits prefer high-calorie pellets to hay and leafy greens. And, of course, we all love to indulge our pets with treats.
It’s no wonder that there are a lot of overweight rabbits out there.
How to Tell if Your Rabbit is Overweight
A round rabbit isn’t necessarily an obese rabbit. Breed standards for some breeds prefer a round shape. A thick or fluffy coat may also make a bunny appear on the larger side. Some rabbits are very muscular–big and heavy, but not technically fat rabbits.
So, how can you tell if your rabbit is at the correct weight? The Pet Food Manufacturers Association has some tips.
Set your rabbit on a flat surface. Run your hands down its sides. You should be able to feel its ribs, spine, and hip bones. The bones should feel softly rounded; this is the protective and necessary fat that is essential to your rabbit’s health.
If the ribs, spine, and hip bones feel sharp or hard, then your bunny may be too thin. If it’s difficult to find the bones, then your bunny may be overweight.
In either case, you may want to consult your vet or veterinary nurse for tips to help your rabbit gain weight or lose weight as needed.
A Few Caveats
Different rabbits have different shapes, but:
The head and body should be in proportion. If the head looks too small for the body, your rabbit may be overweight.
A pot belly may indicate your pet rabbit is too fat.
A rabbit that is wider than it is long is seriously overweight.
The Body Condition Score
Vets judge a rabbit’s body size using the body condition score. This scale rates a rabbit’s weight from “emaciated” to “obese,” using different physical criteria. Based on your rabbit’s body weight score, your vet may suggest changing your rabbit’s diet and/or exercise level to bring them to a healthy weight.
Potential Dangers of Rabbit Obesity
Overweight rabbits can suffer from some of the same problems as any other overweight animal, including cardiovascular problems and arthritis.
In addition, overweight rabbits often have trouble grooming themselves. They may have difficulty reaching and re-ingesting their cecotropes. This, in turn can deprive them of essential nutrition.
How to Prevent Your Rabbit From Getting too Fat
Wild rabbits have to scramble to get enough nutrition. Pet rabbits often have all the nutrition that they need and then some. Here’s how to balance your rabbit’s diet to prevent weight gain.
Pellets vs. Hay
In nature, finding enough to eat can be a constant chore. This is why over time, rabbits’ bodies evolved to crave high-calorie foods. For this reason, many pet rabbits prefer nutritionally dense pellets to the hay that they actually need.
Pellets were invented for human convenience. Specifically, they were invented to fatten up meat rabbits. Too many pellets will fatten up a pet rabbit, too.
Keep pellet food to a minimum. This will help to prevent weight gain, and will also encourage your rabbit to eat the hay that it needs to stay healthy and fit.
Rabbits love treats. Don’t we all? And healthy treats are fine from time to time. Just don’t overindulge your bunny.
Pet owners should avoid high fat treats, which includes many commercially produced products.
Fruit is another favourite treat. It’s very high in sugar, however, and should only be fed occasionally and in small amounts.
Your rabbit may enjoy the right non-food treats just as much, especially if those treats satisfy your rabbit’s chewing instinct.
Too Much Food
Too much of any good thing can result in a chubby bunny.
The House Rabbit Society suggests feeding an adult rabbit between 1/4 and half a cup of high-fibre pellets per six pounds of body weight per day, in addition to veggies, greens, and hay. These proportions are slightly different for juveniles and mature rabbits.
The only things in your rabbit’s diet that should be unlimited are water and hay.
Your rabbit’s enclosure should include a generous, protected exercise space, and your bunnies should have all-day access to that space.
Exercise will not only help to keep your rabbit’s weight in check, it will also stave off the boredom that can cause destructiveness and other behavioural problems.
Top Tips to Help Your Bunny Lose Weight
So what if your rabbit has gained weight and is now overweight? There are a few things you can do.
Listen to Your Vet
Your vet may recommend weight loss. They will probably also suggest a weight loss plan to help your bunny to get to its ideal weight safely.
“Safely” is the key word. Losing weight too rapidly can be dangerous. Changing your rabbit’s diet too quickly and too dramatically can trigger digestive issues, including GI stasis.
Your vet may suggest one or more of the following:
- Changing what’s on your rabbit’s daily menu
- Switching up the proportions of pellet food, fresh food, and hay
- Increasing your bunny’s exercise opportunities
- Decreasing or eliminating treats
It’s important to follow your vet’s directions to the letter. Overweight is a medical problem, and they can help your pet to overcome it.
We all need to get enough exercise, and that includes our rabbits. Here’s how to help your pet to get their share.
Your rabbit’s enclosure should include a spacious run, and they should be able to access that run all day, on their schedule. Many of our hutches pair with our runs to provide your bunny with a top notch combined living and exercise space.
Toys and Activities
Give your bunny plenty of active toys to play with.
Your bunnies may also enjoy chasing each other through an activity tunnel. It’s also good for a game of hide and seek.
Play With Your Rabbit
Do you play with your rabbit? You should! Your rabbit wants to bond with you, and to be part of the family. Playing with your rabbits not only brings everyone closer together, but it can also be a way for them to get some exercise.
Rabbit play is a bit different from cat or dog play, so it’s important to learn the differences.
Some favourite rabbit games include:
- Bunny thief
- Fetch (you will be the one doing the fetching!)
- Treasure hunt
Check out our article on playing with your rabbit for more ideas.
Take Your Rabbit for a Walk
Did you know that some rabbits can be leash trained? It’s true.
It’s not the same as walking a dog, though. Your rabbit won’t walk beside you down the street, and you shouldn’t expect it to. Rather, “walking” a rabbit means following your bunny along while it explores–and being ready to scoop it up in case of danger.
First, choose a rabbit harness, not a neck collar. A collar can be dangerous for a rabbit. A harness will protect your rabbit’s spine and neck.
Next, spend some time in a safe space accustoming your rabbit to the harness and lead. This may take several months. Use positive reinforcement, and never punish your rabbit.
Let your rabbit sniff the harness and lead. He or she may also want to play with it. Lay the harness on your rabbit and let your bunny shake it off. This will show them that the harness is nothing to fear.
Once your bunny is comfortable with the harness, put it on, but leave it unbuckled. If your rabbit seems happy and comfortable in the unbuckled harness, put it on them several times a day, still unbuckled.
When your rabbit seems happy and comfortable in the unbuckled harness, try buckling it. If your rabbit seems upset, take the harness off immediately and try again another time.
Eventually, you may be able to take your bunny out of your garden for adventures. But always be mindful of safety.
A Healthy Bunny is a Happy Bunny
We’re all happiest when we’re feeling healthy and fit.
Like all of us, rabbits need a certain amount of body fat for optimal health. But too much can cause medical problems.
Be mindful of your rabbit’s diet. Make sure he or she is eating enough hay, the right balance of fresh food and pellets, and only occasional treats. Give your bun regular opportunities for exercise, and play with them as often as you can.
And if your vet recommends weight loss (or gain), listen. Like you, they have your pet’s best interests at heart.
Do you have any suggestions for helping a chubby bunny? We’d love to hear them!