Overweight Rabbit – How To Help Them

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overweight rabbit

An overweight rabbit carries too much body fat, which makes their ribs difficult or impossible to feel under their skin.

Overweight rabbits are vulnerable to complications of being overweight, including arthritis, fly strike, and bumblefoot. Rabbit obesity is also linked to having a shortened lifespan.

A veterinarian can help identify whether a rabbit is dangerously overweight, and recommend a safe weight-loss regime.

Overweight Rabbits

Obesity in all kinds of pets is a growing problem.

But it can have serious implications for their health, which may require expensive veterinary treatment to manage. It can even shorten their lifespan.

A rabbit is generally regarded as being overweight if they weigh over 10% more than their ideal weight.

Some veterinarians distinguish between overweight rabbits (10-15% over their ideal weight), and obese rabbits (over 15% above their ideal weight).

But many people use the terms overweight rabbit and obese rabbit interchangeably.

Of course, what those thresholds mean in ounces depends upon factors like:

  • What breed the rabbit is.
  • Their sex.
  • And whether they are a naturally small, average, or large example of their type.

How To Tell If Your Rabbit Is Overweight

There are several ways to establish what the healthy weight range is for your bunny, or whether he falls outside of it.

overweight rabbit

1. Look at their breed standard

For purebred rabbits, their breed standard may contain notes on their ideal weight range.

But their are drawbacks to relying too heavily on it.

Firstly, some breeds have a broad acceptable weight range. For example a Flemish Giant rabbit can weigh between 14 and 25 pounds. But a bunny from small Flemish Giant lines would still be overweight if they reached 25lbs.

Secondly, breed standards describe an ‘ideal’ rabbit. There can be healthy outliers who don’t fit the ideal template, but are nonetheless in healthy physical condition.

2. Look at the size of their parents

If you get a rabbit from a breeder, they should be able to roughly predict their adult weight range, based upon the sizes of their parents.

However, this doesn’t help if you adopt an older rabbit.

3. Assess their body condition

Rather than rely on digits on a scale, many breeders and veterinarians prefer to assess a bunny’s overall body condition.

A healthy rabbit has a thin layer of fat covering their ribs, spine and hips.

Try making a fist and then run your other hand over the backs of the fingers where rings normally sit. This is roughly how deep beneath the skin your rabbit’s ribs should feel too.

An overweight rabbit has more fat, which makes their ribs either difficult or impossible to feel. Their butt also bulges out, and their tummy starts to hang lower to the ground.

From above, their shoulders stop being obviously narrower than their hips.

4. Ask a veterinarian

Finally, your veterinarian can help you make an assessment of your rabbit’s weight, and tell you if they’re carrying a few too many ounces.

Why Is My Bunny Overweight?

Unsurprisingly, the most common reason rabbits gain weight is through an inappropriate diet, or lack of exercise.

Rabbits are selective herbivores. Which means they always go for the most nutritious, energy-dense food available. In the wild, this means going from plant to plant nibbling off the growing tips of every one.

A pet rabbit fed mixed diet which is balanced overall, can still gain weight because they only pick out and eat the most calorie-dense bits.

They can also gain weight by receiving too many high-sugar or high-fat treats in between meals.

Rabbits are also adapted to be very active. Wild rabbits cover several miles everyday looking for food!

Pet rabbits gain weight if they spend too much time enclosed in small habitats, and don’t move around enough.

Finally, a small number of rabbits gain weight as a symptom of an underlying illness. Or, as the result of an unplanned pregnancy, because one of their companions was incorrectly sexed!

If your rabbit has gained weight very rapidly, and their diet or lifestyle hasn’t changed, ask a vet to check them over.

The Risks Of Being An Obese Rabbit

Unfortunately, it’s simply not safe for an overweight rabbit to go on carrying their extra fat indefinitely.

Complications of rabbit obesity include:

Arthritis

Carrying extra weight puts strain on their joints, which can develop into painful inflammation.

Digestive upset and nutrient deficiencies

The first time rabbits eat and poop out a meal, they re-consume it directly from their butt, as part of a process called cecotrophy.

It’s a pretty nauseating thought to us humans, but for rabbits it is a remarkable adaptation which allows them to thrive on a very low nutrient diet.

And significantly, if a rabbit is too fat to reach their butt, they can end up with digestive upsets, diarrhea, and nutritional deficiencies, as a result of not being able to fully digest their meals.

Urine scalding and fly strike

Rabbits which can’t reach their butt to keep the area clean and eat the cecotrophs are also at risk of urine scalding and getting a mucky bottom, which may attract flies.

When flies lay their eggs in the dirty fur around an overweight rabbit’s butt, the maggots which hatch from them may eat the rabbit’s own skin and flesh. This causes distressing wounds which sadly are often fatal.

Bumblefoot

Bumblefoot, also known as sore hocks or pododermatitis, is the formation of pressure sores on the bottom of rabbits’ feet.

Overweight rabbits are at greater risk, because their weight puts more pressure on their feet.

Other health problems caused or made worse by being overweight

Overweight rabbits might also experience:

  • difficulty giving birth
  • blocked arteries
  • kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • and increased risk of death from general anesthetics.

How To Get A Rabbit To Lose Weight

If you think your bunny would be healthier for losing a few inches around their middle, then it’s time for a bunny diet.

Veterinarians recommend that a rabbit on a diet should lose between 0.% and 1.5% of their body weight per week, until they reach their target weight.

Very gradual, controlled weight loss is important for bunnies, because losing weight too quickly can cause digestive upsets, and withholding too much food can cause gastric stasis.

Rabbits’ digestive systems are adapted to be always working. If they run empty, they don’t necessarily restart again the next time the rabbit eats – this is gastric stasis, and it can be fatal.

To help your bunny lose weight in the safest way possible, ask a vet to help you plan a diet regimen for them.

They are likely to recommend:

  • Giving them free access to as much hay as they like in a day.
  • Providing a handful of fresh leafy greens, but no sugar-laden fruit.
  • Measuring out an appropriate ration of rabbit pellets (not mixed muesli).
  • And banishing high-sugar, high-fat store bought treats between meals.

They are also likely to recommend giving your bunny more daily opportunities to exercise and hop about.

To monitor your rabbit’s progress, you might also like to purchase or borrow some digital pet scales which can register the small week-on-week changes you’re aiming for.

But, remember you can also use their overall body condition as a measure of how they’re getting on.

Overweight Rabbit – Summary

Being overweight is a serious matter for a rabbit.

If your rabbit is gaining weight, it is responsible and kind to work out why and help them return to a healthy weight.

Addressing the problem before it escalates can protect your rabbit from painful and sometimes lethal complications of being overweight.

Have you helped an overweight rabbit slim down?

What tips would you offer other bunny parents trying to help their pet?

Please share them in the comments box down below!

References

Eppel. Progression of cardiovascular and endocrine dysfunction in a rabbit model of obesity. Hypertension Research. 2013.

Mancinelli. Husbandry risk factors associated with hock pododermatitis in UK pet rabbits. Vet Record. 2014.

Prebble. Gastrointestinal stasis and obstructive Ileus in the rabbit. The Veterinary Nurse. 2013.

Stapleton. The chubby bunny: a closer look at obesity in the pet rabbit. The Veterinary Nurse. 2014.

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