But rabbits are meant to be cuddly, aren’t they?!

Cat is the vet for petstreet.co.uk; an on-line social networking site for pet lovers.

Obesity is a huge (if you will excuse the pun!) issue in our pets and can lead to significant health problems. It is usually easy to tell if Rover or Kitty are getting porky, their large bellies are generally the giveaway, but it can be more difficult in pet rabbits, who often appear quite round anyway, especially if they are fluffy! However, it is an extremely common problem in the species and can lead to some very nasty illnesses if it isn’t tackled.

Rabbits come in all shapes and sizes, so it's not easy to see if they are overweight just by looking.

Rabbits come in all shapes and sizes, so it's not easy to see if they are overweight just by looking.

How do you tell if a rabbit is fat?

It is difficult just by looking to tell if a rabbit is over-weight and while putting them on the scales is helpful, the healthy weight for each individual will vary. Getting your hands on them and feeling is the most reliable method. Firstly, you should be able to feel your rabbit’s ribs when you place your hands on their chest, if you can’t, or can only manage it by pressing very hard, then there may be a problem. Equally you should also be able to fairly easily make out their spine and hips. They should have an obvious waist and only females should have a dewlap and even then it should be fairly small.

How did my rabbit get fat?

Because it eats too much! Unfortunately it is easy to get the proportions of different foods in your rabbits diet wrong and this can lead to them putting on weight. Most rabbits are fed on some form of commercially prepared rabbit food but many owners don’t realise that it is very calorie dense and must be fed sparingly; an average sized rabbit should eat no more than two tablespoons of hard food a day. Fruit is also a big culprit in making rabbits gain weight as the sugars it contains are very calorific, so keep fruit treats to a minimum and stick to vegetables for the regular fresh food in their diet.

Also, rabbits are naturally active creatures but many are kept confined to small hutches or runs. This is also often a factor in any weight gain because they simply cannot exercise as much as they should and have nothing to do but eat.

What are the problems obesity can cause?

The most distressing problem seen in rabbits made much worse by them being fat is Fly Strike. If rabbits are over-weight, they are prone to becoming dirty and matted around their backends, mainly because they cannot physically reach round to clean themselves. The flies lay their eggs in the impacted faeces which quickly hatch into maggots. These will feed on the dirt but quickly start to attack the rabbit itself and, literally, eat it alive. It is a horrendous problem, very painful and often fatal.

Obese rabbits are also vulnerable to pressure sores on their hocks due to their weight and bad skin because they cannot groom adequately. Arthritis is also a big issue in fat rabbits, their joints are under excess strain and their weight makes the disease even more painful.

How do I diet my rabbit?

Firstly, ensure their diet is not too rich. The ideal diet for a rabbit consists of 80% hay (everyday a rabbit should eat a pile of hay as big as it is) with a small amount of fresh vegetables and minimal rabbit food. The rabbit food is the biggest culprit in weight gain, so if they are fat and you want to diet them, cut it out altogether. It isn’t a necessary part of the diet anyway so long as they have unlimited good quality hay and regular amounts of fresh food. Obviously they should have no human food at all.

The second law of weight loss is exercise more and this can be done in rabbits fairly easily. They should all be allowed out in a run, the house or garden for at least 30 minutes twice a day. Rabbits are most active in the early morning and dusk, so if they can only have limited exercise then these are the best times to allow it. You can also encourage them to hop about by hiding tasty (but healthy!) treats around the garden or run, which also helps their inquisitive natures and keeps them mentally stimulated. Good choices for this are sprigs of herbs, edible flowers such as roses or carnations or weeds like dandelions or clover. You can even get special harnesses for rabbits and so can take them out for walks (as long as you don’t mind the curious stares!)

Obesity is a problem for all kinds of pets and owners should always be vigilant that their animals are not carrying extra weight. For rabbits this is especially important as they are very good at hiding any signs of illness and so keeping them in the best of health in the first place is vital. If you are concerned about your rabbit, why not pop them down to your vet? They would be happy to check them over and answer any questions you may have.

If you are concerned about your rabbits health, please contact your vet or use our interactive Rabbit Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.

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