While we humans usually pay very close attention to our diet in order not to gain too much weight unintentionally, this topic unfortunately often falls behind with our pets.
However, the topic of overweight should also be very present in rabbits.
Because: The domesticated animals tend to put on excess pounds quickly, which are often accompanied by health problems.
In this article, we will tell you what these problems are and how you can prevent or properly treat obesity in rabbits.
Can rabbits be overweight?
Yes, rabbits can develop overweight and thus be in danger of health problems.
It is therefore important that you safely recognize such a condition and reduce the weight through appropriate measures. This includes not only the right diet, but also more exercise.
Because being overweight brings with it a whole range of dangers. Among them, for example:
- Restrictions in mobility
- Shortness of breath
- strain on the musculoskeletal system with increased wear and tear
- increased risk of heart disease
- increased risk of diabetes
Overweight: problems with defecation
Heavily overweight rabbits are often no longer able to clean and groom themselves sufficiently.
For example, because of the fat pads, they can no longer reach their bottoms.
The soft and sticky appendix feces can therefore no longer be absorbed by your animal. This has a negative effect on digestion and thus on health.
In addition, the feces can stick to the coat.
This results in further problems: If the feces dries and becomes hard, it forms a crust. This can lead to blockage of the anus.
Defecation is then no longer possible.
The feces in the intestine and the food pulp in the stomach may begin to ferment. This causes gases to form, stretching the tissues and causing pain and cramps.
In bad cases, the outlet of the vulva or penis may also become stuck, causing urine to back up and affect the kidneys.
In either condition, your pet’s life is in danger and can be fatal within a few hours.
Another risk is flies. This is because if the feces do not dry very quickly, they give off an odor that is attractive to flies.
These lay eggs in the fur and on the skin of the rabbit.
Especially in summer, larvae can develop from them within a few hours, eating not only feces and urine, but the underlying inflamed tissue.
As a result, significant wounds develop that are not limited to the skin.
The underlying connective tissue, fat and musculature may also be affected and show severe damage.
In the abdominal area, the development of deep holes is possible, as the larvae eat their way into the abdominal cavity.
Recognizing overweight in rabbits
Recognizing overweight in a rabbit is not always easy or possible just by looking at it and weighing it.
Coat and posture can be extremely deceiving.
Weighing is often recommended as a decisive orientation.
However, several factors are forgotten, because the weight is not only composed of excessive fat. The musculature and thus the weight distribution also play a more decisive role.
A heavy, but very well muscled rabbit can still be slim, whereas a supposedly light animal without appropriate musculature can be overweight.
So realize that obesity is solely about the amount of excess and restrictive fat.
But now we come to the recognition of overweight.
Since sight and weighing are not reliable guides, the rabbit must be palpated.
The following table shows you what to look for:
|Pelvis and ribs are very easy to palpate and very “pointy”.
|Pelvis and ribs clearly palpable, torso is flat
|Pelvis and ribs easy to palpate, edges flat
|Torso is round, pelvis and ribs can only be felt with pressure
|Ribs and pelvis not palpable.
Besides the body and noticeable ribs, spine and pelvic bones, the so-called dewlap can also be a clue.
This is a fat deposit located under the chin. Similar to a double chin or fat apron, the extended skin often remains even after excess weight has been reduced.
In addition, some individuals and breeds are more prone to developing a dewlap than others.
So again, this is not a factor that should be considered individually.
Causes of obesity in rabbits
1: Incorrect diet
Too much food seems to be one of the main causes of obesity.
However, this is rarely the case!
It is not the amount or volume or weight of rabbit food, but the calorie content.
Rabbits need food that is high in fiber but low in calories. This excludes oily seeds, kernels and nuts as well as starchy or high-sugar fruits and grains.
Nevertheless, many rabbits’ diets consist of just these components.
Commercial ready-to-eat food in the form of grains and dried vegetables and fruits, as well as nibble sticks made from grains, nuts and honey, are on almost everyone’s menu.
Pellets can also be part of the diet.
Unfortunately, this is not surprising. The feeds are marketed specifically as a balanced staple diet for rabbits. They appear to be of high quality and also have other advantages: low cost, low odor and long shelf life, they initially appear to be the best solution for everyone.
One problem here is the energy density.
To cover the calorie consumption of a rabbit, therefore, only a very small amount is needed. This sounds positive at first, because it means that the food can be offered sparingly.
However, you must not forget a physiological peculiarity of the animals.
Since rabbits have a stuffed stomach, they have to eat very frequently.
They need a larger volume so that the newly ingested food pushes the existing food mush further down the digestive tract. Otherwise, they may experience gastric overload, constipation, and bloat in the stomach or intestines.
However, if the food is very high caloric and you can only offer it in small amounts, these conditions are not met.
The food mush can get stuck.
In addition, the starch content contributes to increased fermentation.
So the trigger for obesity is mainly the wrong food and not too much quantity.
2: Lack of exercise
In addition to improper diet, there exists another factor that amounts to obesity in rabbits: Lack of exercise.
Rabbits in nature are busy during every waking phase….
They search for food and water, flee from predators, dig burrows, reproduce, raise their young and are constantly on guard. They have to defend their territory against others and protect their resources.
None of this is the case with pets.
Food is offered immediately within reach, a safe dwelling is available and does not have to be searched for or built by oneself. That is quite positive.
However, this is also accompanied by a significantly smaller range of movement.
Commercial cages are too small for running, hooking or playing. They only allow for the slow walking of a few steps.
Daily free running in the apartment or an outdoor enclosure is therefore indispensable.
Nevertheless, many animals do not have this either, which means that their calorie requirements are therefore significantly lower. The quantity of necessary fodder sinks thereby additionally, which does not get again the digestion.
The cause of obesity in rabbits, as in other mammals, can be traced back to two factors:
Feed that is too high in energy
Too few opportunities to dissipate energy
Correct treatment of rabbit obesity
Numerous media outlets talk about putting a rabbit “on a diet.”
However, this is wrong, unhealthy and dangerous!
For one thing, caloric intake should not be reduced too quickly. This would disturb the digestion. Secondly, it must not be a long period of time in which your pet eats less until the “desired weight” is reached.
It is much more important to make a healthy and gradual food change. This means that you must proceed gradually.
The following tips can help:
- Offer fresh hay and water for free and continuous use. These resources do not spoil.
- Gradually reduce high-calorie feed. This includes pellets, grains, nuts, seeds and seeds as well as high-sugar fruit.
- Replace dry food and fruit with green food. Grass, herbs and herbaceous plants, vegetable leaves such as carrot greens or kohlrabi leaves are suitable.
- Offer vegetables rich in water. These include cucumber, fennel or celery.
- Use fruit only as a treat or reward. Small pieces can also be used as motivation for more exercise.
- A rabbit that has not moved much or has not been able to move much will see food intake as an activity.
This is a great advantage.
For example, you can make tracks by giving previously very popular treats, such as apple or grains. Tiny pieces encourage the animal to go more in the free run.
Intelligence toys, hidden food or food balls also stimulate the active search.
Your rabbit should have to work for everything but water, hay and greens.
Whether it’s reaching up a food tree* or digging for a piece of broccoli, this will speed up weight loss in a healthy way and combine it with muscle building.
In addition, offer more leisurely pursuits. This can be gnawing on twigs or branches. If your pet does not accept them directly, rub a piece of apple or strawberry over the bark to make it palatable.
Give your rabbits enough room to move around.
Also make sure that they always have more than enough but the right food available and that they have to search or work for it if possible.
This will give them a species-appropriate life and prevent much more than just obesity.
My name is Mark and the senior editor
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