Obesity in Rabbits: A Dangerous, Yet Entirely Preventable Problem

Special blog posts to Feeders Supply by Kristin Woodbury

If you thought that obesity was a condition that only affects humans, you were wrong. Animals can also become obese, although this medical condition is rare in wild animals since their fight for survival leaves little room for gaining extra pounds.

Housepets are more prone to obesity which is evident in the example of pet rabbits. There are hardly any obese hares in the wild but for rabbits that live in enclosures like cages, obesity is a real risk. Although this condition is dangerous to the animal’s health, it is entirely preventable if you approach it in the correct manner. Here we’ll explain how.

A rabbit diet: The source of the problem and the solution to it

Like in humans, obesity is a term that denominates the increase in body fat due to overeating or eating poor-quality food. Ideally, a rabbit’s diet should consist of five basic components: fresh vegetables, high-end pellets loaded with nutrients, fresh hay (timothy, meadow grass or oat), plenty of water, and last but not the least, treats such as fruit.

If any of the five components are missing from the rabbit’s diet, a serious health issue can occur, including obesity. For this reason, caring for your pet rabbit and investing in their food should be a top priority unless you want to foot a huge medical bill from the vet’s office.

Pellets: A double-edged sword

The aforementioned pellets shouldn’t be stale because rabbits are extra sensitive to stale food, as they can make them sick within minutes of consuming. Ideally, pellets should contain 20% fibre, 14% protein at most, and around 1% fat and the same amount of calcium.

The really good pellets on the market won’t contain any dried fruit, nuts, seeds or any other chemicals. Since rabbits are herbivores, they don’t take well a diet consisting of mainly fruit, nuts, and other starchy foods.

Hay: A fibre-rich food

What many rabbit owners don’t know is that pellets should be served according to the animal’s age. The older the rabbit, the fewer pellets they should eat. Instead, offer your pet more hay, even if it refuses to eat it the first couple of times.

Hay is rich in fibre, as long strands of hay contain up to 1/3 of crude fibre as part of dry matter making up for some 90% of hay’s structure. The fibre found in top-quality hay is important for preventing hairballs from forming and other GI blockages. Finally, hay fibres help indigestion, ensures good urinary health, and it’s ideal for your floppy-eared friend’s dental health.

Veggies for a balanced bodyweight

When it comes to vegetables, the more variety you can offer your pet rabbit, the better. Their daily diet should include at least three different vegetables, one of which should contain Vitamin A which belongs to an essential group of fat-soluble compounds.

Any of the following vegetables are suitable for a rabbit’s diet:

● Parsley

● Bok choy

● Kale

● Basil

● Radish

● Clover sprouts

● Mustard greens

● Celery

● Raspberry leaves

● Broccoli leaves and stems

● Peppermint leaves

● Carrots (the stereotype is real)

● Peapods

● Brussels sprouts

● Collard greens

● Spinach (to be used sparingly)

● Wheatgrass

● Watercress

Luckily, the list of greens unsuitable for a rabbit’s diet is much shorter and it includes beans and rhubarb. However, new vegetables should be introduced gradually, one at a time. Naturally, wash all fresh foods, including vegetables before giving them to the rabbit to remove all traces of pesticide.

Top tip: If possible, vegetables should be served still wet from washing to increase the amount of water, which is another essential factor in staying fit.

Staying hydrated every day

You should have realized by now that a well-balanced diet is the best weapon at your disposal in the fight against obesity. An essential part of such a diet is daily hydration for your rabbit, i.e. drinking enough water.

Unless your rabbit gets enough water every day, it will develop intestinal problems in the long run. When left untreated, these health issues can grow into a more serious condition, like ileus that is another term for total intestinal obstruction, which has the potential to kill your furry friend.

Therefore, freshwater should be served every day in a bowl or a crock, just like you provide drinking water to cats and dogs. The container the animal drinks water from should be a good weight and it mustn’t be made from a material that contains lead.

If you notice during the day that the water became soiled, replace it immediately. Also, scrub the crock or bowl from time to time to prevent dangerous bacteria from forming around the edges of the container.

Finally, don’t forget to take the rabbit out of the cage often for playtime. This is more so for their mental health than physical health, but it will keep your furry friend happy and well-exercised too, which should help prevent obesity.

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