A rabbit is a lovely pet: gentle; well-mannered; quiet; and a snacker! These animals have a tendency to overeat if you let them, which can end up being a detriment to your fluffy friend’s health.
If your bunny has been grazing away and piled on the pounds, here are our top tips on how to lose some of that weight and get to a healthy body mass index.
Know your rabbit’s breed size
Just because a rabbit looks big, that doesn’t mean that it is overweight. Some rabbit breeds are simply bigger than others.
If you are not sure what a healthy weight looks like for your specific rabbit, talk to your veterinarian. Or, one way you can determine if your rabbit is overweight at home is to feel for their spine and check their body condition score using the rabbit size-o-meter. If you cannot feel your rabbit’s spine and they have a body condition score above 3, then your rabbit may be overweight.
Don’t feed your rabbit too many pellets
Most people think that rabbits should live on a diet of pellets, nuggets or muesli almost exclusively, with leafy vegetables thrown in occasionally as a treat. However, that’s not the kind of diet a rabbit would get if they lived out in the wild, and some pellets are small, or contain added sugars and can be easy for rabbits to overindulge in.
Your rabbit should be getting plenty of good quality, fresh hay and some green, leafy vegetables. Ideally you should feed hay ad lib and they should be eating a portion of hay the same size as their own body every day. Their portion of pellets or nuggets should be carefully measured following the on-pack feeding instructions – as a general rule, you should feed 35g of pellets per kilo of bunny’s bodyweight per day, split into two equal size portions fed in the morning and evening. Choose pellets or nuggets that are high in crude fibre. There can be snacks and colorful veggies as well, but these should be used sparingly as a treat and should not make up the majority of a rabbit diet. You can find out further about what rabbits should eat here.
It is important to remember that a rabbit’s digestive system needs to keep moving, so they should always have hay to nibble on. If you are trying to help your bunny lose weight, reduce and restrict treats first. If this, combined with exercise and carefully measuring their portion of pellets is not helping to promote weight loss, then also look to gradually reduce the size of their daily portion of pellets. A good indicator is to check their poop – if you are finding excess caecotrophs this means your bunny is not eating them all and is a sign that it could be beneficial to reduce the pellet portion of their diet. But remember to NEVER restrict their daily access to fresh hay – it is essential for keeping their digestive systems moving and limiting access to hay can cause health issues such as gut stasis, which can be serious. And always ensure you make any dietary changes gradually, as a sudden change in their daily diet can also lead to gastrointestinal upsets.
Give your rabbit lots of hay
Hay should make up the majority of your rabbit’s diet. Timothy hay is ideal, as it is good for your rabbit’s digestion and is rich in fiber and protein. Hay is also essential to encourage you rabbits’ natural foraging behaviours and to encourage them to chew, which will help to keep their constantly growing teeth in good shape.
It is worth remembering that hay is a natural crop and that the nutrients can vary depending on the conditions in which it was grown. A carefully measured portion of high fibre pellets or nuggets can be fed to complement your bunnies’ hay and to act as a balancer to ensure they are receiving all the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy. Healthy pellets are not hard to find, and ideally you should be looking for a diet that has a crude fiber content of over 20% (the more crude fiber, the better), around 15% protein and no added sugars. There are also diets specifically made for older rabbits that have a lower energy density and are formulated for less active bunnies that may be prone to weight gain.
Work for it
Bunnies love to forage and another way to encourage your rabbit to maintain a healthy weight is to make them work a bit harder for their pellets. You can try scatter-feeding your rabbit’s daily portion of pellets or nuggets amongst their hay so that they have to forage and work harder to find their food. This also provides additional environmental enrichment to help keep them entertained and happy. Or why not try hiding their food in some natural, home-made enrichment toys to make them work that little bit harder to forage for their food in a fun and behaviourally-enriching way.
Don’t overdo it on the treats
You may have a good rabbit who is well-behaved, but that doesn’t mean you need to feed them treats every time they don’t mess on the floor.
Use treats as an occasional snack since they can be fattening and unhealthy. Sure, you like treating your fluffy-tailed friend, but remember you are responsible for what he or she eats and how their diet is affecting their weight. You are in control of your rabbit’s health and lifespan, so control the amount of treats you give, or your rabbit could become overweight and unhealthy. It is best to opt for treats that are rich in natural ingredients, high in fibre with no added sugars.
Let your rabbit exercise
One of the best things you can do for an overweight rabbit is to allow him or her to roam free and get some exercise. A rabbit that is kept cooped up in a small cage with just enough room to move around will not be very happy. And they likely won’t get much exercise either.
Your rabbit needs plenty of space to be able to move around with some speed and burn some energy. This is especially true if your rabbit is on a restricted diet and is having trouble keeping to the reduced food intake. If your rabbit could be struggling to deal with less food, supplement his or her diet with exercise and you’ll help your rabbit reach their weight loss goals faster.
Top tip: If the house is usually a no-rabbit zone, you may need to open up a room or two for your rabbit to run around in. Giving your rabbit a new area to explore and plenty of space to run through will help your pet to feel motivated to get enough exercise.
If your rabbit is overweight, it is your responsibility to help! It might take some extra work for you and might be tough on the rabbit at first, but it will be well worth it when your rabbit gets down to a healthy weight and can move more and breathe more freely.
Weight Loss Top Tips:
- Feed ad lib Timothy hay
- Feed a carefully measured daily portion of pellets or nuggets
- Feed a daily handful of suitable leafy green vegetables
- Restrict feeding treats including fruits and colourful veggies
- Only choose treats that are “>low in sugar and high in fibre
- Encourage foraging and exercise
- Make any dietary changes gradually
- Follow the bunny body nutrition infographic