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Obesity in Rabbits: A Dangerous, Entirely Preventable Problem

December 28, 2010 | 10,433 views
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Pet bunny rabbit

Like so many other pets these days and their human owners, obesity in rabbits is a common and growing problem.

Overweight rabbits run the risk of developing serious health problems, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Heart problems
  • Improper digestion
  • Fly strike (maggot infestation) resulting from a urine-soaked tail
  • Restricted movement
  • Inability to groom

According to Mairwen Guard of Cottontails Rabbit Rescue on PetfoodIndustry.com, feeding guidelines for commercial rabbit formulas are often misleading, recommending twice as much food as rabbits need to meet daily caloric requirements.

As reported by PetfoodIndustry.com, Guard advises an average rabbit’s diet should consist primarily of good quality meadow hay, with the remainder consisting of fresh green vegetables and a small amount of dry pelleted food.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

Rabbits have a highly unusual but very efficient digestive system. It has evolved to allow their bodies to get the maximum benefit from nutrients provided by often meager amounts of forage available in the wild.

Your rabbit’s GI tract is designed to handle large amounts of grass with high fiber content. The fiber mixes with bowel bacteria to produce a percentage of soft pellets containing vitamins and other important nutrients.

As your rabbit expels these soft pellets, he twists around and swallows them as they exit his body -- a process called caecotrophy.

If a rabbit is fed a diet of cereal-based pellets containing carbs rather than high fiber grass or hay, an excessive number of soft pellets will be produced. They will stick to the rabbit’s bottom and may resemble diarrhea residue.

A rabbit diet that will insure optimal intestinal health is one that provides adequate hydration (water) and crude long fiber (from hay). This combination is necessary to move hair and food through the GI tract and keeps the intestinal muscles toned.

A poor diet can quickly destroy proper functioning of your bunny’s digestion, which can devastate his health.

Bunny Diet Basics

Your rabbit’s diet should consist of four basic components:

  • Good quality pellets
  • Fresh hay – oat, meadow grass blend or timothy
  • Fresh veggies
  • Water

Treats, including fruit, should be fed only on a limited basis.

The pellets you feed your pet should be fresh and contain at least 20 percent fiber, no more than 14 percent protein, and about one percent fat and one percent calcium.

High quality pellets do not contain dried fruit, seeds, nuts or other colorful odds and ends. Your bunny is an herbivore and won’t do well with a diet that includes too much fruit, nuts or other fatty, starchy foods.

Most commercial pelleted diets for rabbits are alfalfa-based – they have more calcium, calories and less fiber than timothy-based pellets. If possible, you should always opt for a good quality, timothy-based pelleted diet.

As your bunny matures, she should be fed more hay and less pelleted food. Hay is crucial to your pet’s good health. Rabbits need the fiber hay provides to prevent hairballs and other GI blockages.

Feed a variety of veggies, at least three a day, one of which contains Vitamin A. Avoid beans and rhubarb -- dark leafy greens and a few root vegetables are good.

According to the House Rabbit Society, the following veggies can be fed. Introduce them one at a time and discontinue anything that causes GI upset or diarrhea.

  • Alfalfa, radish, clover sprouts
  • Kale (use sparingly)
  • Basil
  • Mint
  • Beet greens (tops)
  • Mustard greens
  • Bok choy
  • Parsley
  • Broccoli leaves, stems
  • Pea pods (the flat, edible kind)
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Peppermint leaves
  • Carrots, carrot tops
  • Radicchio
  • Celery
  • Radish tops
  • Cilantro
  • Raspberry leaves
  • Collard greens
  • Romaine lettuce (no iceberg)
  • Dandelion greens, flowers (no pesticides)
  • Spinach (use sparingly)
  • Endive
  • Watercress
  • Escarole
  • Wheat grass
  • Green peppers

Wash all fresh food well to remove pesticides. Try serving vegetables wet to increase the amount of water your rabbit gets. Make sure you serve only fresh veggies, as bunnies are very sensitive to stale food – it can quickly make your little guy sick.

How Much to Feed to Maintain a Good Weight?

A baby bunny needs only mother’s milk for the first three to four weeks of life.

At around four weeks, you can give the youngster access to alfalfa and pellets.

From weaning at about seven weeks through the seventh month, feed unlimited pellets and hay, and at 12 weeks, begin to introduce vegetables one at a time, a half ounce or less per day.

At seven months start introducing different hays like timothy, grass and oat and decrease alfalfa. The calcium content in alfalfa hay and pellets is appropriate for growing bunnies, but not for adult rabbits. Reduce pellets to one-half cup for each 6 pounds of bunny body weight. Gradually increase daily vegetables.

You can also feed fruit occasionally (suggestions: apples with seeds and stems removed, blueberries, peeled oranges, pears, pineapple pieces, strawberries) -- no more than one to two ounces per 6 pounds of body weight.

When your rabbit is a year old he’s considered a grown-up. It’s time to give him unlimited access to grass hay, oat hay, timothy and straw. If you can find organic or chemical-free hay, even better. Feed one-quarter to one-half cup pelleted diet per 6 pounds of body weight, plus at least two cups of chopped veggies per each 6 pounds, and fruit at no more than two ounces per 6 pounds.

At six years, your pet is officially a senior citizen. If her weight is good, continue to feed the same diet she’s used to. As your bunny ages, she may need free access to pellets to maintain a healthy weight.

Your rabbit should live indoors and get at least four hours of exercise (running) and play time each day. A safe environment, exercise and a proper diet will keep your bunny healthy and happy for a lifetime.

The Importance of Water

It’s critically important that rabbits get adequate hydration each day.

If your bunny doesn’t drink enough water, over time she will develop intestinal problems that can wind up in a condition known as ileus, which can be life-threatening.

Many rabbits tend to prefer water from a crock or bowl rather than a bottle. If you use a crock, it should be a good weight and made from a lead-free material. The water should be changed daily and the crock washed with hot water and soap to prevent bacteria.

[+] Sources and References

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