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How do I know if my rabbit is a healthy weight?

by Laura Crotch-Harvey MSc BSc (Hons)

In the wild, rabbits are extremely active animals, who must use every ounce of energy from the food they’ve consumed to survive. They must be able to successfully dig burrows, flee from predators and mate. On the other hand, domesticated rabbits are the lazier cousins and unfortunately, they are often lacking the space for proper exercise. It is recommended by the RWAF and PDSA that rabbits have a minimum of a 6ft hutch along with an 8ft run. The lack of exercise domesticated rabbits partake in has serious effects on their weight.

How can obesity affect a rabbit’s wellbeing?

An obese rabbit is at much higher risk of developing health issues like cardiovascular problems such as heart disease. Obesity can also result in the development of arthritis and other joint issues. This combination of issues will mean they cannot groom themselves resulting in matted fur which is unhygienic and causes discomfort.

What does a healthy rabbit look like?

We have come to expect our pets to look ‘cuddly’, but this is far from the reality of a healthy pet. A healthy rabbit shouldn’t look like they have a small head which is disproportionate to the huge body it’s perched upon. Other causes for concern are if there are fatty pads on the shoulders, legs and groin of the rabbit, or if a rabbit is wider than it is long.

Ideally, if you gently pat the sides with your fingers and can easily feel the ribs but they are not protruding, this is a clear indication of a good healthy weight.

The following table shows the main tell-tale signs of what body type category your rabbit fits into.

Body Type Description and physical signs
Emaciated Ribs sharp to touch

Pelvis can be felt

Heavily sunken rump

Lean/underweight Ribs can easily be felt, still slightly sharp

Flat rump

Ideal weight Ribs can be felt but are not protruding

Flat or very slightly rounded rump

Overweight Ribs are harder to find, must press relatively firmly to feel them

Noticeably rounded rump

Obese Very hard or unable to find ribs

Very round rump

Fatty deposits all over shoulders, legs and groin

 

What should you feed your rabbit?

The main reason that many rabbits are overweight or obese is because they are fed too much concentrated food in the form of condensed pellets. It is best for the health of your rabbit to reduce the pellets gradually and to make sure their diet mainly consists of forage.

Make sure that hay and grass are always available for your rabbits as fibre is one of the most important parts of their diet. Pellets do not help to wear down their constantly growing teeth with the grinding action of the jaw while chewing. Supplying your rabbit with a variety of hays and grasses will encourage foraging and grazing, which are normal and healthy behaviours for them to exhibit and are signs of a happy and comfortable rabbit.

 

Written by Annabel Holliday, work experience and Laura Crotch-Harvey, Nutrition Manager

by Laura Crotch-Harvey MSc BSc (Hons)

I've worked at Burns for over four years and head up a busy, dedicated team of pet nutritionists at our Kidwelly head office. No two days are ever the same. We are often busy going the extra mile for our customers and offer free advice via LiveChat, telephone and email.

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