Rabbit on a lawn

Which species of exotic pets tend to pack on the pounds? This week, we’re looking at the top five species I treat for obesity.

No. 3 on my list of obesity-prone pets are bunnies!

Dangle a carrot in front of a rabbit, and that bunny should hop. But if he is overweight, as are many of the pet rabbits I see in my practice, then he might not be able to. Just as in people, obesity is a large problem among captive rabbits who eat too much and exercise too little.

A Beefy Bunny Isn’t Best

When most people think of a rabbit, the image of a lean, muscular animal able to leap and jump high is what many people conjure up. For many pet rabbits, however, the reality is very different. Too many pet bunnies are housed in cages barely big enough to turn around in, and often they come out of their cages for only a few minutes a day. Although these animals should be offered a predominantly high-fiber diet in the form of unlimited amounts of hay with some greens, too many are given ad-lib, high-carbohydrate pellets with only small amounts of hay. Overweight rabbits are prone to health problems, like other obese animals, but particularly to the development of hepatic lipidosis, a disease in which excess fat is deposited in the liver where it interferes with liver function and may even cause death. Fat bunnies also commonly develop “sore hock,” or ulcers on the bottoms of their feet, from carrying excess weight. High carbohydrate and fat ingestion by bunnies can also lead to gastrointestinal (GI) upset and potentially to life-threatening problems.

To prevent weight gain, the rule of thumb is no more than a quarter cup of pellets per four to five pounds of bunny per day. Also, like all other pets, rabbits need out-of-cage time daily to exercise and should be encouraged to climb up ramps and hop onto different levels in their cages to help strengthen their muscles. But remember, before starting any diet or exercise plan with your bunny, be sure to consult with your veterinarian first to make sure you know how to help your pet lose weight safely. For example, some long-haired bunnies may look big, but in fact might be all hair and no fat. Your veterinarian can help you determine whether your bunny is at a good weight or not.

Tomorrow: rotund rodents!

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