Easter-decorated windows are popping up all over right now. You’ve seen them — perky little bunnies hopping about in spring attire.
Unfortunately, they remind me of all my rabbit patients who are not jumping through meadows but instead suffering from obesity.
Obesity is a big problem in the pet rabbit population. Bunnies continue to gain popularity as pets — and their humans continue to feed too many treats and offer too little exercise.
Dangers of Obesity
Many diseases related to obesity cross species. Just like humans, dogs and cats, overweight rabbits run a higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, liver disease and high blood pressure. They become arthritic more easily, have stressed joints and develop ulcers and foot infections (pododermatitis) related to their obesity.
Fat inside the abdomen can alter proper digestion, adding to gut stasis. Fat on the body can prevent a bunny from turning around and eating those all-important cecotropes and from keeping their private areas clean. This leads to urine scalding, as well as caked-on feces on the outside and poor digestive health on the inside.
I often don’t see these obese bunnies until they are brought in for some procedure that requires anesthesia. Obese rabbits are a high anesthetic risk. Because it takes many months to get an obese rabbit to safely lose weight, a necessary surgical procedure may have to wait or be done with added risk.
Wide Open Spaces
House rabbits need exercise. Good rabbit people let their bunnies run about, train them to a litter box and bunny-proof the house. But too many rabbits spend too much time in a cage with no outlet to burn up fat. Those lagomorphs need to do a few laps.
If you can’t rabbit-proof your entire house, your bunny will appreciate any large space to frolic about, as long as he is not confined to his cage all day long.
Ideally, the cage should be big enough to allow a bit of activity too. Outdoor spaces are more difficult to make safe, but I’ve seen people build fantastic outdoor enclosures that keep bunnies active and predators out.
Rabbit Agility and Rabbit Jumping
Now, to be clear, rabbit agility and rabbit jumping are two different sports. Rabbit agility is similar to dog agility with equipment sized down for agile bunnies. On or off the leash, rabbits learn to run an agility course with the help of their handlers. This is great interactive fun for rabbits, handlers and spectators.
Rabbit hopping, a.k.a. rabbit jumping, is very popular in Europe. Rabbits are worked on a leash in this sport, where they jump amazing lengths and heights.
Diet, along with exercise, is all-important in keeping your rabbit fit and trim.
It’s so easy to love these little furballs, so much of that affection translates into over-feeding. Also good to keep in mind: Rabbits are very intelligent and good at begging.
Limiting pellets is the best gift you can give to Snickers, along with plenty of hay around the clock and appropriate vegetables. Once your bunny is an adult, restrict pellets, feed grass hay and don’t give commercial treats.
Here’s a handy measuring guide for pellet feeding:
- 2–4 pound rabbit: 1/8–1/4 cup daily as maintenance; less if overweight
- 4–7 pound rabbit: 1/4–1/2 cup daily
- 7–10 pound rabbit: 1/2–3/4 cup daily
The thing is, rabbits do not need pellets at all. Good hay and healthy vegetables are a complete diet if fed appropriately.
Watch these bunnies go through the paces of rabbit agility:
Quit the Junk Food
I get sick to my stomach when I walk into a Pet-Not-Smart and see the junk food marketed for rabbits and other critters. Beware, good guardian, of slogans like:
- “Great way to bond with your pet.”
- “Add variety to their diet.”
- “Fun to eat.”
- “Helps overcome cage boredom.”
Do you know what’s in these treats? I’ll tell you:
- Corn syrup
- Corn starch
- Wheat flour
- Vegetable oil
- Dried fruits
Rabbit Rice Pops that come in Christmas colors? Get out of that aisle.
Varied, super-fresh veggies and delicious-smelling hay are all the fun food bunnies need. Instead of processed treats to alleviate cage boredom, I have a more natural suggestion: Let Mr. Nibs out of the cage.
Happy frolicking and happy munching!
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed March 22, 2017.