by Christine Carter

It sounds strange but it is true, obese rabbits (pure bred and cross bred) do exist and unfortunately owners are unaware that their poor bunny is burdened with excessive weight with far-reaching and serious consequences. Apart from lethargy, fat rabbits are susceptible to heart, liver and kidney disease, chronic diarrhoea, failure to breed and or have difficulty in giving birth.

I've seen quite a few (too many) in my time, one particular Rex doe I judged at a show was so flabby with layer upon layer, fold upon fold of loose flab that I recommended liposuction and advised it was best to keep her at home and put on a diet as she was not in good show condition. I will also never forget a monster Lop I was giving a routine health check before taking him in as a boarder, apart from being concerned about his gross size I was shocked to find he was badly flyblown on his rump. The owners were absolutely horrified not realising he was in such a sorry state. As he didn't have a wound or diarrhoea but was smelly, the only reason he was infected was because he simply could not physically reach around to groom and clean himself. Fortunately after a trip to the vet and with proper treatment he survived to go on a much-needed diet.

So as you can see fat rabbits are not cute or funny, they are silently suffering and far from enjoying good health they are missing out being in their prime which is to be full of life and bouncing energy.

Causes of excessive weight gain are:

Pellets Originally manufactured to quickly fatten up meat rabbits, very convenient and provides essential protein but not to be fed in excess or especially not ad lib (always available) unless of course your ultimate plan is to have rabbit stew! Every breed has a recommended portion which can vary from 1/4 (small breeds) to1/2 (medium breeds) or to 1 (large breeds) of a cup of pellets per day.

Desexing Similar to cats and dogs desexing rabbits seems to be a factor in weight gain, owners need to be aware of this side effect and monitor weight changes over a period of time adjusting pellets accordingly.

Lack of exercise Sitting in a small hutch day after day is boring and not much fun. Rabbits generally try to keep themselves occupied with nibbling everything that's available like every bit of food, wood, plastic or carpet etc. Try to provide a larger hutch or an exercise run to help burn off any extra calories not to mention it's a pleasure to watch your bunnies happily racing around kicking up their heels and showing off their back flips.

Other Do's and Don'ts

Don't increase a doe's pellets during pregnancy, a good varied maintenance diet will keep her in top condition, pellets should only be increased when the kittens are venturing out of the nest.

Corn and Oats are also fattening, only small amounts may be added to the feed bowl and preferably only during winter months.

Check your bunny's weight at least once a week using the following methods:

Scales Every pure bred rabbit has a recommended average weight, it is quick and simple using scales to find out if he is within his breed weight limit.

Hands on Pop him on a table on a piece of carpet to provide sure footing and run the palm of your hand over his backbone, if his spine feels quite noticeable or protruding he needs an immediate increase in consumption of protein via pellets. If your rabbit has a heavy round fat stomach, an extra large dewlap (storage of fat under her chin or on her chest), loose hanging flab on hips and shoulders immediately decrease the usual amount of pellets per day.

When in doubt Ask an experienced breeder, rabbit judge or a vet to cheek your bunny and by learning from an expert you will be able to confidently assess any weight changes in the future.