The rabbit's digestive system is evolved to eat only grass and vegetable matter- the farther you stray from its design specifications, the more trouble the bunny gets into. Plenty of good quality hay for roughage should be the major portion of your rabbit's diet, and many rabbits can live well with just hay to eat. Sounds boring, so we add in tons of greens and veggies, pelleted diets, and sneak in treats like Cheerios and fruit. As a result, the most common GI problem in rabbits is obesity, which causes a number of health difficulties in rabbits.
* First, an unhealthy (and unnatural) diet leads to
chronically softer stools, as the gut is not
good at handling the refined foods being fed. This results in
smeared floors and is one of the causes of
the affliction kindly known as "poopy butt".
*Female rabbits will also
grow an enormous dewlap, which may
become chronically wet from drinking and develop skin infections.
rabbits suffer from arthritis with
age, and being overweight only makes the problem come on earlier and
with greater severity.
How do you know if your bunny is fat?
Many house rabbits are, and they are
not at all embarrassed by it! Rabbits
store fat inside their abdomen, which makes just eyeballing them for
love handles ineffective. Run your
hands along your rabbit's side, feeling the rib cage. When you reach
the end of the ribs, your should be
able to feel a slight inward slope, the waist. Fat bunnies will balloon
out instead. Remember that the ribs
are palpable in even quite obese rabbits, so don't let your bunny fool
you into more snacks!
rabbits and other pets has been associated with such medical disorders
as myiasis (fly strike), pododermatitis (sore hocks) and gastrointestinal stasis and ileus, and exacerbates the pain and reduced mobility associated with arthritis.
Heath problems associated with obesity are increasingly being
recognized in dogs and cats, but public awareness of this issue in house
rabbits has not been widely recognized.
Despite the progress made in
educating owners that rabbits should eat a diet of hay, leafy greens and
limited amounts of high fiber pellets, most of the rabbit ‘treats’ sold
in the pet stores contain unhealthy amounts of sugars and starches;
even the pellets often contain bits of junk food which many rabbits pick
out and eat, leaving the healthier pellets behind. Many individuals
equate food with love, constantly offering their rabbits
Early signs of exercise intolerance and difficulties
with mobility associated with obesity are not as easily identified in
rabbits as they are in dogs and cats. On the other hand, female rabbits
may have a very good BCS and yet some will naturally have a very large
dewlap which can make them appear overweight. The best bet in
determining if your bunny is of an appropriate weight is to take your
rabbit for at least an annual checkup to a bunny-savvy veterinarian.
Get your bunny in for a checkup.
Follow your veterinarians
recommendations as to an appropriate weight for your bunny and how to
Avoid all the unhealthy junk treats sold by the pet
stores, which not only make bunny fat but promote unhealthy bacteria in
the gut, increasing the chances of potentially-fatal GI stasis. If you
want to offer your rabbit treats now and then (not entirely a bad idea,
as refusal or acceptance of treats is one way to gauge whether bunny has
an upset stomach or not) offer them healthy treats.
A half a grape or a
thin slice of banana is a fine treat. Purchase natural (no added sugar
or preservatives) dried fruits or dry your own (but offer these in minuscule amounts, as drying concentrates the natural fruit sugars).
Oxbow dried fruit treats for rabbits are sold locally at PetCare Solutions, or you can buy dried fruits at Liberty Market or dry your own. In the summer, grow your own herbs, plantain and thistle – bunnies regard these high-fiber 'weeds' as fine treats, and they can also be dried for winter use.
Change their toys around, switch out hiding boxes
for cardboard tunnels – anything to add interest and get your bunny
exploring his surroundings.
Play games with your bunny.
his pellets in a Go Cat Go toy so he gets exercise while he gets his
Never withhold food from your rabbit; they have to eat constantly to keep that gut moving and avoid GI stasis. Do feed your rabbit unlimited hay and water 24/7, limit the treats, and get them moving!
For further reading:
Welcome to our page! We do our best to provide to-be and current bunny owners up-to-date info on the best care for their house rabbits. When we adopted our first bunny in 2005, there was almost nothing on the internet to tell us how to care for him. Just in the past few years, information has exploded online, and now it can be confusing! We try to simplify it by posting weekly articles on current issues, daily care, concerns, proper feeding, and other info so you can enjoy your house-bun! If you are just finding us, feel free to look through the older posts also. Please email us if you have any questions! Happy bunnies make happy hearts!