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This isn’t a rabbit fat shaming post. It’s intended to help you feed your rabbit the best possible diet whilst also acknowledging that some rabbits are naturally fat.
I have a lot of experience with fat rabbits, and it can be a nightmare. We were told that our rabbit had one of the highest levels of body fat the vet had seen on a rabbit.
He wasn’t reprimanding us (he knew we knew what we were doing), he was merely stating a fact.
This particular rabbit had been found as a stray and it’s thought that she began life as a meat rabbit.
It meant that whilst she had to be kept on a strict diet to keep her thin enough that she could clean herself, she was never going to lose much weight, and she’d spend her whole life acting like she’d never been fed.
You’re feeding your rabbit too much
There’s absolutely no shame here – I think a lot of rabbit caregivers (me included) started out giving their rabbits waaaaay too much pellet food.
A lot of this is psychological. We buy a product called ‘rabbit food’ to fed our rabbit. So far, so normal. But with most other pets, like cats or dogs, that food makes up the bulk of their diet.
With rabbits, however, these pellets only make up a tiny proportion (ideally, 5%) of their diet. They’re more of a supplementary feed. The bulk of their grub comes from hay.
Once upon a time, we’d just fill up our rabbit’s food bowls. We didn’t know any different and didn’t think to change, because our first pair of rabbits weren’t greedy at all. They were probably the only rabbits in the world that don’t wolf down their pellets.
It was quite by chance that we found out that a couple of tablespoons was all they really needed, and from then on, that’s what they get.
In general, rabbits should be getting 25g of pellets per kg of body weight, but adjust this is your rabbit is gaining/losing weight.
You’re feeding your rabbit the wrong diet
Many people stick to those traditional muesli-type rabbit foods. I recommend that you avoid them, and stick to proper rabbit pellet food. We use Burgess Excel here in the UK, Oxbow is a popular brnad in the US.
There are a couple of reasons that you shouldn’t feed muesli feeds to your rabbit.
1 – They contain ingredients that rabbits shouldn’t be eating
Some contain seeds, which should not be part of a rabbit’s diet at all, and a lot of them contain pieces of dried dates (and I know this because I used to pick them out and eat them when I was a kid) which are much too high in sugar for rabbits to be having every day.
2 – They allow for selective eating
Usually, the bits of the muesli that are best for the rabbit from a nutritional point of view are left in the bottom because they’re not as delicious as those weird green and orange crunchy things (seriously, why are they dying them weird colours?).
Even if there are healthy ingredients in the muesli, your rabbit may choose to leave them and stick to the sugary stuff.
You’re giving your rabbit too many treats
I usually recommend using pellets are treats because they’re pretty high value (as long as you’re giving them the right amount) but you need to be careful that you’re not overfeeding.
Make sure you know how many pellets have been given and adjust the amount they’re given for dinner accordingly.
If your rabbit is overweight, I’d cut out fruit entirely. Bananas and strawberries make great treats but they’re not good for overweight rabbits. Try herbs instead, or pick dandelions. They grow in our garden, but they’re pretty common in parks too.
Your rabbit is getting extra food on the side from somewhere
If your rabbit is on a diet and doesn’t seem to be losing weight, just have a meeting with other household members and make sure that no one else has been feeding them.
Make sure everyone knows the risk of an overweight rabbit (heart problems, breathing problems, flystrike) and ensure that everyone knows what bunny can and can’t have.
It’s also worth checking that your rabbit isn’t stealing food from somewhere. Just because rabbits are herbivores doesn’t mean they’re not opportunists too – there’s not a lot ous won’t have a go at eating.
Bread is particular favourite, so just check they’re not finding a regular supply of crumbs somewhere. One of mine once pulled a slice of toast of my plate. She saw her opportunity and she took it.
Your rabbit is genetically predisposed to be fat
This one is a bummer, and there’s not that much you can do to keep the weight down. Our rabbit was on a diet her whole life and she was always fat.
Meat rabbits are bred to be fattened up quickly, but are killed at 12 weeks. As meat rabbits get older, they continue to pile on the pounds much quicker than a pet rabbit, and they really struggle to keep it off.
To add insult to injury, the breeds used are usually pretty sedate (ours was a giant cross, so very chill and lazy) so it can be hard to encourage them to exercise.
We reduced pellets down to a weekly treat, and just fed hay and a few greens. She had stomach issues (I don’t know if this is common in meat rabbits) so she couldn’t have too many greens. She struggled to keep her butt clean too, so we had to be extra careful.
She ate far fewer pellets and greens than a rabbit half her size (luckily she was good at eating her hay) but remained pretty chunky. That’s just genes for you.
Your rabbit isn’t getting enough exercise
This one can be a pain because some rabbits are…lazy.
Holly isn’t. She runs laps around the living room (it even has a couple of jumps – it’s like watching the Grand National without the horrific cruelty) every day, and loves it.
But a lot of rabbits aren’t that bothered about running around, and it’s hard to convince them to have a go. Occasionally you’ll get one that likes being chased, so you can make a game out of exercising, but that would terrify a lot of them.
You can encourage them to stop loafing around with toys – things like cardboard boxes to climb on and dig boxes to play in are a great way to get them moving.
It’s normal for rabbits to stop running about so much as they get older, and it’s nothing to worry about. Rabbits tend to get thinner as they older – not always, but they’re more likely to lose weight, like dogs are likely to gain weight – so it makes sense that they’d move less.
If you do notice your rabbit is losing weight, it’s worth taking them to the vet to check there’s nothing wrong, but you can get pellet thats are formulated for older rabbits with a higher calorific content.
Just check though, because you can get ones designed for weight loss too.
How to get your rabbit to lose weight
If your rabbit is just a bit chunky, it might be worth getting a second opinion. Next time you’re at the vet, ask them what they think.
The first thing to do is cut down on pellets.
Be warned – your rabbit will be horrified, but they’ll adjust.
This may be enough – pellets are pretty calorific.
If your rabbit is very overweight, then you may need to cut out pellets altogether (unless there’s something else, like treats, that might be causing the issue).
Don’t worry about their nutrition – rabbit can live on just hay for a long time, so the combo of veggies and hay will be fine.
Cut out any sugary foods, so no carrots or fruit or anything. Stick to greens.
It can take a while to see a difference, and make sure you take progress pictures so you know where the rabbit started.
Toys like cat tunnels and trees can help encourage exercise, but as i said, some bunnies are just lazy, and you can’t convince them to move without frightening them.
I hop this was helpful! If anyone has any bunny weight loss tips, please leave me a comment!