It sounds strange but it is true;
obese rabbits (pure-bred and crossbred) do exist. Unfortunately, owners are often unaware their poor bunny could be burdened
with excessive weight, possibly resulting in serious consequences. Apart from lethargy, fat rabbits are susceptible to heart,
liver and kidney disease, chronic diarrhoea, splayed legs, heat stress in hot weather, arthritis in their later years and
breeding and birthing difficulties.
It is important not to be complacent or blase
about fat rabbits for in reality they are most likely to be silently suffering. It is their birthright to enjoy a natural
state of health and vitality. Furthermore, animal protection societies regard the practice of allowing our pets to become
severely obese as inhumane and in some cases, prosecute the owners.
I have seen far too many fat rabbits in my time. I will never forget giving a routine health check on a monster
sized Lop before taking him in as a boarder. As well as being concerned about his overall size, I was shocked to see maggots
squirming around his rump. The owners were horrified, not realising he was in such a sorry state. As he did not have a wound
or diarrhoea, but was quite smelly, I concluded the infestation occurred because he could not physically reach around to clean
himself. Fortunately, after a trip to the vet and proper treatment, he survived to go on a much-needed diet.
Causes of weight gain
These are a concentrated
product originally produced to quickly fatten up meat rabbits. Pellets are a labour saving convenience as well as a good source
of protein but they should not be eaten in excess or ad lib (always available) unless of course the ultimate plan is to have
rabbit stew! A pet rabbit need only be allowed to eat limited portions – for example a daily ration of a quarter to
one cup, depending on the size of the rabbit. It is also worth regularly assessing the amount given to make sure it is appropriate.
Similar to cats and dogs,
de-sexing rabbits seems to be a factor in weight gain. Pet owners need to be aware of this side effect and monitor weight
change over a period of time, adjusting pellet quantities accordingly.
I'm not fat I'm just a fur ball!
Lack of exercise
in a hutch all day long is boring and does not provide enough activity to keep fit. Rabbits generally try to keep themselves
occupied by nibbling every bit of food available, and if edible food is lacking they may also gnaw at other things such as
wood, plastic or carpet and so on. They would fare better to snack on healthy hay, grass or autumn leaves. Try to provide
a large hutch or an exercise run to help burn off extra calories. As well as the benefit of physical exercise, it's a
pleasure to watch bunnies happily racing around. Once their weight is back to normal, they feel energised and no doubt thoroughly
enjoy kicking up their heels or performing happy bunny jigs!
Do not increase a doe's ration of pellets during pregnancy;
a good maintenance diet with lots of variety should keep her in top condition. Only increase the amount of pellets if the
doe needs to put on weight or when kittens are venturing out of the nest.
rolled oats and all types of seeds are fattening, so only add small amounts to the feed bowl and preferably only during winter
Do not starve a bunny to effect a quick weight reduction. Gaining weight
is a gradual process, as should losing weight be. Simply cut back the amount of pellets to a quantity suited for their breed
size. Or instead of daily rations of pellets you can feed generous handfuls of hay and fresh vegetation one day a week. Consider
more 'non-pellet' days if your rabbit is already accustomed to lots of vegetation.
Many bunnies heartily enjoy their food and often act as if they are really hungry – do not be fooled by these
con artists! If you simply cannot control yourself under the insistence of those pathetic, imploring eyes it is okay to supplement
the normal diet with non-fattening vegetation.
Whenever in doubt
check your bunny's weight!
There are guidelines available for recognised rabbit breeds in all show standard handbooks that outline their recommended
weight. Then it is quick and easy to find out his actual weight by placing him on kitchen scales. If the bunny is too large
or heavy for kitchen scales, first weigh yourself on bathroom scales then again with the rabbit in your arms and compare the
difference. If you have a rabbit that is not a recognised breed, then guidelines are not so readily available and you may
have to rely on other means of determining his appropriate weight.
Pop bunny on a piece of carpet (prevents slipping) and run the palm of your
hand over the length of his backbone. If the spine feels prominent he needs an immediate increase in protein, via pellets.
If his pellet intake seems adequate yet he has a hearty appetite and is still relatively skinny you should investigate further
for an explanation. For instance he may be malnourished because of a fur ball or because of teeth problems. If on the other
hand your rabbit has a heavy, fat stomach, an extra large dewlap (storage of fat under the chin or chest), loose, hanging
flab on hips and shoulders, immediately decrease his daily ration of pellets.
Ask the expert
Ask a breeder, rabbit judge or your veterinarian
to check the condition of your rabbit. By finding out if your bunny is normal, fat or skinny from someone with knowledge and
experience you will be able to confidently assess any need to address weight changes.
cross bunnies – a rabbit's perspective
happiness will surely arrive a hot stressful summer, so please make sure I don't suffer or die from heat stress. Keep
a close eye on me on hot days. Check that I am not breathing heavily and in particular make sure I am not wet around my mouth
and nose because that would mean I am suffering.
You will have to cool me down
immediately, but don't panic and dunk me in a bucket of cold water for I could die of shock! Just take me to your nice
cool bathroom or laundry and dampen me down with tepid water as follows:
- Wet your
hand and stroke me so I'll think you are affectionately licking me. Do not squirt me in the face with a spray bottle;
I hate that and think I am receiving some sort of punishment!
- Pay particular attention
to wetting my ears for they are great conductors for temperature control.
that let me stretch out on the cool tiles or provide a piece of wet carpet or towel to lie on. It would be much appreciated
if you could also supply a bowl of water.
- That should do the trick, mind you just
to save us a lot of hassle you could prevent me from getting too hot in the first place.
How to prevent a hot cross bunny!
Would you like a few suggestions? Okay, well here are a few examples of what considerate owners do for their bunnies during
√ Place our hutch in a shady area in the coolest part
of the garden.
√ Cover the hutch or shed roof with carpet or potato sacks
then water them regularly, to keep them moist. If water restrictions are in force, apply for a special exemption.
√ A heavy water bowl is useful. Some clever bunnies will soak their front paws and
Lops may dip their ears in a cool bowl of water.
√ Freeze plastic bottles
of water and place them in our hutch-remember to change them once melted. Do not be entirely reliant on frozen bottles as
in extreme heat conditions rabbits are known to die while lying over them.
A wet piece of carpet is always nice and cool to lie on-more comfortable and remains chilled for longer than a tile
or a brick. √
Drinking water must not get too warm or else we may die of thirst,
so either keep changing warm bottled water or add a few ice cubes in our bowl. √
Bunnies housed in sheds, carports and garages are particularly susceptible to overheating, especially if they are metal, lack
insulation and lack sufficient ventilation. It is essential, not a luxury, for owners to provide an air conditioner, air cooler
and/or a fan. However don't have those whirly things blasting us directly in the face, an indirect flow of air will do
nicely. Instead of lazing by the pool, be sure to regularly pop into our shed and check we are comfortable and that those
electrical contraptions are doing an efficient job. √
It's a good idea to place a thermometer on our hutch or in the rabbitry
shed so you will know exactly what temperature we are experiencing. √
mothers are more prone to become heat stressed and kittens in a nest need extra monitoring during hot conditions. Sometimes,
overheated little ones naturally try to dig further down into nesting material in the hope of finding cool soil, but end up
making their situation worse. Remove excess hay and insulating fur, place either a frozen bottle wrapped in cloth, or a wet
cloth, in the nest box. If this doesn't work temporarily keep the nest box and kittens indoors until the worst is over.
If I am to live where it is constantly hot (such as in Darwin), how about
you dig me a burrow or let me be an indoor house pet. √
coated bunnies or at the very least thoroughly brush out left over moult, loose excess fur and matting. You want to make sure
their summer coat is more open, and thinner than their winter coat. And even though some breeds have very short coats (for
example the Rex), the dense fur increases their body temperature.
'So now you know how, please keep me cool, comfortable
and alive this summer!'
What bunnies don't like!
If you want to have
a good relationship with your bunny, to gain his trust and affection, be sure to find out what he does not like. Take particular
note of the advice that follows to ensure a lovable pet that you can enjoy and admire, rather than one with unsociable behaviour
as a result of being exposed to incidents of annoyance, stress or fear. Please note the following list is condensed and summarised;
you will find considerably more detailed information as you go further into the book.
Here is a list of what bunnies find objectionable:
Χ Being tickled, touched or poked on the nose – this is a particularly
sensitive area. Bunnies much prefer long, slow, patting strokes from their forehead down to their rump as well as having their
ears massaged and gently caressed over and around their eyes. When initially reaching towards bunny it is preferable to offer
the back of your hand rather than present outstretched (possibly perceived as intimidating) fingers.
Χ Car trips, which are upsetting and uncomfortable.
Take special care when travelling during hot weather. Cover the carry cage with a wet towel and place a frozen bottle of water
next to him.
Χ Being held for too long: bunny becomes
restless and impatiently scratches or nibbles your clothing. Such behaviour means he has had enough and needs a break (usually
he is trying to tell you he desperately needs a toilet break as he can only hang on for so long!).
Χ Visits to the vets, which are highly unappreciated and nerve-racking.
Apart from the stress of being in a strange environment a major problem is that bunnies do not feel particularly safe and
secure during an examination on a slippery metal table. Take your own small piece of carpet or a rubber mat to provide a more
stable and secure footing.
Χ Not being
able to get out and jump about, run around and enjoy the sunshine. Provide a safe exercise area, perhaps with a pipe, log
or a ramp to explore and have lots of fun.
Being roughly handled, groomed harshly, disciplined with smacks or water sprayed in their face, which instigates either aggressiveness
or extreme timidness towards humans. If you think your bunny is naughty and you want to convey your displeasure, he will take
more notice of a stamping sound, a growling voice or ‘time-out’ segregation in his hutch.
Χ Harassment or being chased by: barking dogs, stalking
cats, foxes or ferrets; being near rodents or reptiles; or being left unprotected from swooping magpies, currawongs or eagles.
A rabbit knows it is potential prey to many different predators and he needs continuos safeguarding.
Χ Being picked up or held incorrectly. Regardless of seeing magicians
pull a rabbit out of a hat, it is cruel and painful to lift them up by the ears. Ask an experienced rabbit fancier for a demonstration
of correct handling. To gain confidence routinely practice as most rabbits are sensitive and will know if you are unsure or
nervous. Bunnies tend to feel reassured once they know they are in secure confident hands.
Living in a small hutch with a low roof or a hutch that is overcrowded. Don’t cramp their style, make
sure the hutch is adequate in size and height.
Living in their own accumulation of filth. Regularly clean out hutches for a healthier, happier bunny. A layer of wood shavings
with straw on top provides suitable bedding, otherwise try carpet mats and or a litter tray.
Χ Having someone (or something) suddenly rush up or make a sudden movement past her hutch.
If an unprepared bunny cannot see or hear you coming she may take fright and cause serious injury to herself. Try to make
a moderate amount of noise during your approach – perhaps you could even start humming or singing.
Χ Cleaning or moving things about in her domain, which may upset or threaten her,
especially if she is territorial. It is best to place bunny in a carry cage instead of initiating or causing aggravation.
Χ Lack of variety in their diet or having
no choice but to eat a boring pellets only diet. Include daily handfuls of hay, different kinds of vegetation and vegetables,
grass and weeds on their menu.
Χ Not being
able to drink water when she is thirsty or being forced to drink dirty water. Provide fresh, cool water in clean bowls or
Χ Being immersed in water or bathed. Just like
cats, rabbits prefer to clean themselves. If an area such as their feet or bottom becomes particularly dirty, use warm water
and a little pet shampoo, then rinse and dry with a towel.
a pretty, colourful collar, perhaps even with a jangling bell. They are definitely not appreciated nor a safe ornament. Try
to adore bunny rabbits in their natural state.
unexpected noises, which can startle a rabbit. Their highly sensitive ears can accurately pinpoint even faint sounds. Some
are more laid back than others and seem unperturbed and or acclimatised to loud noises, whilst others startle easily. Something
unexpected such as firecrackers or thunderstorms however could easily frighten anyone. Frightened rabbits fling their bodies
in a fear response, potentially breaking or fracturing bones. Be considerate when you are aware there will be loud noise close
by, and temporarily move your pet a reasonable distance away.
A stomping we will go!
people believe stomping is based solely on fear but I have noticed other reasons for rabbits' stomping behaviour. I have
translated bunny language into our language, so if he could talk this is what he might be saying:
STOMP ......... Watch out everybody (i.e. every bunny) I heard something strange
STOMP ......... I think I saw something scary, so be on guard
Look here doe, I am the boss. I am the world’s most dominant buck so just be submissive and do as I say
STOMP ......... Don't think you can get the better of me
I didn’t like that – I felt vulnerable and out of control
......... Who are you? Friend or foe?
STOMP ......... Attention! I live
here. This is my place, my territory and all who trespass have me to deal with.
......... Get lost buck, I’m pregnant – or at least I think I am
......... Leave me alone, I’m not happy with this situation
......... Hello, anybody (any bunny) out there?
STOMP ......... If you can stomp,
I can too
STOMP ......... Foods coming. Come on slow coach, this is my favorite time of the day