A guide to maintaining a healthy weight for rabbits

Keeping an eye on your rabbits’ weight is an essential part of their everyday care. Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner outlines how to tell if your bunnies are obese or underweight.

It’s a good idea to check your rabbits’ weight regularly to make sure they stay in the best possible health.

The ideal weight for rabbits

There’s a wide variation in body weight for different pet rabbit breeds, and even within breeds themselves. Every rabbit is an individual but, as a guide, here are some average healthy rabbit weights for some of the most popular breeds:

  • Angora: 2–3kg
  • Dutch: 2kg
  • Dwarf Lop: 2–2.5kg
  • English Lop: 5kg
  • Jersey Wooly: 1.5kg
  • Himalayan: 1.5–2kg
  • Miniature Lop: 2.5kg
  • Lionhead: less than 1.5kg
  • Netherland Dwarf: less than 1kg
  • New Zealand White: 4.5–5.5kg
  • Sussex: 3kg

Weighing your rabbits can be a challenge, so one of the best ways to assess your rabbits’ weight is by learning how to use body condition scoring as part of your rabbits’ regular health checks.

How to tell if your rabbits are a healthy weight: using body condition scoring

The body condition score is a technique used by vets to assess the body condition of many different animals and it’s a great idea for rabbit owners to get used to using this technique, too. The rabbit gets a score of between 1 (emaciated) and 5 (obese) based on how easy it is to feel their pelvis and ribs and the shape of their rump (the hind part of their body).

A score of 3 is the ideal body condition for a rabbit. It features:

  • Pelvis and ribs that can be felt easily and have rounded, rather than sharp, edges.
  • A smooth curve from your rabbit’s neck down to their tail.

A very underweight rabbit with a body condition score of 1 will have a pelvis and sharp ribs that are easy to feel, as well as a concave rump area. Conversely, an obese rabbit with a body condition score of 5 will have a very rounded rump and a pelvis and ribs that are hard to feel.

Female rabbits often have a roll of fur under their chin. Called a dewlap, this can look like fat but in a rabbit with a healthy weight, the dewlap should feel like a fold of skin. An overweight rabbit’s dewlap may feel like a roll of fat when pinched.

Why are my rabbits overweight?

Lack of exercise, a poor diet and overfeeding can all result in your bunnies piling on the pounds. Increased weight can interfere with your rabbits’ normal activities in addition to putting them at a higher risk of a range of health conditions, including cardiovascular, joint, gastrointestinal, urogenital and liver diseases.

How do I know if my rabbits are overweight?

Signs of obesity in rabbits include:

  • Visible changes in your rabbit’s shape, such as a very rounded rump.
  • Inability to lie down, stretch out or hop around.
  • Difficulty grooming.
  • Loose skin around their throat, which may interfere with eating or drinking.
  • Folds of skin around the anal area, which may collect faeces and urine.
  • Less active than normal.

If you have overweight rabbits, the first step is to speak to your vet. They may want to check for any health issues, including arthritis and pododermatitis. They’ll also be able to suggest an ideal weight for your bunnies and advise you on how you can help to safely get their weight down.

Adjusting your rabbits’ diet is likely to help. You should aim for a diet of 85% hay or grass, 10% leafy greens, and 5% pellets.

Underweight rabbits

When a rabbit stops eating, this is referred to as anorexia. It’s often indicative of underlying health issues, most commonly dental problems.

Rabbits' teeth grow all the time, and they grind and wear down naturally. But when rabbits are fed mixed kibble formulations, they often pick out the bits of the mix they prefer, leaving the pellets that contain the majority of the calcium. When a rabbit consumes insufficient levels of calcium, their jaw bones can become depleted, allowing their teeth to move within their sockets. This results in a state known as malocclusion, which can lead to overgrowth and sharpening of the edges of the teeth. In turn, sharp and overgrown teeth can cause ulcers inside the mouth, making it uncomfortable for the rabbit to eat.

Signs of anorexia in rabbits include:

  • Refusing to eat
  • Dirty hindquarters
  • Caved-in abdomen
  • A dull coat with some dandruff
  • Minimal activity
  • Fewer faecal pellets (often smaller and drier)
  • Searching for water or for food
  • Pain (for example, hunched appearance, reluctance to move, grinding or chattering of teeth and partially closed eyes).

If you have an anorexic rabbit, contact your vet straight away. They will check your rabbit’s overall health and identify any issues, such as overgrown teeth. If there are any sharp teeth, your vet will recommend a procedure to remove the spikes, making it more comfortable for your rabbit to eat.

Unfortunately, misaligned teeth can't be re-straightened, but with a more complete diet and regular examination of their teeth, undernourished rabbits should begin to put on weight once again.

You know your bunnies best, so if you’re concerned they’re overweight, underweight or just not their normal bouncy selves, it's always best to contact your vet for advice.

Have you owned an overweight or underweight rabbit? Share your tips and advice with us on social media, using #PethoodStories.

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