What is Obesity?
Obesity in rabbits can lead to many adverse effects, such as hepatic lipidosis, heart disease, and sticky bottom syndrome. There are a number of risk factors such as inappropriate diets or readily available food, limited exercise space or opportunities, and underlying health conditions such as arthritis. As obesity can lead to long lasting complications and affect quality of life, it is important that you speak to your veterinarian to put a management plan in place.
Obesity in rabbits is a disease in which the pet carries excessive body fat leading to adverse health effects, this is diagnosed when the pet is 20% above recommended weight for size and build.
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Symptoms of Obesity in Rabbits
The main physical indication of obesity is excessive size and body fat. As there are a number of clinical problems caused by this disease other signs may be noticed such as:
- Pododermatitis – Urine scalding due to inability to groom or increased moisture in skin folds due to excessive skin
- Sticky bottom syndrome – This often presents as chronic soft stools and is caused by the accumulation of soft cecotropes; this can be due to your pet being physically unable to eat the cecotropes or not being inclined to due to already excessive energy intake or unpalatability due to diet
- Increased risk of developing blowfly myiasis
Causes of Obesity in Rabbits
Domestication is considered a risk factor for obesity, often due to reduced cage size and lack of exercise opportunity. Inappropriate diets, single level living, and ready access to food are all factors in this lifestyle. Reduced energy expenditure can be due to a range of reasons, including lack of opportunity for movement, or due to conditions such as arthritis that reduces the pet’s ability or desire to exercise.
Diagnosis of Obesity in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will perform a full clinical examination on your pet and discuss his diet, exercise, and history with you. The physical examination will allow your veterinarian to determine the ideal weight for your pet, and verify if your rabbit exceeds this. There are a number of body scoring charts your veterinarian may also utilise. Your veterinarian may choose to do following diagnostic tests:
- Blood chemistry to provide a baseline on your pet’s health; this may indicate or rule out secondary diseases such as liver disease
- Urine tests to check for urinary tract infections
- Skin biopsies in cases of secondary skin infections caused by urine scalding
Treatment of Obesity in Rabbits
Treatment for your rabbit will involve careful at home management. Your veterinarian will work closely with you to formulate the best program for your pet. The program will most likely be a balance of two components -
Energy Expenditure Increase
If there are no contraindications exercise will be encouraged for your pet. There are a number of considerations to make.
- Changing the environment to allow them more exercise space
- Introducing inclines and climbing areas
- Encouraging movement through energetic, engaging activities and play
- In some cases, introducing a companion may also be helpful for your pet
- Providing opportunities to combine nutrition and exercise with foraging by placing food in smaller amounts in different locations
- If possible outdoor exploration can encourage exercise while allowing your pet to forage for wild plants, ensure the area is checked carefully for potentially toxic plants
Energy Intake Reduction and Diet Correction
Your veterinarian will work closely with you to determine the most appropriate diet for your pet. In some cases, energy intake may need to be reduced, however, it is vital that a nutritionally complete diet that provides the correct levels vitamins and minerals is provided. Ideally, all dry foods will be removed from your pet’s diet. It is essential that any dietary changes take place gradually over a few weeks. New foods may be introduced individually and removed from the diet if diarrhea occurs. During the diet change, ensure you watch for signs of adverse reactions such as loss of appetite, diarrhea or altered behavior.
If your pet was given sugary foods these may be removed and replaced with good quality green foods, wild plants and high fibre foods such a timothy hay which may be beneficial when encouraging your pet to eat the new diet. Appetite stimulants such as dandelion can be beneficial however need to be used cautiously due to their laxative effects. Fresh, clean water should be provided for your pet at all times.
Recovery of Obesity in Rabbits
Your rabbit has a fair prognosis with good owner compliance. Your pet will need to be carefully monitored during this program; rapid weight loss can be detrimental and refusal to eat can lead to illnesses such as hepatic lipidosis and gastric stasis. Regular revisit appointments to monitor your pet’s weight and well-being will be essential during the process.