Pet rabbits are prone to being overweight due to their relative sedentary life as domestic pets, compared to their life in the wild. Being overweight puts pressure on the rabbit's heart and joints and may dramatically reduce the pet's lifespan. Fat rabbits are often unable to reach behind and eat their caecotrophs (soft droppings). This can result in the caecotrophs sticking to the skin around the anus, which may lead to Flystrike, a nasty condition which results in maggots eating away at the flesh.
Animals that spend most of their time in small hutches are most at risk. Rabbits need around four hours of exercise daily, ideally in a large, secure exercise run or garden. Aside from keeping them fit, regular exercise also reduces boredom, known to be a big factor in the development of behavioural problems.
Whilst rabbits can range in size and shape dramatically, a healthy rabbit should appear slightly pear shaped, when viewed from above. Overweight rabbits often resemble an apple with a head. If a vet believes a rabbit to be overweight, they may suggest small adjustments to its diet, such as the inclusion of more green stuffs or recommend a specially formulated low calorie food.
Rabbits should be weighed regularly to make sure they are at their target weight, you can even body condition score your rabbit so you can check the weight at home. The chart from the PFMA Body Condition score chart can be used as an indication
Obesity, like so many rabbit disorders, is the result of poor diet management often due to insufficient fibre and selective feeding of muesli or over feeding treats. Animals are often commonly fed on human foods such as breakfast cereals or chocolate drops, together with garden waste such as lawn mower cuttings. These incorrect foods not only result in malnutrition, but they have the potential to harm or even kill.
Good clean, sweet smelling hay or grass should form the basis of all rabbits' diets. Aside from containing many vital nutrients, nibbling hay reduces boredom and behavioural problems and helps maintain good dental health. Forage should be fed in plentiful amounts and should be fresh every day.
To supplement the fibre gained from hay and grass, rabbits should be fed a wholesome balanced diet which is high in fibre, low in starch and includes all the vitamins and minerals they require with rabbit nuggets. The benefit of feeding nuggets over a muesli type of food is that the rabbit can't pick out the bits it likes and leave the rest (known as selective feeding), therefore ensuring that it gets a balanced diet in every mouthful.
Many owners give their rabbits sugary, starchy treats such as chocolate drops, however a much healthier option is to feed pets products from the Excel Snacks range. These, together with fresh greens and a variety of herbs in moderation, will add a healthy variety to a rabbit's diet.
Rabbits must have access to fresh, clean water at all times. Bottles are easier to keep clean, especially in the hutch environment, but some rabbits prefer water bowls. Bottles with a ball-bearing in the nozzle drip less, but you must make sure the bottle doesn't jam and prevent the rabbit from drinking.