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OBESITY IN RABBITS

If your pet has lost his svelte figure, he's not alone. Obesity, or excessive body fat accumulation, is one of the most common nutritional diseases of pets.

Your veterinarian should be able to determine your pet's optimal weight. The rule of thumb: your rabbit shouldn't have a bulging chest and big belly; you shouldn't clearly see your pet's ribs, but you should feel them under a slight covering of fat.

Causes

Weight gain isn't just a people problem: Too much food, improper diet and too little exercise equals unwanted pounds for your four-legged friend as well. Most pets gain weight slowly - like we do - until one day you notice that your pet looks a little broad in the beam.

Simply dishing out too much chow at mealtime - especially pellets - and not enough exercise is usually the problem. People snacks (such as cookies, chips, and crackers) also contribute to a portly pet. The result: your rabbit may develop obesity-related health problems.

When the musculo-skeletal system bears excessive weight day in and day out, joint and locomotion problems can develop, including arthritis, spinal injury or foot inflammation. Obese rabbits may stop grooming, especially the area around the anus and the scent glands, and they may experience a sluggish, unhealthy digestive tract.

Obesity also leads to respiratory and heart disease and skin problems. The bottom line: obesity shortens the duration and quality of your pet's life.

What You Can Do at Home

If your rabbit's overweight, feed him fewer pellets and treats or cut them out of his diet altogether. Some rabbits do better on diets consisting only of hay, vegetables, and occasional fruits.

Providing plenty of exercise and toys will help your pet drop those unwanted pounds. Try games like hide and seek, toy pull or give him toys like cardboard paper towel rolls, newspapers or large cardboard tubes for tunnels. It's important to let your rabbit initiate any play with you and to not try chase games as that could frighten him.

Extra fat traps secretions and makes it harder for your plump pet to groom, so he needs your help to keep his movie-star looks. Brush him daily, and gently clean the anal area once a week with a moist cotton swab to remove waxy buildup from his scent glands.

If your pet's developed a paunch, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian - your bunny needs professional help to win the battle of the bulge.

What Your Veterinarian May Do

Your veterinarian will consider your pet's history and perform a thorough physical exam, especially if your rabbit hasn't been to the vet in quite awhile. The doctor may recommend blood tests and radiographs to detect underlying medical problems. Some conditions need immediate treatment, but others may require a long-term investment of time and care.

If your doctor rules out medical problems, she might recommend a weight-reducing diet and offer other weight-loss tips. Your rabbit may need monthly weigh-ins to track his progress.

Hang in there: weight loss can be as tough for pets as it is for people, but the health benefits far outweigh the challenge.