Malnutrition In Rabbits: Causes, Signs, Care & Prevention

Rabbit Malnutrition

Some pet owners face a problem with their rabbits regarding their weight; either their rabbit is obese or underweight. That is why one of the responsibilities you should take seriously is planning the rabbit’s diet.

Rabbits are known to be grass fodder or, in other words, herbivore animals. One reason for this is that hays and grass are rich in fiber that helps improve their digestive function. Unlike obesity, wherein rabbits tend to consume nourishment excessively, emaciated rabbits lack nutritional compounds in their body. 

There are several reasons why rabbit’s suddenly become malnourished. But the root cause is that your pet is not meeting the desired quality food they need. If you want to know everything about rabbit malnutrition, keep on scrolling.   

Malnutrition in Rabbits

Taking care of rabbits is harder than other pets because of how certain food reacts in their metabolism. One complication that you should keep an eye on is malnutrition in rabbits. According to the House Rabbit Society, rabbits lose weight due to decreased appetite. 

Food is an important source of energy and nutrition in rabbits. That is why your pet cannot survive long if they aren’t consuming nourishment because they will start feeling weak and dehydrated. 

To know if your rabbit is malnourished, you can check its body or weigh them regularly. Taking notes of the weight decrease and increase of your pet will help you track the effectiveness of their current diet.  A different breed of rabbit has a different ideal weight. You can ask your veterinarian about this to know the recommended weight for your pet.

But to guide you better, here is the table of Body Condition Score from the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund

Body ScoreBody ConditionBody Condition Description
1Rabbit is Emaciated/MalnourishedThe pelvis and ribs are very easily palpated and sharp.Ribs feel like a pocket full of rulers! Concave rump area.
2Rabbit is Lean/ UnderweightThe pelvis and ribs are easily palpated and feel sharp. The rump area is flat.
3Rabbit’s Normal WeightPelvis and ribs are easily palpated but have rounded edges. Ribs feel like a pocket full of pens! The rump area is flat.
4Rabbit is Overweight/ FatFirm palpation is required to feel the ribs. The rump is round to the touch.
5Rabbit is Obese.It is hard to palpate the ribs, or ribs cannot be felt. The rump area is convex.
Table Information Source:  Is your rabbit too fat? | Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF)

Importance of Weighing Rabbit

The House Rabbit stated that one of the best ways to track your pet’s weight is using a scale weight. You cannot simply assume the weight of an animal by just picking them up. Or by looking at their physical appearance. There is equipment available to show your pet’s accurate weight number.

In addition, this also helps veterinarians to give proper treatment. Remember that not all cases of malnourishment in rabbits are the same. It will still depend on the severity of the diagnosis. Sometimes there are things that you and the doctor need to consider, such as the rabbits’ age, weight, breed, and history. 

Some of the basic equipment that you can use to weigh rabbits are ordinary kitchen scales. But you need to consider that weighting rabbits is harder because there is a chance of them jumping and not staying still. If your rabbit has a playful personality, you can use an alternative scale with a hanging carrier to avoid jumping from one place to another. This will help you note the accurate weight of your pet. 

Just ensure to check the maximum weight number that the scale can handle. There is a measurement that does not exceed 5 kilograms. Hence, if your pet is bigger and heavier, use a scale that can extend to their weight ideal. 

Signs of Malnutrition in Rabbits

Loss of Appetite

One of the obvious signs of a malnourished rabbit is a loss of appetite. Most of the nourishment that the body of your rabbit needs comes from food. But, once they lose interest in eating, rabbits will also decrease their weight. 

Moreover, improper nutrition also contributes to your pet’s weight. You need to understand that not all food is suitable for your body. That is because some of the content and nutritional value will only disrupt their digestive function.

For example, sweet foods contain too much sugar, and it can contribute to obesity in rabbits. Starch and carbohydrates are also harmful to your pet because they cause pain in the abdomen. And if rabbits consume this compound, they will not eat because their digestion is weak. 

Weight Loss

Weight loss can occasionally happen in Rabbits. However, if you start to notice a drastic loss in their weight, then you should be alarmed by that. All of the fats and muscle build-up in your rabbit came from food. But with a lack of nutritional value, rabbits will become emaciated; hence, their body weight decreases. There are several things that you should consider why rabbits suddenly lose weight. Rabbits can get sick and lose appetite, infection, and stress. 

In some cases, rabbits become malnourished even after eating their regular meal. To ensure the proper diagnosis of your pet, you need to visit their Veterinarian doctor to know the root cause of a sudden weight loss in your rabbit. 

Changes in Physical Appearance

Another obvious sign in a malnourished rabbit is the changes in its physical appearance. Rabbits are usually fluffy and slightly fat, which is why many people find this animal cute. But if they start showing their pelvis and backbone, it can mean they are not at their ideal weight.

You can check your pet’s weight by looking at the bone structure at their back and the abdomen’s appearance. Compare the bone of your rabbit to the knuckles of your hand. If they appear like that, most likely, your pet is emaciated. Change their diet accordingly and ask for assistance from the vet for more suggestions and possible treatment. 

Less Fecal Pellets

Rabbit poop is formed by your pet’s food. It is the unwanted nutrients that are processed by the digestive system of rabbits. That is why you will notice that your rabbit is malnourished if it produces fewer fecal pellets. 

Lack of nutrition has several complications in rabbits’ bodies. For some animals, poop is just wasted materials. But for rabbits, fecal is an important part of their nourishment. Cecotropes are one of the types of poop that rabbits produce. 

You will notice that they eat this stool to gain additional nutrients they didn’t get the first time they ate it. Now, if your pet is not producing healthy edible poop, it can result in a more serious issue in their digestive system. 

Other signs of a Malnourished Rabbit

  • Rough fur and skin
  • Lethargy
  • Abdomen appearance is “cave in”
  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Dry nose and mouth
  • Grinding Teeth.

If you want to know more about the signs of a sick rabbit, click and read this article: Signs That Your Rabbit Is Sick

Being attentive to probable weight loss will help protect your pet against severe problems. When the rabbit refuses to take its food for at least 24 hours, ask for medical assistance immediately. Rabbits can’t fast, especially when they are injured or ill. 

Causes of Malnutrition in Rabbits

Lack of Nutrition

Lack of nutrition is the leading reason for weight loss in bunnies. It happens due to gastrointestinal, dental, cardiovascular, metabolic, and cancer-related diseases. That is why it is important to visit your vet because there are several reasons why rabbits start to exhibit behaviors of not eating their food. It is not recommended to self-diagnose them because some diseases are life-threatening for your pet. 

Many of those conditions include pain that makes it hard for a rabbit to eat. If not, these health issues involve the accumulation of toxins within the body, which affect vital organs, especially the brain. The accumulated toxins will make your pet not feel hungry or nauseous. Infectious diseases, particularly the ones associated with the upper respiratory system, make it hard for rabbits to smell foods that contribute to reduced appetite.

Moreover, the Veterinary Centers of America (VCA) says that a diet that consists of fresh veggies and greens rather than grass hay will be extremely dangerous for your pet. Because of their increased water content, greens are not high in calories. Continuously giving them will only result in unhealthy weight loss. Rabbits must have a well-balanced diet that consists of grass hay provided to them in limitless amounts. Inadequate water can also reduce a rabbit’s food intake.   

Parasite Infestation

Another reason rabbits suddenly become malnourished is a parasite infestation. There are known parasites that feed on and live on the surfaces of the digestive organs of rabbits. So even if your rabbit is eating their regular food, the parasite will get the nutrition first. 

Parasite infestation does not only affect your rabbit’s eating habits, but it will also cause severe pain in the abdomen. That is why rabbits tend to have diarrhea when they have parasites or worms inside their digestive system.   

If your rabbit does not receive their much-needed nutrition and starts having diarrhea, it will become extremely weak and dehydrated. It can be a life-threatening complication in rabbits in severe cases like this. That is why you avoid your pet from having parasites. You can do this by deworming them and consulting your pet’s veterinarian for possible additional medication.  

Stress Level

Stress levels in rabbits are also contributing factors to why they lose their appetite. And if rabbits lose their appetite, it can lead to malnutrition. According to some articles, rabbits are one of the pet animals that are prone to stress.  Your pet can become anxious due to the activity next to the feeding area, like barking dogs, active kids, and something else that produces loud noises. 

The mental health of rabbits is as important as their physical health. That is why doctors always remind rabbit owners to ensure an active lifestyle in rabbits. This will help them become fit. Rabbits can also release their pent-up energy to decrease the chance of obesity in their body. 

Avoid caging your rabbit their whole life because it can also contribute to their stress level. Therefore, a happy rabbit also means a healthy lifestyle for your pet. 

Read More: Definitive Guide to Your Rabbit’s Health

Taking Care of Malnutrition in Rabbits

When rabbits are malnourished, veterinarians sometimes suggest a home care plan. The doctors want to reduce your pet’s stress as much as possible. Being in the safe space of your rabbit will help them motivate and bring back their appetite to eat again. 

In emaciated animals, proper diet is crucial because this is where they get strength and nourishment. Some animal owners mistake emaciation as a lack of food only. This is why their only solution is to increase the food. But this is wrong; an immediate increase in food will only disrupt and cause more risk in the animal’s digestive system.    

That is why there are better ideas than increasing the number of processed pellets in the diet for underweight rabbits. It is also important to determine the exact cause of malnutrition. In most cases, underweight rabbits benefit from the gradual increase in their consumption of fiber-rich foods, particularly grass hay. The leafy greens and vegetables that rabbits eat need to decrease while treating them. That is because they can lead to weight loss, not weight gain.  

Aside from the underlying health problems, it is also necessary to search for the factors contributing to your rabbits’ eating behavior. For instance, when an underweight rabbit eats slowly, it is important to provide the animal with uninterrupted feeding from other animals.

However, the treatment can depend on the severity of malnutrition. There are instances where a rabbit needs to be checked in the clinic because of critical care. Sometimes when they are severely dehydrated and malnourished, doctors put an IV fluid to support the nourishment that the rabbit needs.    

Preventing Malnutrition in Rabbits

Provide Nutritional Foods

One of the keys to preventing malnutrition is giving your pet a well-balanced and healthy diet. According to VCA, hays and pellets should make up most of the rabbit’s diet. These foods are widely available, so you should always remember to include them in the daily food intake of your pet. 

Moreover, it is also recommended to add different staple food to their bowl to offer a variety of tastes. For example, giving them fruit occasions each week. Or add a piece of vegetable along their hays or pellets. But remember, when feeding new food to you, the proper transition is ideal so that the rabbit can get used to the new nourishment. 

To learn more about Rabbit Food, read this article: The Definitive Guide To What Foods Rabbits Can & Cannot Eat

Provide Active Lifestyle

Daily exercise will help your rabbit prevent malnutrition. Some studies show captivating animals for a long time can lead to anxiety and stress on the captive pet. That is because they feel isolated in their cage. 

When taking care of rabbits, you should know that they are friendly animals, so they would love to play with you now and then. This will also help your pet release the pent-up energy in its body. Making your rabbit happy is important so they will have a good appetite whenever they eat their food.  

Key Takeaways

  • Malnutrition in rabbits is serious because it can lead to several complications in your pet. That is why you need to check for possible signs of malnutrition in rabbits to provide early treatment immediately. 
  • House Rabbit Society stated that one of the leading causes of malnutrition is rabbits’ lack of appetite.
  • Food is an important source of nutrients and energy in rabbits.
  • Tracking the changes in your pet’s weight is important. You will know if they are gaming or losing weight. That way, you have an idea if your pet’s lifestyle suits them. 
  • Here are the signs of malnutrition in rabbits; loss of appetite, drastic weight loss, changes in physical appearance, and fewer fecal pellets. 
  • A malnourished rabbit has a physical appearance of a thin body. You can also see the bones in their body with dry and rough skin. 
  • Lack of Nutrition leads to several complications in rabbits, including malnutrition. Feeding your pet fiber-rich food is important to acquire their body’s daily nourishment. 
  • Taking care of a malnourished rabbit is commonly done through supportive care. Such as providing a balanced meal and ensuring that they get proper nourishment. 
  • Avoid an immediate increase of food in a malnourished rabbit because it will only risk their health. Although their body lacks nutrition, it is important to re-introduce them to proper feeding activity. That way, it will develop into a routine activity for the pet. 
  • To prevent your pet from getting malnourished, ensure that they receive nutritional foods and daily exercise. This will help your rabbit to develop a fit and healthy body. Away from diseases and losing their appetite.

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