How To Keep Your Rabbit From Overeating


keep your rabbit from overeating

Munch munch munch. That’s what rabbits do all day long. They’ll gobble up their food and then keep looking at you and begging for more. No matter how much they eat, rabbits always seem to be ready to eat some more. So what can you do to keep you rabbit on a healthy diet and prevent them from overeating?

How do you keep a rabbit from overeating? To keep your rabbit from overeating, you will need to limit the amount of dry pellets and treats you give your rabbit. It can also be helpful to use some toys to slow down their munching. Do not limit the amount of hay you give your rabbit. This is important for their digestion to run smoothly.

Overeating can quickly lead to obesity in rabbits, which is a very dangerous condition. Since rabbits have such a sensitive digestive system, they run the risk of developing complications in their gut that will require medical intervention. If you believe your rabbit is eating too much and is at risk of becoming obese, you will need to make some changes to their diet and lifestyle to help them stay healthy.


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Why do rabbits overeat?

Like all other animals (humans included), rabbits will eat more if there are resources available. It’s a normal instinct to eat more when there is food in abundance so that they will be prepared for scarcity. Rabbits also have a unique digestive system that requires them to munch on food all day long.

Rabbits are designed to constantly eat

The rabbit digestive system is constantly moving and requires that a rabbit be munching consistently throughout the day. For this reason, rabbits will have the urge to eat very frequently. If the rabbit has a healthy diet, then they will have hay available all the time to munch on for their digestive needs. It is nearly impossible for a rabbit to eat too much hay.

However if a rabbit has other foods that are easier to eat available, they will typically forgo the hay in favor of these other foods. So when a rabbit is given too many pellets or sugary treats, they will end up overeating them instead of munching on hay.

Is your rabbit actually eating too much?

Before you get too concerned about your rabbit who munches all day long, you should figure out if they really are overeating, or if they are munching the way bunnies should. When you are worried because your rabbit seems to be eating all day long, first look at what they are eating. 

If your rabbit is munching on hay all day, then they probably are not overeating. Tough, high fiber foods, like hay, help keep your rabbit digestive system running smoothly. It’s good for your rabbit to be munching on hay constantly throughout the day. In fact, you want to see your rabbit eating like this. It’s a good sign of a healthy rabbit.


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How to tell if your rabbit is overweight

If you’re still worried that your rabbit seems to be eating too much, you can check to see if they are overweight. The main danger of eating too much is weight gain and the multitude of health issues that come with it

If your rabbit is severely overweight, you’ll probably be able to tell just by looking at them. However if it’s not so obvious, you can check just by feeling your rabbit.

Feel along their ribs, hips and spine. If you can touch these bones easily without meeting resistance from a thick layer of fat, then your rabbit is a healthy weight. If it’s difficult or impossible to find these bones under your rabbit’s fat, then you will need to make some adjustments to your rabbit’s diet.

The most common causes of rabbit overeating (and their solutions)

There are so many reasons a rabbit might overeat. Sometimes it’s simply a constant access to food. If they lived with other rabbits, they may have learned that when they don’t eat their food all at once, it will disappear. You will need to watch your rabbits behavior to figure out why they are eating too much so you can make the appropriate changes to their diet and lifestyle.

Rabbits overeat because they have too many pellets

Adult rabbits should not have unlimited pellets as part of their diet. Pellets are softer and easier for rabbits to munch on. When given the choice between hay and pellets, most rabbits will choose the pellets. Inevitably, if they have a big bowl full of pellets sitting around all day, the rabbit will end up overindulging on them, instead of the hay.

Solution

To solve this, the only solution is to reduce the amount of pellets you give your rabbit on a daily basis. Rabbits should only be given about 1 Tablespoon of pellets per pound of body weight. Instead of all those pellets, you’ll want to make sure you give your rabbit unlimited grass based hay (such as timothy hay), since this is something they cannot eat too much of.

Weight of rabbitAmount of pellets daily
2 lbs2 Tbsp
3 lbs3 Tbsp
4 lbs¼ cup
5 lbs1 Tbsp + ¼ cup
6 lbs2 Tbsp + ¼ cup
7 lbs3 Tbsp + ¼ cup
8 lbs½ cup
9 lbs1 Tbsp + ½ cup
10 lbs2 Tbsp + ½ cup

Rabbits overeat because they eat too quickly

Sometimes rabbits will gobble food down too quickly and look at you expecting more. They’ll make you believe you didn’t give them enough. Or if you have multiple rabbits, one of them takes the lion’s share as they speed eat through their breakfast.

Solution

There are two possible solutions for this speed eating behavior:

  1. Give your rabbits their pellets in a treat dispenser toy. This will force them to slow down their eating since your rabbit will need to figure out how to get the food out of the toy.
  2. Separate your rabbits at meal times. Sometimes the only solution to a rabbit who eats their partners food is to feed them separately. You can consider giving the fast eating rabbit a treat dispenser toy to slow them down too.
treat dispenser ball
You can give your rabbit their daily pellets in a treat dispenser. This will encourage them to move around and forage for their food, to get a little more exercise.

Rabbits overeat because they’re bored

When rabbits are kept in a cage or enclosure that’s too small for them, they are more likely to overeat because they are bored. Kept in these conditions, rabbits have little to do except eat and sleep all day long. This overeat and sleep routine will inevitably lead to weight gain and obesity, putting the rabbit at risk for many serious health problems.

Solution

The first thing you can do to keep your rabbit from munching on pellets because they’re bored, is to make sure they have access to unlimited hay instead. Then you need to make some changes to your rabbit’s habitat.

Make sure they have a variety of toys to play with and chew on. You also want to increase the amount of space that your rabbit has access to. Consider getting a rabbit ex-pen and attaching it to the outside of your rabbit’s cage to increase their space.

how to connect a playpen to a cage
If your cage is too small, attach a rabbit playpen to give your rabbit more space.

Rabbits overeat because they have a sweet tooth

Rabbits are also known to absolutely love sweet snacks.Like a child going for the cookies, your rabbit will beg for treats any chance they get. They would munch on sweet fruit and vegetables all day long if they could because these sweet treats are just so yummy. 

Unfortunately, rabbits can very quickly overeat when they have access to these sugary foods. These treats can wreak havoc on a rabbit’s digestive system if they eat too much of them.

Solution

The only solution for rabbits with a sweet tooth is to limit the amount of treats you give them. I know it can be difficult to deny a rabbit when they beg for a treat, but it’s for their own good. You want to give your rabbit less than 1-2 Tablespoons of treats in a day.

Health problems associated with overeating

Overeating can cause some serious health complications in rabbits. So much of a rabbit’s health depend on their digestion working properly, and overeating is a sign of unhealthy eating habits. Eating too many bad foods will ultimately cut down on hay consumption, which is the most important part of your rabbit’s diet.

Obesity

Obesity is a very likely possibility for rabbits who consistently overeat. Excess weight is very dangerous for rabbits because it can quickly lead to any number of serious health conditions. 

Obese rabbits are at a higher risk for: 

  • Heart disease
  • Poopy butt and fly strike
  • Sore hocks
  • Urine scalding
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Arthritis
  • Respiratory illnesses
  • Bladder sludge and stones

GI Stasis

Gastrointestinal (GI) Stasis is a serious condition that occurs when a rabbit’s digestion slows down or stops completely. At this stage rabbits can no longer eat or poop. If they don’t receive help immediately, this can quickly become a deadly condition.

While GI Stasis has many possible causes, one of the most common is an unhealthy diet. When a rabbit eats too many pellets or sugary treats instead of hay, it can cause their gut to become unbalanced and slow down over time.

Dental Problems

Hay is also very important to keep rabbit teeth trim and healthy. Rabbit teeth continuously grow, like fingernails, and they need to chew on objects and food to keep their teeth healthy. The rough texture of hay makes it the ideal food for keeping rabbit teeth from getting too long. A rabbit who overeats pellets and other treats will usually not be eating enough hay. This will put them at a greater risk of developing overgrown teeth. 

Just like with other animals, too many sugary treats can also cause tooth decay over time. So it’s best to keep treats to a minimum, and instead encourage your rabbit to munch on hay all day.

Graph: What to feed your rabbit? 80% hay, 15% leafy greens, 4% pellets, 1% treats

Feed a healthy and balanced rabbit diet

The best way to prevent a rabbit from overeating is to make sure they have a healthy and balanced diet. If a rabbit is provided with mostly grass-based hay, there is little worry that they will eat too much or have an unbalanced gut.

What is a healthy rabbit diet?

  1. Hay: A rabbit should have unlimited grass-based hay available. This should be mostly Timothy hay, so keep the Alfalfa hay for only baby bunnies who are younger than 6 months old.
  2. Leafy greens: Leafy greens such as parsley, basil, carrot tops, leafy lettuces, kale, etc. should be given to your rabbit daily. About 1-2 cups of these leafy greens is a good amount, and it’s best to offer a few different varieties every day.
  3. Pellets: Only a small amount of pellets is necessary for a rabbit’s diet. Depending on their size, you want to limit them to about ¼ to ½ a cup of pellets per day. And make sure to give them the plain brown pellets, and not the kind with all the colorful fruity bits added in.
  4. Treats? You should stick to pieces of fresh or dried fruits and vegetables as treats for rabbits. They should only be given treats in small amounts, about 1-2 tablespoons per day.

Sources:

  1. “Helpful Information on Caring For Your Rabbit.” House Rabbit Society. http://www.allearssac.org/pdf/Overview.pdf.
  2. “The Six Most Common Mistakes When Feeding Rabbits.” Inner South Veterinary Centre. https://www.innersouthvets.com.au/the-six-most-common-mistakes-when-feeding-rabbits.

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Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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