Most Common Obese Exotic Pets: No. 5 Turtles

Which species of exotic pets tend to pack on the pounds? This week, we’re looking at the top five species I treat for obesity. So far we’ve covered parrots, hedgehogs, rabbits and rats.

What’s No. 5 on my list of obesity-prone pets? Turtles!

When turtles want to hide, they pull their heads and limbs into their shells and look effectively like paperweights. Yet overweight turtles may get locked out of their shell homes. This is because their legs and necks have so much fat on them that they get stuck outside.

Tubby Isn’t Terrific

If you’re not sure whether you’ve even seen a fat turtle, it’s likely you haven’t. When you see one, you won’t forget it. It looks like a typical turtle but with an upper shell (the carapace) and a lower shell (the plastron) that look like they are a few sizes too small. Fat bulges out from their armpits and in front of their back legs. Sometimes their necks are so fat that they can’t pull their heads back into their shells. Excessively obese turtles may not even be able to bear weight on their legs on land and sit beached, like paperweights, until they are back in the water and buoyant. Even in water, their mobility is limited. Turtles typically become fat living in small tanks with little room to swim and by consuming excessive amounts of high-starch pellets that float at the top of their tanks until they have eaten them all.

Turtle owners can help prevent obesity by giving their pets lots of both vertical and horizontal space in which to swim and dive and by offering them limited quantities of high-quality pellets with some vegetables. Turtles have a high requirement for vitamin A in their diets, so feeding them shredded vitamin A-enriched foods, such as carrots, peppers and sweet potatoes, is a great way to encourage weight loss while providing good nutrition. Turtles also can be prompted to exercise by feeding them live fish, such as goldfish and guppies, which they have to catch to consume. They will enjoy the hunt and relish the food reward. Just remember to consult with your veterinarian first before starting any diet or exercise program with your turtle to make sure you know how to help your pet lose weight safely.

Just like people, pets love food, and just as in people, too much food can lead to obesity and associated health issues, even for exotic pets. Our animal friends should enjoy their meals as we do, but we need to feed them as we should feed ourselves: everything in moderation. If we live by this rule, our exotic pets should enjoy a happier and healthier New Year!

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Most Common Obese Exotic Pets: No. 3 Rabbits

Which species of exotic pets tend to pack on the pounds? This week, we’re looking at the top five species I treat for obesity.

No. 3 on my list of obesity-prone pets are bunnies!

Dangle a carrot in front of a rabbit, and that bunny should hop. But if he is overweight, as are many of the pet rabbits I see in my practice, then he might not be able to. Just as in people, obesity is a large problem among captive rabbits who eat too much and exercise too little.

A Beefy Bunny Isn’t Best

When most people think of a rabbit, the image of a lean, muscular animal able to leap and jump high is what many people conjure up. For many pet rabbits, however, the reality is very different. Too many pet bunnies are housed in cages barely big enough to turn around in, and often they come out of their cages for only a few minutes a day. Although these animals should be offered a predominantly high-fiber diet in the form of unlimited amounts of hay with some greens, too many are given ad-lib, high-carbohydrate pellets with only small amounts of hay. Overweight rabbits are prone to health problems, like other obese animals, but particularly to the development of hepatic lipidosis, a disease in which excess fat is deposited in the liver where it interferes with liver function and may even cause death. Fat bunnies also commonly develop “sore hock,” or ulcers on the bottoms of their feet, from carrying excess weight. High carbohydrate and fat ingestion by bunnies can also lead to gastrointestinal (GI) upset and potentially to life-threatening problems.

To prevent weight gain, the rule of thumb is no more than a quarter cup of pellets per four to five pounds of bunny per day. Also, like all other pets, rabbits need out-of-cage time daily to exercise and should be encouraged to climb up ramps and hop onto different levels in their cages to help strengthen their muscles. But remember, before starting any diet or exercise plan with your bunny, be sure to consult with your veterinarian first to make sure you know how to help your pet lose weight safely. For example, some long-haired bunnies may look big, but in fact might be all hair and no fat. Your veterinarian can help you determine whether your bunny is at a good weight or not.

Tomorrow: rotund rodents!

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Most Common Obese Exotic Pets: No. 4 Rats

Which species of exotic pets tend to pack on the pounds? This week, we’re looking at the top five species I treat for obesity.

No. 4 on my list of obesity-prone pets are rats!

Rats are known for their ability to squeeze through small spaces and get into everything. It’s amazing the narrow cracks and crevices that lithe little rats manage to get through. Yet, many pet rats sadly can’t accomplish this trick, because they are overweight.

Rotund Rodents Aren’t Right

It’s no surprise that rats eat everything that’s not nailed down. Bread, crackers, chips, meat, vegetables and sweets — no intelligent rat turns down any of these yummy treats. That’s why wild rats tend to congregate around dumpsters and trash bins nibbling on anything they can get their little paws on. Pet rats are no different. Most pet rats will eat anything their owners offer them, and since they are omnivores, consuming both meat and vegetable matter, owners tend to offer them a little bit of everything. The problem is that a little bit of everything can eventually add up to a lot of weight gain, particularly in pet rats confined to cages for many hours a day who have nothing better to do than nosh. Fat rats can develop many of the same cardiac and musculoskeletal problems that other obese animals and people can develop but are particularly prone to the formation of lipomas, which are fat deposits under the skin that can actually become as large as the rats and can interfere with walking and moving due to their size and weight. Some lipomas become ulcerated and bleed from friction with the ground and actually must be removed surgically.

Savvy rat owners can help prevent obesity by feeding a limited quantity of commercially available, nutritionally balanced rat pellets supplemented with small amounts of vegetables and fruit, and also by having rats work for some of their food. Rats are incredibly smart and love to run through mazes and solve puzzles. Food offered in the form of a reward at the end of a maze or at the top of a multilevel cage encourages rats to get exercise to obtain their meals and can help limit weight gain in predominantly sedentary rodents. Plus, most rats really enjoy the mental stimulation of having to hunt and search for food. Small rodents like rats have very high metabolisms, so getting them to burn calories through exercise is a great way to encourage weight loss. Just remember to consult with your veterinarian before starting any diet or exercise program with your rat to make sure you know how to help your pet lose weight safely.

Tomorrow: tubby turtles!

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