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.

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.

Most Common Obese Exotic Pets: No. 2 Hedgehogs

Species of all kinds suffer from being fat, and as an exotic animal veterinarian, I constantly tell my patients’ owners to increase their pets’ exercise and limit their junk food consumption. This week, we’re taking a look at the top five species I treat for obesity in an effort to get everyone off to a healthier start in the New Year.

No. 2 on my list for the battle of bulge are hedgehogs!

Although hedgehogs are insectivores and are not at all related to the pigs we commonly call hogs that eat everything in sight, many captive hedgehogs actually behave like little piggies and eat until they become obese. Here’s how these added pounds affect our prickly little friends.

Hefty Isn’t Helpful If You’re a Hedgehog

These little prickly balls of energy generally love to run all night on exercise wheels. But they can become so obese if they are fed inappropriate, high-fat foods (such as excess amounts of carbohydrate- and fat-enriched pellets) that they become too big to fit into their wheels and too short of breath to run. Well-meaning owners often leave heaping bowls of pelleted food in their hedgehogs’ cages and confine them to small spaces where they have little opportunity to move around. Hedgehogs are also well known for their acrobatic ability of being able to contract their back muscles to roll up tightly into a ball, so that they can hide and protect themselves from predators. However, just as overweight people often have difficulty accomplishing certain physical activities because of their added weight, so do hedgehogs. Captive hedgehogs may get so fat, they are no longer able to perform the signature hedgehog move of curling up into a tight little ball. They also tend to develop arthritis in their short, stumpy legs that must support overly heavy bodies.

Hedgehog owners can help prevent weight gain in their pets by feeding these nocturnal insectivores a balanced diet of a limited amount of pellets and insects, such as mealworms and crickets. Hedgehogs should also be taken out of their cages daily to run around the floor and encouraged to run actively in their wheels late at night. Once a hedgehog is obese, it can be hard to get him to lose weight. So prevention of obesity is a much better option for these adorable pets. If your prickly friend is already a bit porky, just remember to always consult with your veterinarian first before starting a diet or exercise program to make sure you know how to help your pet lose weight safely.