Seeing your rabbit underweight is concerning. But how do you know for sure they are too thin, and how do you go about safely increasing their weight – should they need to do so? Here is the recommended and vet-approved approach to take and considerations to be aware of throughout the process.
So, how do you get a rabbit to gain weight? After consulting with your veterinarian, there are several steps you can take to help your rabbit gain weight. First, make sure your rabbit is kept at sufficiently warm temperatures. Then consider small, slow changes to your rabbit’s diet, such as introducing Alfalfa hay, pellet food designed for weight gain, and providing a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables to tempt your rabbit into eating.
Ultimately, this is all about changing the balance of energy expenditure.
You need to ensure they are not burning through too much energy and are taking in a sufficient amount of it.
In fact, in order for your rabbit to gain weight, you need to tip the balance a bit.
They need to be in a safe surplus. At least for a period of time.
That doesn’t mean stopping their activity altogether.
Besides, few things are more joyful than watching a happy rabbit hop with excitement around a play yard or enclosure.
But, it does mean you need to consider optimizing their environment to ensure they are not burning through a lot of unnecessary energy keeping warming.
From there, it’s largely onto the diet.
But before you begin, let’s take a closer look at evaluating a rabbit’s weight before turning to what can be safely done to help your rabbit gain and maintain its weight.
How Do I Know If My Rabbit Is Too Skinny?
The easiest way to check if your rabbit is too skinny is to feel along your rabbit’s back and sides gently with your hands. If, as you pet your rabbit, you can easily feel your rabbit’s backbone or your rabbit’s back feels sharp and pointed under your fingers, your rabbit is likely too skinny.
Another way to know if your rabbit is too thin is to weigh your rabbit on a scale on a regular basis.
This will help you to know the exact weight of your rabbit and allow you to track any weight loss or weight gain accurately over time.
Of course, weighing your rabbit is a useful approach when comparing back to the breed average.
You can see what kind of weight each breed should be when fully grown. I have a few size guides you may be interested in below:
If you have another breed, then research to find out the expected weight – just be sure it’s for a full-grown adult of the appropriate sex!
Next, a trip to your veterinarian is a third way to find out if your rabbit needs to gain weight.
Your veterinarian can take into consideration the breed, age, and overall condition of your rabbit when determining a healthy weight range for your pet.
They will be able to weigh your rabbit for you and give you guidance on your rabbit’s weight needs.
It can be tempting to look at a rabbit and try to guess if it is too thin.
This method may work for someone with an eye trained in looking at rabbits but isn’t the most reliable.
As a survival mechanism, rabbits do not want to appear weak or thin as it may draw the attention of wild predators.
Rabbits also have a fluffy covering of furn that can hide many visual signs of thinness and weight loss.
If you do want to get a visual idea about whether your rabbit is too thin, you should look at them from above their bodies.
A healthy rabbit has a gently sloping back, slightly wider hips and back legs than the front, and is a smooth, even shape around the outside.
An underweight rabbit may have a noticeable dip or tuck in along its middle where fat deposits have been used up.
Its legs and back end may also be narrow or pointy, which indicates fat and muscle loss.
How Can I Stimulate My Rabbit’s Appetite?
Stimulating your rabbit’s appetite has a lot to do with your rabbit’s regular environment. A rabbit that feels stressed or insecure may struggle to maintain an interest in eating. A rabbit that does not have a steady supply of food throughout the day may also end up with a lower appetite. Finally, keeping fresh water available for your rabbit is crucial to supporting their desire to eat.
If your rabbit’s appetite needs a boost, take time to inspect their living arrangement.
It should be fairly free of drafts or strongly fluctuating temperatures.
Rabbits like to stay warm but not hot and can become stressed if the temperature in their enclosure makes regular large changes.
You will also want to make sure that your rabbit has plenty of space designated for sleeping, going to the bathroom, and eating.
Just like people don’t enjoy eating next to a toilet, neither do most rabbits.
Also, a rabbit that is well-rested because it has been able to sleep in a quiet, dark environment is likely to have a more well-rounded appetite.
If your rabbit’s enclosure seems cramped, you may want to consider a larger hutch or pen for your rabbit.
When your rabbit has room to meet all of its needs safely, it will often eat more.
Rabbits do not eat on the same schedule as people.
Where we tend to go for three meals a day, rabbits are designed to eat in regular sequences throughout the course of the day.
If you keep simple foods such as timothy hay and pellet feed available for your rabbit at all times, it may eat more overall.
You can also give your rabbit leafy greens and other fresh foods a few times a day, but they will need to be cleaned out regularly to prevent rotting.
It may seem like common sense, but having clear, clean water available at all times will help your rabbit to keep up an appetite.
Just like it is hard to eat a big meal without any beverages, the same is true for rabbits.
A well-hydrated rabbit is a happy and hungry rabbit.
What To Feed A Rabbit To Help It Gain Weight?
Any changes to your rabbit’s diet should be made under the care and advice of a certified veterinarian. After your veterinarian agrees your rabbit needs to gain weight, they may suggest several foods to help with weight gain. Some foods that are great for weight gain include green alfalfa hay, a higher protein pellet food, rolled oat porridge, and additional fresh fruits and vegetables.
Let us now explore each one a little closer:
Consider Offering Alfalfa Hay
Many rabbits are given Timothy hay or other grass hay as part of their diet.
Grass hay is great for helping a rabbit maintain weight, but an Alfalfa based hay is much higher in protein and overall calorie count.
If your rabbit has lost weight simply due to needing to eat more calories, adding Alfalfa hay to their diet can certainly help.
Consider Changing The Pelleted Feed
Many rabbit owners choose a balanced pellet feed for daily rabbit care.
This is a great option if you want to get a wide variety of nutrients into your rabbit’s diet with ease.
If your rabbit needs to gain weight, your veterinarian may recommend using a pellet feed that is targeted for young growing rabbits or rabbits that are pregnant.
These feeds will be higher in calories, protein, and other nutrients than pellets made for the maintenance of a rabbit that is already at a healthy weight.
Just make sure you do not offer any foods not designed for rabbits, like hamster food, guinea pig food, or chicken feed.
That’s not an effective nor appropriate solution.
At Home Treats
One at-home option is to use old-fashioned rolled oats and mix them with a small amount of water to make a porridge.
This is a great option for picky rabbits who turn their nose up at other foods because this food is the rabbit equivalent of a yummy dessert!
It should only be served in small portions in addition to an already balanced diet.
Adding More Fruits And Vegetables
Finally, you can support your rabbit in enjoying meals by adding fruits and vegetables that it looks forward to eating.
These may not pack the protein punch of alfalfa hay or pellets, but if they encourage eating in a reluctant rabbit, they can be a great addition to their diet.
Some suggestions that rabbits love are apples, bell pepper strips, carrots, and strawberry tops!
Please remember that any changes to your rabbit’s diet should be made gradually over time to avoid upsetting their stomachs and making them feel ill.
Consulting a veterinarian is also highly recommended before making major changes to your rabbit’s daily food options.
Why Won’t My Rabbit Gain Weight?
Rabbits might struggle to gain weight for a variety of reasons. Many reasons a rabbit suddenly loses or struggles to gain weight are related to underlying health conditions such as illnesses or injuries. A rabbit that is kept in a very cold environment may struggle with weight gain. Also, a rabbit that is reaching an advanced age may have a harder time gaining and maintaining weight than its younger counterparts.
A rabbit that doesn’t feel well isn’t likely to eat well, and its weight may struggle.
Many health conditions that can only be diagnosed by veterinary testing can cause a rabbit to lose weight.
One common reason for a rabbit not to gain weight is the presence of parasites.
If your rabbit has ingested worms or other parasites, they can steal nutrients your rabbit takes in from their food before their digestive system fully absorbs them for your rabbit.
Treatment to rid the rabbit of parasites paired with healthy food options can help.
Another reason your rabbit may not gain weight is if it is being kept in a notably cold environment.
When a rabbit is cold, it must shiver and work harder to maintain a comfortable body temperature.
This extra work means your rabbit burns more calories and cannot gain weight as easily.
Stress and Anxiety
Rabbits that are stressed out will not gain weight as well as a rabbit kept in a safe and comfortable environment.
Also, if your rabbit lives with a companion, you will need to make sure that its friend is not hogging more than its share of the food!
Just like people, as rabbits grow older, their bodies begin to change.
An older rabbit may not maintain weight as well as it did when it was younger.
You may notice that some of the rabbit’s well-rounded stores of fat become thinner, and your rabbit has slight, slow weight loss.
If your rabbit has maintained a healthy weight for many years and now is losing or struggling to gain needed weight, make sure to touch base with your veterinarian.
How Much Weight Can A Rabbit Gain In A Week?
The amount your rabbit can gain in a week depends a bit on age. Young rabbits with otherwise healthy histories can safely gain up to 12 ounces in a week, though 8-10 ounces would be more common. Adult rabbits or rabbits that have struggled with their health will gain more slowly and can be expected to safely gain around 4 ounces per week.
Even though a rabbit’s weight loss can seem sudden, the process of gaining weight is best done in a slower and steady manner.
Trying to rush weight back onto your rabbit can cause more health problems than it solves.
Instead, work with your veterinarian to come up with a goal weight for your rabbit and then plan to spend several weeks reaching that weight.
It can be scary to be petting your rabbit one day and realize that perhaps they aren’t at the weight they should be.
It can also be hard to watch your rabbit struggle with maintaining its weight after an illness or other life event.
With the support of your veterinarian, a check-in on your rabbit’s living environment, and some careful tweaks to their feeding plan, you can often help your rabbit get back to a healthy and happy weight.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.