A few days later we began the new diet. Some of you may remember Maia’s dietary antics from “Starch Raving Mad”. I was sad at the prospect of ending our breakfast bagel ritual, and vowed to keep the sense of ritual while transitioning to new foods. We still eat together, but she has vegetables while I have breads. Maia did not like this new diet one bit, and wasted no time in telling me. The first few days she was constantly underfoot, clinging to me, following me from room to room. She’d look at me with those mournful brown eyes, and pangs of guilt shot through me. I even thought I saw her looking rail tin, but knew it was just that illusion that rabbits can conjure up. After she emptied her weekly alfalfa quota, she broke into the supply closet and shredded open a bag for herself. The houseplants suddenly looked quite appetizing, and she scaled furniture to get to them.
The day I went grocery shopping she sat in the doorway of the kitchen watching me wash and put away the vegetables. Her eyes locked on my hands, and she’d dive into the crisper as I filled it. I knew she wasn’t hungry because she’d just eaten. Rabbits are such creatures of habit. At night we’d lay together snuggling and she’d chew on my clothes, my hair, the bed sheets, anything. It was like living with a teenage rabbit again. I tried to put myself in her place, and gave her extra petting and attention to help her through the transition. As time went on, I noticed her rationing her pellets. Instead of gobbling them up in one sitting, she’d have a few left over at the end of the day. Whether she got wise to the new plan or her metabolism adjusted, I don’t know. Obesity can be a real problem in house rabbits. They burn less energy living indoors, exercise less, live longer, and eat table scraps. Excess fat can press on the internal organs and affect their function. Some rabbits are so fat they can’t reach their cecal pellets or clean themselves.
They are at risk for diabetes, liver disease, and heart attacks. Any change in diet should be gradual. If the rabbit’s caloric intake drops suddenly, they can develop fatty liver disease. The best way to lose weight is to feed less pellets and more hay and veggies (be advised that alfalfa is very fattening), and to exercise. An adult rabbit’s weight at one year of age is considered ideal. IF you are not already weighing your rabbit on a regular basis, it is a good idea to start now. Keep a record; it can be invaluable if problems arise. To give the rabbit’s metabolism a chance to adjust, only 1-2% of their body weight should be lost per week. For example, if you have a ten pound rabbit, then it should lose one pound over 10-20 weeks.
Now, keep in mind that all brands of pellets are different. To find out how much to feed your rabbit, calculate the calorie content. Start with a call to the manufacturer and ask how many calories their pellets contain per pound. Then weigh your pellets to find out how many cups there are in one pound of that brand. Next divide the number of cups by the calories to give you the number of calories per cup. Finally, divide your rabbit’s daily energy needs by the calories to know how much pellet to feed. The House Rabbit Handbook has an excellent chapter on diets with tables of calories and foods, and how to find your rabbit’s energy requirements. Reward good behavior.
Serve your rabbit’s favorite vegetables and more of them. The occasional treat is still okay. Let your rabbit know you still love them by giving extra patting. Exercise together, share a salad, or buy them a new chew toy. Heck, maybe you could even diet together! Your efforts will pay off in a long, healthy life for your best friend.