Being prey animals, rabbits and other ‘small pets’ such as guinea pigs, rats, mice and hamsters are experts at hiding illness, often until it is too late. This is a natural instinct as in the wild showing weakness would attract the unwanted attention of predators. Although we have now domesticated these animals and they live spoiled and happy in the safety of our homes, they still maintain the trait of hiding their symptoms. For the uneducated or busy pet owner these can easily go unnoticed and for our very delicate rabbit illness can quickly turn fatal before we are even aware something is wrong.
One of the first signs of illness in small animals is weight loss. This could indicate anything from a blockage, teeth issues, URI’s, UTI’s and arthritis as well as a number of other potentially serious ailments. When your pet isn’t feeling it’s best they will most likely experience a loss of appetite. If they aren’t eating as much they will undoubtedly begin to lose weight. As many of these animals are highly social and should live in pairs or groups, it can also be difficult to tell just how much your pet is eating by watching them – especially if you are still seeing them head over to the food dish at meal time. Weighing your pet regularly ensures they are feeling well enough to have a healthy appetite.
How Often Should I Weigh My Rabbit?
Weighing your rabbit or other small pet on a weekly basis will give you a good idea of their average weight and notify you quickly of any potential health concerns. Also keep in mind that different activities and meals throughout the day will cause a fluctuation in your pet’s weight. For this reason it is important to weigh your pet around the same time every week so that your reading is as accurate as possible.
What Do I Use To Weigh My Rabbit?
I use a digital shipping scale purchased from Staples to weigh my rabbits. With small animals every gram counts which is why a digital scale is recommended as it will provide you with the most accurate reading. Most digital scales made for humans are unable to accurately calculate the weight of anything under 2.27kgs (5lbs) so unless you have quite a large rabbit, a scale built to measure light weight items is more suitable. Large kitchen scales (as long as it’s digital) will also work.
You will have a difficult time getting your pet to hold still when placed on the scale so it is best to put them in something to keep them in place. I’ve found that a small box or basket works great! You will of course need to calculate the weight of the box first so that it isn’t factored in to your pet’s final weight.
Step 1: Put the empty box on the scale.
Step 2: Once it has calculated the weight of the box, hit ‘Tare’. This will set the scale back at 0 so it is no longer factoring in the weight of the box when you weigh your pet.
Step 3: Place your pet in the box on top of the scale. Wait until your pet is still and the number on the scale stops fluctuating.
Step 4: Record the number, take your pet home and make sure to reward them for their good behaviour with a healthy treat!
How Do I Figure Out My Rabbit’s Average Weight?
Once you have weighed your pet for 5 weeks straight, add up these numbers and divide them by 5. This will give you the average weight for all 5 weeks. Now you have a weight to compare future weigh-ins to.
Example: 2320g + 2332g + 2325g + 2322g +2329g = 11628g \ 5 = 2325.6g
The average weight is 2325.6g
If you are keeping your daily routine and weigh-in time the same and your pet is healthy, then you should see very little fluctuation in your pet’s weight from week to week. Our one guinea pig has stayed the same weight down to the gram for the last two years.
If your pet loses more than 10% of it’s average weight in a week then this is cause for concern.
Similarly a sudden or drastic gain in weight is also cause for concern. Infection can cause your pet to retain fluid and the presence of bladder stones or tumours could add weight in early stages.
Before you begin to panic, examine your pet’s environment and behaviour closely. Have you recently introduced a new member to your family that could be hoarding more food? Are you providing unlimited hay and lots of fresh water? Is your pet getting the exercise and attention that it normally does? Have you changed anything in their living area, weighed at a different time, changed diet around etc. that could provide a cause for the sudden weight loss or gain?
If you are noticing behavioural changes such as your pet hiding more, not coming out to see you, not interested in food, heavy breathing, discharge from the nose, urine dribbles around the cage etc. then it is time to book a vet appointment!
If however the weight loss wasn’t too substantial and you are seeing no other reason to be alarmed, then you can continue to monitor your pet closely and begin weighing daily. Just like with your weekly weigh-ins, be consistent with your routine and the time of day that you are weighing to get the most accurate results. If you continue to notice your pet losing weight consistently over the next couple of days or any other changes in their behaviour, then you need to get your pet to your exotic vet as soon as possible.
Even if you haven’t noticed any other behavioural changes in your pet, it is always a good idea to book an exam with your rabbit savvy vet at the first sign of weight loss. Vets can book up quickly and you can always cancel the appointment if needed.
If your pet recovers the weight but you notice regular weight fluctuations, book a vet appointment. There could be something going on internally that is not visible to you. It is also a good idea to review previous weigh-ins when you record your pet’s weight as a slow and steady weight loss or gain is also a cause for concern.
If you are noticing any behavioural changes or your pet’s weight continues to drop, book a vet visit as soon as possible!
If you haven’t been to the vet in over a year, this is a good time to book a vet appointment. Your exotic vet is a trained professional who will be able to assess things that you’re not able to at home. This also keeps your rabbit’s chart updated, making it easier for them to diagnose any future health problems or concerns.
Remember, it is best to find an experienced exotic vet before an emergency situation arises. Knowing you have a qualified vet to turn to assures your rabbit will get the best care as quickly as possible. For more tips on finding a rabbit savvy vet click here.
Keeping a weekly log of your small pet’s weight is an essential tool to monitoring your pet’s overall health and well being. By doing so, you are more likely to catch illness in your pet early so that it can be treated effectively. Remember that not all illnesses, especially those that come on suddenly, will be accompanied by weight loss. Knowing your pet and being familiar with their normal behaviour and routine in conjunction with weekly weigh-ins are both important tools in monitoring their health.