Body condition scoring your rabbit

Why is it important to keep your rabbit in good shape and a healthy weight?

At least a quarter of all pet rabbits are thought to be obese. Overweight rabbits suffer from a variety of serious health risks, including not being able to clean themselves or reach their bottoms to eat their caecotrophs. This in turn puts them at greater risk of Flystrike, skin and gut problems. The extra weight they carry also puts strain on their organs, especially the heart and liver. Just like us, if they are fat and heavy this puts extra strain on their joints, making it harder for them to exercise which makes matters even worse.

What is a good shape?

It’s difficult to visually assess the body condition, (how fat or thin) of any animal with long hair and quite a lot of pet rabbits are very fluffy! A thick coat can disguise the appearance of the bony prominences such as the pelvis, ribs and spine. Thin coated breeds such as the Rex, often look much thinner as these areas are highlighted.

Most rabbits you see in the wild are healthy ones – they are neither too fat nor too thin. They don’t have rolls of fat under their chin and are obviously able to hop about and run fast when they need to.

These bunnies are the ideal shape and what you should aim at when considering any pet rabbit. Pet rabbits may have different shaped bone structure in their faces for instance, but their general shape should be similar.

Body condition scoring (BCS) your rabbit

The only reliable method to assess Body Condition Scoring is by palpating or feeling the body, namely the ribs, pelvis and spine. The technique for rabbits has been adapted from the method used in cats, dogs and farm animals. In rabbits it has been found that the area which most reliably shows changes associated with fat storage are the ribs. The spine and pelvis only change with extremely fat or extremely thin rabbits.

So here is our guide on how to work out your rabbits BCS and hence their ideal weight:

  • Have your rabbit sitting quietly, being gently held on a flat surface by a friend.
  • Feel their ribs just behind the point of the elbow on both sides. The amount of pressure required will be increased if the rabbit is overweight. The rib edges will feel sharp and pointed in a rabbit who is too thin. In comparison severe obesity may make it difficult to feel them at all.
  • Their ribs are easy to assess for small changes in body fat under the skin.
  • Look at the following table to see the grade which best describes your rabbit.

The Body Condition Score

Score 1 Emaciated
  • Pelvis/ribs very easy to feel
  • Sharp ribs feel like a pocket full of rulers
  • Concave rump area
Score 2 Lean
  • Pelvis and ribs easily felt and are sharp
  • Rump is flat
Score 3 IDEAL
  • Pelvis and ribs easily felt but have rounded edges
  • Ribs feel like a pocketful of pens
  • Rump is flat
Score 4 Fat
  • Firm palpation is needed to feel ribs
  • Rump is rounded
Score 5 Obese
  • Hard to feel ribs at all
  • Rump very rounded
  • No hip bones felt

 

Once you have assessed your rabbits BCS, you should weigh your rabbit. Obviously if your bunny is in the ideal range, then it follows that your bunny’s weight will be at its optimum and this can easily be checked regularly. If your rabbit is either score 1,2,4, or 5, then you should take your rabbit to the vet for a check up to make sure there are no physical problems. If your rabbit is otherwise found to be healthy your veterinary team will be happy to talk to you about diets, exercise and sign you up for regular weight clinics.