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Rabbits/Overweight, picky holland lop doesn't eat hay/special diet


QUESTION: I have a male, neutered, holland lop named Olly/Oliver who is 2.5 years old. Right before he turned 1, he had GI stasis and I immediately brought him to the nearest rabbit savvy animal hospital (at 2 in the morning) in which they performed X-rays and administered subcutaneous fluids. When we returned home, I gave him critical care that we received from the hospital and waited until my usual rabbit vet opened. When I got ahold of the vet, he advised pineapple and to bring him in for more subQ fluids the next day. Anyway, since that scare, olly has stopped eating hay. I have tried every type and have found the best luck with oxbow organic meadow grass hay-- which he will only munch on rarely while in his litter box (maybe 2 strands every other day). Olly also eats a lot of kale and cilantro. I feed him oxbow adult rabbit Timothy pellets, which he has more available to him than recommended because I am afraid that if he runs out of kale while I am gone, he will not eat anything. I monitor his pellet eating habits and he does not seem to over eat those based on his weight. He currently weighs 8.2lbs and weighed 9lbs at the beginning of the summer (end of may). Since he was sick, the dr advised I mix pineapple juice with his water to encourage drinking. Since then, I have been unable to get him to drink regular water. In his 6oz bowl, I pour 1-2 table spoons of pineapple juice and fill the rest with water. He is very stubborn when I try new things to change his diet. 1-3 times a week, he gets a messy butt from not being able to reach/find his cecotropes. I need advice on how to change his diet slowly so he can get back to a regular weight. He has become very sedentary and lacks the joy he used to have, although he is still very attached and loving toward me (kisses all the time). Let me know if you need any additional information. Thank you,

ANSWER: Dear Sarah,

Okay, plenty going on here, including a vet who prescribes pineapple for no particular reason.  I've noticed that vets who recommend pineapple for rabbit health problems are generally just not keeping up with the current rabbit literature; that's 1970s rabbit medicine.

Holland Lops are notorious for dental problems, and what you describe is classic molar spur or other dental disorder keeping him from eating normally and being a picky eater.  Please read:

The GI stasis episode could well have been due to the pain of the molar spurs, not to a "hairball" or anything that someone might want to think they're actually helping with pineapple juice.  So that's why he stopped eating hay.  He may have painful molar spurs.

Also, ditch the pineapple juice in the water.  It's a terrible idea.  No rabbit needs that extra sugar, the enzymes in the pineapple are denatured if it's canned pineapple, and the water will spoil and go sour quickly with the sugary juice in there.  Plus, the extra calories could very well be contributing to his weight gain.  He just doesn't need it.

There's NOTHING good about putting *any* additives in a rabbit's drinking water; it usually just discourages drinking.  If you mean he's not drinking water without pineapple juice, then...time for some tough love.  Give him a tiny treat of pineapple juice if he really must have it, but provide plain water and lots of fresh, wet greens to make sure he stays hydrated.

Please also see:

I hope your little guy will be back on track soon.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Sorry I realized I left out some info. Ollys teeth are checked 2 times a year along with a regular checkup. He has no dental problems and the vet says his teeth are great and are being filed down correctly by his chew toys/ veggies. The pineapple juice was recommended when he had GI stasis because he would not drink water. The xrays showed a mass of fur in his GI tract and both vets said pineapple juice is recommended to break down the hair and fur particles. He was severely dehydrated and so we did that and got sub q fluids when needed until he fully recovered. When I went back to plain water, he stopped drinking again. Can the leafy green veggies contribute to his weight gain? What about refusing to eat hay? Thanks again!

Dear Sarah,

The fact that two vets recommended pineapple juice doesn't make it a good idea.  It just means that both of those vets are a bit behind the times.

All rabbits will have a bolus of food and hair in the stomach almost all the time.  That's pretty much normal.  It's thought that constant ingestion of wet greens and hay help break down that mass (in the presence of the rabbit's own digestive enzymes) and keep it from getting dangerously big.  If the mass is big enough to warrant concern, then proteolytic enzymes such as papain or bromelain (along with plenty of oral liquid) can help.  For a really bad mass we've actually used pancreatic enzymes, which are the only ones that will break down keratin, the protein that comprises hair.  The other, plant-based enzymes will help break down mucus that's holding a mass together.

Leafy greens don't tend to be a weight-gain problem, but if he's eating pellets instead of hay, that could be a contributor.  Getting him to move around more is going to be a very important way to trim him down.  Also, if he's getting any pellets, cut those in half.  They are a major source of calories in most companion rabbit diets, and many people feed too much.  No more than 1/4 cup per day for a 5 lb rabbit of normal weight, and much less than that for a pudge.

Many rabbits don't drink much.  Normal liquid intake for a typical, healthy mammal is about 90-100ml/kg per day, and that includes what's in the food.  So as long as his poops are good sized and friable, he may be getting enough water from his fresh food without drinking a lot of water.

Hope this helps.



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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.


I've lived with companion rabbits for more than 35 years, and consider them members of my family. I can answer any questions about the biology and health of rabbits, from the commonplace to the unusual. But please note:

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I have been rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild rabbits for about 30 years. I have written articles for many rabbit rescue publications, as well as for the veterinary journal, Exotic DVM. I own EtherBun, the internet's largest listserve dedicated to health, care, and behavior of domestic rabbits.

Houserabbit Adoption, Rescue, and Education, Inc. (H.A.R.E., Inc.) president National House Rabbit Society (Board member)

Exotic DVM
Warren Peace (Journal of the House Rabbit Society of Miami)
Various newsletters of the House Rabbit Society, nationwide

Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

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Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology

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