How can I help my adult rabbit gain weight?
I have a female English Lop that started growing well and was on a healthy track to meet normal weight requirements. She got stressed out and stopped eating and drinking. We were able to prevent total GI statis with yogurt and got her eating again. But her growth has stopped. Normal weight for a Adult Female English lop is 10.5 pounds but she has stalled around 9 pounds since she was 7 months and is now approaching 12 months.
We free feed(as much as she wants) 16%-18% Professional Show Rabbit feed currently. We provide her hay but have limited it because she will eat only hay and avoid pellets if we let her. We also try to supplement with fresh parsley every other week.
There are no real signs of any health issue. She eats and drinks enough to maintain her weight. Her droppings and urine appear normal and of appropriate quantity. She has not had any mucus discharge, and our regular Physical examination shows no areas of concern. Her weight is not unhealthy, though it she is not a full and meaty as she was at 6 months, she is still nicely proportioned.
Is there anything safe and natural we can do to encourage her growth?
Have you tried beet pulp? Beet pulp is often referred to as a “super fiber” due to its high digestibility and ease of fermentation
There are a few things to help your bun gain a bit of weight.
In terms of hay, look to add some small quantities of alfalfa to the diet. Don't replace the timothy hay, but supplement in the alfalfa, perhaps about 25-30% ratio. This type of hay is good for young and growing rabbits and so will help her add on some weight as it is loaded with protein. You can also supplement in alfalfa pellets if you're feeding her pellets. Again, same reason.
For other foods you can try to include high fat/starch options such as oats, nuts, or barley. Keep it at really small amounts, like 1/4 cup, total daily. Perhaps introduce in smaller amounts at first. Also, treat foods such as raisins (not a lot, but they love them), berries (e.g. strawberries), apple, pear, basically the high sugar options.
As with all of the above, once she gains the weight, you'll want to trim back to eliminate some of this. Mostly, you'll want to get the alfalfa back out of her diet for the long term health. Bear in mind, too, that the health episode may have permanently stunted some growth depending on when. In that event, she may have peaked out on the weight.
Finally, when adding all of this into her diet, very carefully monitor her for any signs of illness or lethargy as well as keep an eye on her stools. Anything changes, stop the food supplement and bring her to a vet.
I would add Critical Care and Pumpkin (NOT Pumpkin Pie Filling) to this answer. And a link in High Sugar options to http://www.rabbit.org/journal/3-3/digestibility.html
John Cavan has some reasonable and appropriate methods for increasing a rabbits weight in his answer. These should as he points out be used with careful monitoring, because high value foods can ultimately be harmful to your rabbit. The House Rabbit Society has some good diet recommendations. Rabbits are somewhat dependent on having a high volume low value food supply for optimal health so dietary change to attempting weigh gain should only be considered when medically necessary, include Critical Care and canned pumpkin (NOT Pumpkin Pie Filling) to John's answer when medically necessary.
You mention in your comments that your rabbit is validated to be in good health and the rationale for the weigh gain is cosmetic, to meet arbitrary requirements to gain recognition in competition. Assuming the the 9 pounds of current weight give your rabbit a healthy exam rating, then it is difficult to imagine that increasing that weight by a third will be healthy.
Rabbits suffer health risks from increased weight (fat) the same as humans. Assuming that your rabbit's health and well being are your primary concern, and that showing her at her best is an attribute of that. Let her health and not her weight be your guide.
You mention providing fresh parsley every other week, it is unclear if this is special treat or an attempt to provide fiber and/greens. The current recommendations call for daily servings of fresh leafy greens.
Do not limit the amount of hay available to your rabbit. Serious life threatening conditions like wool block can occur in the absence of sufficient fiber. I do not believe there are any reliable references that recommend restricting hay (or alfalfa if appropriate) at anytime.
Increase your rabbits exercise opportunities. Assuming that your rabbit has a frame larger enough to weigh 12 pounds, adding muscle would be the optimal form to add it in. Exercise will increase both your rabbits physical and mental well being. It may or may not increase her weight by a third, but it will increase her quality of life.
In summary to your question
"Is there anything safe and natural we can do to encourage her growth?"
Yes, give her a healthy diet consisting of unlimited hay, daily fresh leafy greens, pellets in moderation, and treats only occasionally. Provide her with at least twice daily opportunities for exercise, with sufficient area to jump, play and run.
Edit Expanding options
Due to a recent illness in one of our rabbits high nutritional values foods became a necessity. Keeping in mind that you do need to be careful when changing a rabbits diet are are some foods that we used, they were all recommended by rabbit recovery specialists.
- Canned pumpkin (NOT Pumpkin Pie Filling)
- Rolled Oats, (Oatmeal that is not instant, feed dry and uncooked)
- Sports hydration drinks (Gatorade, or similar with electrolytes)
- Platinum Performance® Equine (mix with other foods)
- Critical Care® herbivores (mix with water or other foods)
- Beet Pulp (feed wet or dry)
You can try Rabbit Mash
My senior rabbit has problems to hold her weight, so I explored this on kaninchenwiese.de.
It works for rabbits that need more energy because they are:
- outside in the winter (low temperatures, beneath 0°C);
- (chronically) ill;
- lactating or pregnant rabbits;
- big breeds.
But one must be aware, that in the long turn, health issues could arise. If the rabbit eats the mash only, for example the food-grinding would be missed, which causes the teeth growing longer than usual.
And it should (even if you want the rabbit to gain the weight) feed in low doses. Around 1 full tea-spoon for one kilogram of rabbit's body mass daily is enough. (This would be 2 full teaspoons for a 2 kg dwarf rabbit per day.)
- oil seeds (sunflower, chia seeds, sorghum bicolor, hemp seed, pumpkin seeds, flax seed, poppy seed, sesame) they support the digestive system and help with fur issues;
- flour seeds (amaranth, buckwheat, spelt seeds, barley seeds, grass seeds, oats, sorghum, corn/maize, quinoa) in general grains need to be fed with spelt to be healthy;
- aromatic seeds (aniseed, nettle seeds, dill seeds, fennel seed, coriander, caraway, milk thistle seeds) they have a lots of positive active components;
- bran a common food for horses;
- dried herbs (examples: basil, dill, thyme, sage, chives, oregano, marjoram, parsley, camomile, coriander, rosemary, peppermint) ready mixes for rabbits, or self made mixes for special purposes, like supporting the digestive system or the breathing;
- immune supporting additives, like drops/powder from the shop or ginger (ginger needs slow, slow, slow habituation, but has a positive effect to the immune system proven by research);
- fruits (all by rabbits loved kinds, grated) mine love apple and carrot, raisins sometimes.
Example for a recipe from the linked website (above):
- one cup crashed oat (with spelt);
- one cup crashed flax seeds;
- 4 cups herb-mix.
My mix for my senior rabbit with chronically common cold:
- 1/2 cup flax seed;
- 1/2 cup sesame seed;
- 1/2 cup oat flakes;
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds (without spelt);
- 4 cups of dried kitchen herbs (basil, thyme, marjoram, parsley, chive and dill);
- Sometimes I grind 1/8 apple or carrot into the mix, or cut 4 raisins into very small pieces, to enrich the taste.
I use to buy this in a supermarket, because I am limited in my options to buy other seeds and dried herbs where I live.
I use to mix the whole cups (without fresh food like apple/carrot) together into a closable box made out of plastic. Each day, I take two teaspoons full of the mix out of it. Then I crush the mix in a mortar, while waiting for the water to boil. I mix the crushed components with warm water (between 30 and 50°C) and let them swelling for around 30 minutes. The first times I need to try and estimate how much water is needed. One can use a little bit first and then add some until the consistency is like baby-food.
I serve this mix on a small plate to my senior, but in extreme cases it is possible to feed it with a syringe, too. If you have rabbits, who should not gain weight with your rabbit to coddle up, then you may need to separate them for around one hour. My senior defends her plate against her husband, so I do not need this. But maybe your rabbit is not powerful enough to do so.