Weight loss can occur in rabbits, but when they lose 10 percent or more of their normal body weight it becomes a major concern -- no longer an issue of decrease in fluid weight. It is especially worrisome when the weight loss accompanies muscle atrophy (or the wasting away of muscle mass). This state of poor health is usually referred to as cachexia, and it requires immediate medical attention.
Symptoms and Types
The symptoms the rabbit displays are dependent on the underlying cause of the condition. However, general signs will include thinness or a reduced size and appearance. Other signs and symptoms may include:
- Lack of stool production
- Grinding of teeth
- Hunched over posture
- Bad breath
- Inability to eat
- Disinterest in food
- Distension or abnormal bloating in the intestinal area around the stomach
- Masses or foreign bodies present when touching (or palpating) the abdomen
- Abnormal breathing sounds
- Heart murmurs or irregular heart rhythms
There are many different causes for cachexia (and weight loss) in rabbits. These can include increased metabolism. For example, the animal's body may start using lean muscle for energy in order to carry out its daily functions. Metabolic disorders such as organ failure or disorders associated with cancer can also bring this type of weight loss.
Some other common causes may include:
- Dental diseases which can make eating difficult
- Dietary causes, including too little food or poor quality food
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Central nervous system disorders that can contribute to anorexia or similar disorders
- Neuromuscular diseases and pain (e.g., degenerative joint disease)
- Spinal problems (e.g., spinal fractures or dislocations)
To make a proper diagnosis, the veterinarian will first determine the animal's diet. The veterinarian will also examine the animal's teeth, as dental disease is a common cause for weight loss. Finally, they will run various tests, including X-rays, to rule out any organ and neuromuscular problems, masses or cancers.
Much like the symptoms, treatment is dependent on the underlying cause of the weight loss. However, the veterinarian will probably treat any symptoms shown by the rabbit, including pain relief for cancers or electrolyte replacement for animals suffering from dehydration and fluid loss. This will not cure the condition, but will help stabilize the animal. Most rabbits will also be prescribed a well-balanced diet which includes plenty of fresh greens.
Living and Management
Prognosis for the rabbit will vary depending on the nature of the disease or disorder causing the weight loss. In all cases, it is important to provide the animal with healthy feed. Also, frequent monitoring or follow-ups is dependent on the condition's cause and overall health of the rabbit.