Weight Management in Rodents

Pocket pets like rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, and rabbits are small enough that they can fit in one’s pocket and one might not think about their weight. It might be difficult to observe any weight fluctuations due to their small size but it is important to manage their weight just like other pets. One can understand their pet’s ideal weight as per their breed and age by consulting their vet and have a regular checkup to observe any fluctuations. Generally a variation of 10% from ideal weight can be considered as a healthy or normal pet.

To understand whether your pocket-pet is underweight or overweight, try to feel the ribs of your pet with a closed fist. If the ribs are too prominent, the rodent is underweight else if they are not easily seen, it is overweight. One can also assess the health of your pet through the BCS chart as explained below. A body condition score is a number that correlates to certain physical attributes that scale from one through five with three being ideal.

Weight Management in Rodents

Rodents, particularly rabbits, rats, guinea pigs, hedgehogs, and skunks are prone to obesity primarily due to domestication. The causes are usually two-fold- overfeeding of improper diets (which are excessively high in fats including the sugary treats), and too little exercise. One can observe the symptoms like lethargy,  poor coats, and difficulty in breathing if their pet is obese. If not taken care of, it can lead to multiple diseases in rodents including myiasis, pododermatitis, hepatic lipidosis, heart disease, sticky bottom syndrome, pregnancy toxemia, and GI stasis, among others.

While on the other hand, an underweight rodent would show symptoms such as fever, drier and small droppings, lethargy, a dull and rough coat, hunched appearance, and inability to move or close its eyes. Reduced food intake, decreased appetite or an underlying disease such as dental, cardiovascular, liver, pancreas, or kidney disease are often causes of underweight in rodents. These diseases might cause pain and toxin buildup in the brain or other organs making them difficult to eat and lose their appetite. In the case of respiratory disease, your rodent may be unable to smell food.

Regardless of the species, the best approach to maintain the weight of your pet is to feed him an appropriate and nutritious diet and provide him opportunities for regular exercise.

  1. Food: Rodents should be provided with 80% hay and rest should be a mix of vegetables, fruits, and pellets. If the rodent is underweight, one should focus on feeding good quality hay, a cup of fresh veggies, and some extra pellets. Wrong diets especially excessive fresh green veggies as they are full of water and might not provide the required calories besides causing stomach upsets. Dry foods can provide the highest concentration and easy to digest nutrition. For overweight rodents, pellets and treats should be limited. Healthy food items like fruits and vegetables can be reserved as treats and only offered when you want to give something special to your rabbit. Avoid sugary and fat-filled foods like sunflower seeds,  yogurt drops from the pet store, and cereals. Instead, reserve a strawberry or carrot as a special treat for your rodent.
  2. Exercise: Exercise paddles/enrichments or inclining and climbing areas in the cage should be provided to burn the excessive fat and maintain good health. If possible, allow your rodent to run around in open space. Ideally, a rodent is never caged but rather has a rodent-proofed “room” or large penned area to live and explore. This will not only keep their mind stimulated but it will also keep them lean and happy.

One should consult a veterinarian before changing the diet or exercise regime of your pet to avoid any serious implications on your pet’s health. One should focus on a nutritionally complete diet that provides the correct levels of vitamins and minerals. Any dietary changes should take place gradually over a few weeks. New foods may be introduced individually and removed from the diet if diarrhea occurs. During the diet change, ensure you watch for signs of adverse reactions such as loss of appetite, diarrhea, or altered behavior.  Appetite stimulants such as dandelion can be beneficial however need to be used cautiously due to their laxative effects. Fresh, clean water should be provided for your pet at all times. Regular revisit appointments to monitor your pet’s weight and well-being will be essential during the process.