How to Care For Your Elderly Rabbit

As your rabbit enters their senior years, extra care and consideration is needed to keep them healthy and happy in their golden years. Just like elderly humans, senior rabbits face age-related health issues and mobility challenges that require some adjustments to their care. But with attentive support, those later years can still be an enjoyable time for your rabbit. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about caring for your aging bunny. You’ll learn how to make your home rabbit-elderly friendly, manage common age-related conditions, tweak their diet as needed, and work closely with your vet to catch any problems early. Read on for 10 tips that will help your elderly rabbit thrive!

At what age are rabbits considered elderly?

Rabbits are considered elderly once they reach around 5-7 years of age. The lifespan of a rabbit is generally 8-12 years, so at age 5-7 they are entering the senior years. Some signs that your rabbit is becoming elderly include slowing down, sleeping more, greying fur, tooth problems, and weight changes. Since rabbits age faster than humans, a 5 year old rabbit would be similar to a human in their 60s. An older rabbit requires some special care and consideration regarding their health, environment, nutrition and activity level. Knowing what to expect as your rabbit ages can help you provide the best possible care for them in their golden years.

Physical signs of old age

There are some noticeable physical changes that occur in rabbits as they reach their senior years. Some of the most common signs of aging include:

Greying or whitening fur – Rabbits can start to show grey hairs on their face, feet and hindquarters as they age past 5 years old. This greying becomes more prominent the older they get.

Weight changes – Elderly rabbits tend to gain or lose weight due to changes in metabolism. Underweight rabbits may have dental issues or other health problems. Overweight rabbits are prone to arthritis and heart disease.

Slowing down – An older rabbit may be less active and playful. They sleep and rest more during the day. Hopping, jumping and running abilities decline.

Poor grooming habits – Long fur breeds may stop grooming themselves as frequently due to arthritis. Their coat can become matted or dirty.

Cloudy eyes – Eye lenses can start to get cloudy with age. Your rabbit may develop cataracts which can impair vision.

Tooth loss or overgrown teeth – Dental disease is common in senior rabbits. They may stop eating due to loss of teeth or overgrown teeth cutting their cheeks/tongue.

Skin or coat changes – Coat may thin out and feel coarse. Rabbits can develop benign fatty tumors under their skin as they age.

Health concerns for senior rabbits

Along with the normal signs of aging, elderly rabbits are also at increased risk for certain age-related health issues. Being aware of the common conditions can help you monitor your senior rabbit's health and wellbeing. Some of the main health concerns include:

Cataracts

Cataracts involve a cloudiness or opacity developing in the lens of the eye. This impairs vision and can eventually lead to blindness if left untreated. Cataracts tend to form as rabbits reach 6-8 years old. Signs include cloudy or bluish discoloration in the pupil, difficulty seeing, and hesitation when hopping down from heights. Cataract surgery can restore vision in rabbits.

Arthritis

Degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis causes chronic pain and stiffness in rabbits as cartilage wears down in joints. Signs include difficulty hopping up/down heights, reluctance to move, and aggression when touched due to pain. Arthritis is managed with pain medication, joint supplements, padded bedding, ramps and physiotherapy exercises.

Limb paralysis

Spinal compression or stroke can suddenly lead to partial or full paralysis of the hind limbs in senior rabbits. Rabbits may drag their back legs, have difficulty standing, or be unable to move the limbs at all. Supportive care includes soft bedding, keeping the rabbit clean, and physiotherapy to maintain muscle strength.

Sore hocks

Pressure sores and ulcers can develop on the rabbit's feet pads due to less fat padding on their feet as they age. Signs are redness, swelling and blisters on the feet. Providing soft bedding helps prevent sore hocks in elderly rabbits.

Environmental changes for your senior rabbit

Making some adjustments to your senior rabbit's environment can help them stay comfortable and safe as they age. Recommended changes include:

  • Provide non-slip flooring and ramps for any high entry/exits to prevent falls.

  • Supply ample soft, cushioned bedding to help relieve joint pain and prevent sore hocks.

  • Lower food dishes and litter boxes closer to floor level to reduce the need for hopping up/down.

  • Ensure hiding areas are easily accessed for when they feel vulnerable.

  • Keep general surroundings clean and hygienic to support aging immune systems.

  • Try to reduce stress by keeping to a calm routine with minimal loud noises or handling.

  • Monitor room temperature to avoid temperature swings.

  • Let them rest/sleep whenever needed.

  • Give them a secluded, ground-level housing area if they can no longer hop up to second stories.

  • Limit free roaming area if mobility is declining.

Grooming your elderly bunny

Grooming requirements change for senior rabbits as they may not be able to groom themselves as easily. Long haired rabbits in particular need coat care as they age.

  • Gently brush their coat daily to prevent matting and keep their skin and fur clean.

  • Bathing can help freshen up coats but should only be done occasionally to avoid stress. Use lukewarm water and rabbit-safe shampoo. Dry thoroughly afterwards.

  • Check for any parasites or fleas when grooming. Treat any infestations seen.

  • Trim long fur around rear and feet if the rabbit can no longer reach to groom these areas.

  • Clean any wet or soiled fur promptly to prevent urine scald or fly strike.

  • Inspect skin for any new lumps, warts or unusual growths needing veterinary attention.

  • Gently wipe eyes and face to keep mucus or debris from accumulating.

  • Clean teeth with vet-approved dental wipes if the rabbit will tolerate this. Seek dental trims if overgrown.

  • Keep nails trimmed since overgrown nails impede movement. Vet trims are safest if needed.

  • Provide tidbits or treats during grooming to make it a calm, rewarding experience.

Diet adjustments

Making some adjustments to your senior rabbit's diet can help keep them in optimal health.

  • Feed a high fibre Timothy hay or meadow grass hay – fibre keeps the gut healthy.

  • Monitor portion sizes if the rabbit is losing or gaining weight. Adjust to maintain ideal body condition.

  • Provide fresh greens daily – target at least 3 packed cups per 4 lbs body weight. Choose varied nutrient-rich greens.

  • Limit sugary fruits and starchy veggies which can cause digestive upsets.

  • Ensure they drink plenty of clean water to avoid urinary issues – check water bottles for blockages.

  • Switch to a senior rabbit pellet formula – these are higher fibre and lower fat.

  • Offer grass nibbles or oat hays for dental health.

  • If appetite declines, tempt with favourite foods like herbs or edible flowers.

  • Provide probiotics to support aging digestive systems – sprinkle on food or add to water.

  • Assist with feeding by hand if needed – watch for signs of tooth trouble.

What to do with overweight senior rabbits

Carrying excess weight puts added strain on senior rabbits' bodies and can exacerbate arthritis, heart disease and breathing difficulties. If your senior rabbit is overweight:

  • Gradually reduce pellet portions and increase hay to lower calorie intake. Don't cut out pellets completely.

  • Substitute lower calorie greens like romaine, cilantro, kale instead of carrots, apples or corn.

  • Encourage activity and play time every day, within their physical capability.

  • Avoid picking them up to reduce risk of injury. Allow low impact exercise instead like hallway exploration.

  • Switch to a senior diet pellet – lower fat and higher fibre. Timothy-based is ideal.

  • Eliminate sugary fruits or starchy veggies as treats.

  • Provide toys and activities to prevent boredom and stress eating.

  • Check teeth and digestive health to address any underlying issues leading to overeating or weight gain.

  • Seek vet guidance on a safe weight loss regimen to avoid starvation or nutritional deficits.

Keep a close eye on potty habits

Monitoring your senior rabbit's litter habits can alert you early to any developing health issues:

  • Watch for increased or decreased urine output – could signal kidney problems or UTI.

  • Note any blood in the urine – get prompt vet attention as this indicates UTI.

  • Frequent constipation or small hard stools can mean dental disease or gut slowdown.

  • Diarrhea or very wet stool needs vet review to check for parasitic infection or other causes.

  • Soiling outside the litter box may indicate mobility challenges. Place additional litter boxes in preferred toilet areas.

  • Incontinence or dribbling urine can happen with age – keep the hindquarters clean to prevent urine scald.

  • If urinary issues arise, feed more hay and water, use paper litter and allow access to a wide flat litter box for easier entry.

More frequent vet check ups

It's important to have your elderly rabbit examined by a rabbit-savvy vet at least every 6 months. Annual exams won't catch problems early enough at this life stage. At wellness visits, your vet will:

  • Listen to heart and lungs to check for murmurs or respiratory issues.

  • Palpate and scan for masses or tumors – old rabbits are prone to cancers.

  • Assess teeth alignment and overgrowth.

  • Do bloodwork to check organ function – kidney/liver health.

  • Test for UTIs with a urine culture if reddish urine is seen.

  • Check joints for reduced mobility – prescribe pain relief if needed.

  • Discuss diet, weight, water intake, mobility and behaviour changes.

  • Update vaccines – your vet may advise more frequent shots for older rabbits.

  • Provide any needed medications for chronic conditions like arthritis, heart disease or asthma.

Stay alert to signs of illness between vet visits as well. Elderly rabbits can deteriorate quickly if medical issues arise. Catching problems early maximizes the chances of effective treatment in senior rabbits. With attentive home care and veterinary guidance, your older rabbit can enjoy their golden years as a happy, healthy and active senior citizen.

Reference:
https://rabbitbreeders.us/articles/elderly-rabbits/

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