Did you know, the average lifespan of a rabbit in the wild is only 1 to 2 years old. Thankfully, those kept in captivity live a lot longer thanks to vaccinations, good husbandry and veterinary care. However, it is only in recent decades that our rabbits have started to live much longer, as we gain a better understanding of their needs. Though the average pet rabbit is said to live about 7 to 12 years, this will vary considerably depending on the circumstances, such as the size of the bunny. Every rabbit is an individual and there is a big difference between a giant rabbit and a mini lop, for example. Smaller rabbits are said to be seniors from about the age of seven or eight, while large bunnies age more quickly and are usually classified as a senior rabbit at around four to five years old.
Indicators that your rabbit is becoming a senior
Certain changes in your rabbit’s habits and appearance will let you know when they are entering their senior years. These changes can include:
- Becoming less active. Older rabbits won’t have as many crazy, excitable moments and are generally calmer and more easy-going. Importantly, they will need less calories so watch out for them becoming over-weight. For some, their change in activity may be due to pain caused by e.g. arthritis, so if they appear stiff or have slowed down more than you would expect, let your vet know.
- Altered eating habits. As rabbits get older, they may eat less and opt for foods that are less of an effort to eat. Try to ensure they are getting all of the fresh grass and hay that they need. Changing to a senior pellet is advised.
- Long and thick claws. Just like our other pets, older rabbits will develop naturally thick claws which they find difficult to keep filed down. Your local vet or nurse will be happy to show you how to safely trim them at home.
Changes you can make to help your senior rabbit out
It can be easy to treat our seniors the same as their younger peers but there are some changes you can make to help them out a little.
- Make sure their housing is accessible. Hutches and runs should be very easy to get to, without big lips or ramps, which our older bunnies might struggle to hop over. It may be that you need to get your DIY hat on!
- Adjust that litter tray. Bunnies that are house trained need a tray with a nice low lip on it.
- Beware of altered relationships. A rabbit that used to be well able to cope with the family dog or cat or a young child may now find the interactions more stressful. This is especially true if they have a source of chronic pain, such as ongoing dental issues or a sore back. Take them away from the situation if they seem stressed.
- Younger rabbits rarely need much help with grooming but this doesn’t always hold true into the twilight years. It is particularly important to ensure their fur is not soiled with urine or faeces, which can lead to health issues such as dermatitis and even fly strike. Warm ‘bum baths’ and extra brushing could be in order.
Companionship is just as important for older rabbits (if not even more so) as it is for their younger peers. All too often one of the pair will pass away, leaving the remaining bunny depressed. If not planning on getting another young rabbit, consider fostering or re-homing a senior who would make a suitable companion.