Rabbits come in many shapes and sizes and age differently, so when a rabbit is said to be “senior” isn’t set in stone. Some rabbits may show signs of ageing sooner than others, and therefore individual rabbits should be assessed rather than categorising on age alone. The smaller breeds such as the Netherlands Dwarf or the Polish are often long lived with a lifespan similar to a dog. Whereas large and giant breeds may only have a lifespan of 4-7 years and therefore age earlier.
Feeding your senior rabbit
Ideally a rabbit’s weight should remain more or less constant throughout its life. Adult rabbits require no more than a tablespoon of pellets per kilo of body weight per day. Older rabbits may have a slightly higher requirement to maintain their body weight, but then they are less active so these may cancel each other out. The best advice is to buy some kitchen scales just for bunny and monitor their weight regularly. You can then adjust the amount of pellets given accordingly. Generally older bunnies should not be given any extra supplements. Extra calcium for instance can lead to sludge and stones forming in the urinary tract which can be dangerous. Just stick to a normal diet.
Many senior rabbits will have some degree of dental disease. Any rabbit eating less, favouring different foods, losing weight, salivating, producing fewer smaller droppings or showing signs of swellings around their mouth and jaw, should have a dental examination.
Arthritis and spondylosis
This is a vastly under diagnosed problem in pet rabbits. Many owners will just think stiffening up is normal with old age but although it cannot be cured, it is certainly worth treating. Your vet can take x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. Arthritis is when the joints become degenerative and diseased which is often painful. Spondylosis is when the body tries to stabilise the joints causing a lot of extra bony growth and associated immobility and stiffness. This condition can be treated with a drug called Meloxicam drops. It is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and can make a huge difference to the well-being of your senior rabbit.
The threat of flies laying their eggs around the bottom of any rabbit is constantly a worry for rabbit owners. Older rabbits are particularly at risk mostly due to an inability to clean themselves properly. If they are overweight due to inactivity, or stiff due to spondylosis, it limits their ability to bend enough to clean themselves. Owners must be aware of this and always treat their bunnies with Rearguard at the start of the fly season. 1 Rearguard and 10% off further purchases is one of the benefits included in your Healthy Pet Club membership.
Senior rabbits are often less active than their younger friends and may need their claws clipping more frequently as they will not be naturally wearing them down. As a Healthy Pet Club member, unlimited nail clipping is included in your membership.
Older females that haven’t been neutered, are at a massive risk of womb cancer. 85% by 5 years of age is a frightening statistic! The symptoms are often not noticeable until the disease is advanced. The take home message being - all female bunnies should be spayed at a young age to avoid this.
Pressure points on feet - Pododermatitis
This is a condition which results in sores on the bottom of a rabbits hind feet. It can be caused by or made worse if the bedding is not thick enough. Urine can scald delicate rabbit’s skin and if they are not moving around this causes sores to develop. Using VetBed which is a deep pile bedding which draws moisture away from the skin is ideal to avoid this condition.
Adapting housing for your senior rabbit
Senior outdoor rabbits who have a two storey hutch, or a hutch with a ramp, may struggle to get up and down. You might need to revise their accommodation and get rid of the ramp or devise some other system. Rubber matting is useful if they routinely use slippery surfaces - such as house rabbits may frequently encounter. Elderly house rabbits may have difficulty getting into litter trays. Plastic cat/ dog beds make excellent litter trays as they have an entrance cut out of them but still have high sides around the rest.
Loss of a companion
Rabbits should never ideally be kept alone. If you have had two rabbits who have lived together all their lives, one can be devastated when the other rabbit dies. Look after the grieving bunny. Give them time with the body but remove it when they lose interest. Spend extra time with them and this will help you too. Senior rabbits are normally accepting of a new friend so one should be sought.
Senior bunnies are wonderful and should be treasured. Their personalities shine through. They may be less active, sleep more and need extra care, but they will thank you tenfold just by sharing their lives with you.