Thursday, July 21, 2011

Caring for the Aging Rabbit

Farrell, a 4-year-old rabbit who is available for adoption at Animal Friends.

Good news for bunnies! Pet rabbits are now living longer because of advances in veterinary care and the increased knowledge of their caretakers. It’s not uncommon anymore for a well-loved rabbit to live well past her tenth year.

Just as in humans, when a rabbit ages, changes occur and you will need to make adjustments in their care. As your rabbit leaves middle age behind, you will want to consider the following:

  • Diet –As she ages, your rabbit’s diet may need to be adjusted in order for her to maintain a healthy weight. Each rabbit has unique needs, and you may go through a period of trial and error before you find what works. For a rabbit that’s gaining weight, a reduction in pellets and increased exercise may be required. A rabbit that’s losing weight may need to have alfalfa introduced into her diet. In either case, offering fresh leafy greens and unlimited hay (timothy, oat, brome and orchard grass) is important to your rabbit’s overall health.

  • Mobility – Your rabbit might begin to have difficulty standing, walking and hopping. Often, mobility problems are due to arthritis which can result in stiffness and discomfort. A wide variety of treatment options are available that can help ease symptoms, including glucosamine, chondroitin, anti-inflammatory drugs and acupuncture. You may also need to adapt your rabbit’s environment to her changing needs. This could mean using a litter box with a cut-away side, making it easier for her to enter and exit the box. It could also mean using synthetic fleece in her habitat to help wick away moisture in the event of an accident.

  • Dental – It’s important to have routine dental checks throughout your rabbit’s life. Maintaining a diet rich in hay helps to wear down teeth naturally. But, despite our best efforts, once-perfect teeth can become misaligned and require some filing or trimming to prevent mouth discomfort.

  • Medical - Nothing can replace a visit to a rabbit-savvy vet to keep all systems in check. Baseline blood work to monitor organ function is important so comparisons can be made as the rabbit ages. The sooner we catch issues, the more easily they can be remedied or maintained.

As you care for your rabbit throughout her life, remember above all to cherish every moment with her!

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