Rabbits

Old Rabbits Signs, Health and Care

Older rabbits need special care and attention. How do you know your bunny is aging and how can you take care of it well?

The average lifespan of a domestic rabbit is 7-10 years, and a wild one is 1-2 years.  However, depending on the breed and care, some can live for longer, such as 10-12 years or even or even more [1] while others can live for a shorter period if proper care is not afforded for them.

Older rabbit signs and care
Older rabbit signs

When is a bunny considered old?

There are many breeds of rabbits each with a different lifespan. Therefore, each of them has a time when it is considered as a senior or geriatric.  

For instance, for the small breeds such as Polish and Netherland dwarfs that have a lifespan of about 12 to 13 years, they will be considered seniors when they reach around 8 years or older. [2]

The standard or medium-sized ones (weighing 3.5 -4.0kgs) with a lifespan of 9-10 years are considered seniors once they reach about 6 years.

Finally, the giant rabbits such as Continental giants, French lop, Belgium Hares, and so on will be considered seniors once they hit 3-4 years in age since their lifespan is between 4-7 years.

How do you tell your bunny is growing old? Should you rely on the above data we have provided?

Signs of old age in rabbits

The above were general guidelines basing on their size; there are various signs you may notice to tell you they are aging. Some of these signs include the following:[3]

More napping

They will take longer more often naps and its normal. Give them a nice place to nap on to ensure they are comfortable. Do not disturb them.

Less active

They will get a little stiffer after waking up. While adolescents and younger ones are active and curious, the older rabbits become more sedate. You do not expect a 10-year-old rabbit to be active as a one-year-old.  That will be preposterous! They cannot hop or jump as they used to do before.

However, arthritis can cause this problem and should not be confused for older age. A young bunny that has arthritis may be less active.

Avoid their littering boxes

For those with arthritis and hoping to their litter tray may be painful. Go for litter boxes with a lower entrance to enable easy entry.

Not grooming well

As they grow old, they tend to have a harder time cleaning themselves. Urine and fecal matter may be stuck on their bottoms creating a perfect site for myiasis, and they may have dandruff-like skin flakes.

Also, bending, balancing and twisting during grooming may be hard. To make matters worse, sore hocks, urine scald, and a wet dewlap may just but a few issues they may have.

You need to help them. Brush their fur, trim their nails and remove any earwax buildup. There may be higher instances of fur and ear mites characterized by white specs presence on their coat and ears.  

Weight gain

Instances of rabbit obesity and weight gain might be higher since they might still eat the same amounts of foods they used to eat whereas they are less active. Although it comes with a lot of challenges, you can manage obesity with proper diet and other ways.

Eyesight issues

Going on with signs, they may get cataracts that may make them wholly or partially blind. Help such bunnies by setting a place where they know where everything is. You have been with them for years; you cannot leave them now.

Besides the above, your furry friends will tolerate less stress, have little white hair around ears, have more skin abscesses, have increased illnesses including heart disease, risks of tumors. For instance, the “risk of uterine cancer, the incidence of which can exceed 50% as rabbits grow” [4], with sources put it at 85% for those aged above 5 years and above.

Health concerns and caring for elderly bunnies

We have seen the symptoms of an aging rabbit. This is not the time to abandon them but continue caring for them as you already have grown a strong bond.  

Aging comes with a lot of changes including hormonal imbalances in does, ovarian disease, adrenal disease, digestion problems, and many others we have already mentioned.  Therefore, as they age, a regular checkup is necessary including annually do blood checkup for those that are geriatric. Your vet might need urinalysis checks

Unless you intend to breed them, spay does and neuter bucks while still young to avoid risks of uterine cancer which is quite high in does and reproductive cancers in bucks.

To avoid pododermatitis, ensure there is a thick but absorbent rabbit bedding to help draw away urine since they might be having mobility problems. Go for those that control odor.

To help deal with dental diseases and malocclusion that is often diagnosed in senior bunnies, “any rabbit eating less, favoring different foods, losing weight, salivating, producing fewer droppings or showing any swellings around their mouth” [5] needs a dental examination including an X-ray on its skull.

Arthritis and spondylosis instances are frequent in elderly rabbits. You may be assuming they are slowing down yet it could be these conditions. Do bone and joint X-ray and if they have it, NSAIDs such as Meloxicam can of be a help. However, this drug needs renal and blood test before its being administered.

Indoor and outdoor housing

Due to mobility problems, outdoor hutches may need their ramps angle of inclination lowered as they might not be able to use them. Also, place grass or rubber mats on floors made of wire to reduce the instance of sore hocks.

On the other hand, for indoor ones, floor mats that are rubber-backed may help if you have slippery floors to help them move quickly as they hop.

Do not forget to make food and water more accessible. Water is very important to any rabbit.

Feeding senior rabbits

With expected dental problems, you need to choose their ideal diets carefully. There is a long list of what rabbits can eat and what they cannot eat. How to feed them depends on how much they weigh.

Those that maintain their weight can be fed as adults but for the underweight rabbits or “frail, older rabbits, you should give them unrestricted access pellets[6] with at least 18% fiber. Give them food to fatten them. Be careful with alfalfa as it is only given to those that are underweight and if it has a normal calcium level.

The recommended diet is 1/4 cup of pellets per 6 lbs[7] with unlimited hay and some leafy greens. Giving them occasional treats of non-leafy vegetables and fruits is ok as long as they are not obese.

Dealing with companion loss

As in the case of humans who have lived together for long, the loss of a companion may not only cause grieve to the rabbit but also the owner. Give them time to be with the body of the dead one to understand they are gone.

Spend more time with it, stroking it, give it extra treats, more rabbit toys, to keep it happy and forget about the loss.

You can seek a suitable companion even to those that never had one. Ensure your bunny is happy as it enters the golden years!

Conclusion

As rabbits age, they need quieter space, more attention, a soft place to sleep and the right diet to provide them will all the necessary nutrients.