Are you living with an elderbun (a rabbit 8 years or older)? Even if he or she is basically healthy, age will take its toll. You may find him napping a lot more than usual, or a bit stiff to rise from his nap. Here are tips for keeping our senior companions comfortable.
Do you find your rabbit is not hopping up to his favorite haunts-sofa, chair, and stair? He might have a bit of arthritis that makes such maneuvers painful. Talk to a rabbit-savvy veterinarian about this. If the arthritis is suspected, ask about medication to ease the inflammation and pain. Glucosamine and chondroitin have been used in animal medicine long before arriving on the scene for humans, so ask if these might help. Metacam may also prove useful for inflammation and pain control. If your rabbit doesn’t tolerate handling or being given medicine very well, you’ll have to weigh this against the benefits of the medicine. However, there are many tricks for disguising medicine in treats and food for these difficult rabbits. Acupuncture is also a pain management option that should be considered.
Your rabbit may just be weaker on his legs and find it takes more effort to rise from a seated or reclining position. To make it easier for him to get up, be sure there is plenty of traction. A piece of artificial sheepskin with a rubber traction backing or a carpet runner will give him a soft place to sleep as well as a non-slip surface to dig his claws into.
Are you using plenty of hay in the litterbox? Provide a thick pad of hay and tamp it down to give increased traction. This also offers a nice soft place to nap, since bunnies do like to nod off in the litterbox!
If he can’t get in and out of the box with ease, consider cutting down one side to just an inch or so in height, smoothing the edges with sandpaper-or use a Purina Second Nature Dog Litter Pan or gardener’s Tidy Tray.
Area rugs with no-slip backings in the kitchen and other slippery locations will help him navigate from place to place. (This is good, too, for rabbits who won’t walk on slick surfaces.)
Buns past middle age are prone to calluses on their hocks (you may need to move the fur away to see them). Gently rub Vaseline or Calundula creme into theses calluses every few days to keep the skin soft. This will help prevent pain and irritation, and will help to keep the calluses from cracking open. Seek veterinary care if the hocks have open wounds.
Some older, less mobile rabbits may enjoy a small room heater in their vicinity. A warmer, cozier space for bun may be more comfortable for him and less costly than heating the whole house. (Moniter temperature and be sure to cover any cords!)
Is your elderbun losing a little weight? Just like people, some older rabbits may not eat as much or their aging digestive systems may not take full advantage of the calories they consume. Try adding more plain rabbit pellets to her daily diet. If she lives in a cool part of the house, she’ll need to use more calories to maintain her body temperature. Alfalfa or timothy pellets or a combination of the two can be used.
Significant weight loss can indicate illness. This would merit a trip to the veterinarian for an elderbunny check-up.
You may need to adjust the balance of fresh veggies and fruits to hay. As your rabbit ages, her ability to digest certain foods-or food in the usual quantities-may change. Or tooth problems may make her avoid consuming as much hay as needed to balance water content of fresh veggies, resulting in a bit of poopy butt.
Provide a choice of water bowl or bottle. There may be times when one or the other is more comfortable for him to use, and this will keep his hydration up to par.
Not all older rabbits are too thin. Like some people, older rabbits can also have trouble with obesity. Carrying extra weight is very hard on arthritic joints and can cause or intensify other health problems such as heart and digestive problems. Discuss your rabbit’s ideal weight with your veterinarian and work to achieve and maintain it.
An occasional weepy eye is probably just a clogged tear duct. The more the ducts are flushed, the more likely they are to develop scar tissue, making the already narrow channel even tighter. Besides trying to flush the duct, the veterinarian may also give you some antibiotic ointment. Clogged tear ducts are a breeding ground for infections.
The weepy eye could also be the result of an upper molar problem impinging on the duct. Checking molars thoroughly can require sedation, which is more risky in an older rabbit. Discuss this with your veterinarian.
When your rabbit reaches about age 6, consider taking him to a good rabbit veterinarian for a full examination, including blood panels. This exam should then be repeated annually. Variances in blood levels can indicate illness; normal test results can allay your concerns and provide a baseline for future tests. An annual exam for a rabbit at this age is like a 50 year old person going to the doctor once every five years. Is that often enough? Consider your rabbit‘s vitality and health history in deciding how often your elder bun should see the doctor.
by Michelle Wilhelm