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As veterinary care becomes more advanced, and pet owners become more knowledgeable, it’s now common to see more rabbits living into old age. However, as rabbits get older, their needs can change, bringing with it a need to make adjustments to how you care for them. Given special consideration to meet their needs, there’s no reason why a senior rabbit can’t live a full and active life, even if they move less, sleep more and need extra care.
When is a Rabbit Classed as Being Senior?
The lifespan of a rabbit can vary depending on breed and size. Smaller breeds (eg. Netherland Dwarf, Polish) can live up to 12 - 13 years of age, deeming them to be classed as ‘senior’ from around 8 years old, and beyond. Medium sized breeds (eg. dwarf lops, or rabbits weighing around 3.5-4kg) may live up to 9 - 10 years, or more, deeming them to be classed as ‘senior’ from around 6 years old. Large and giant breeds (eg. Continental giant, French lop, Belgian hare, New Zealand White) may only be expected to live 4 – 7 years, deeming them to be classed as ‘senior’ at 3 – 4 years old. This is a guideline only, and all rabbits should be assessed individually.
Just like any other rabbit, an older bunny still needs a constant supply of hay/grass, access to water and plenty of fresh greens every day (See Diet – What do Rabbits Eat). In general, rabbits don’t need any more than a tablespoon of pellets per kilogram of body weight each day, but a senior rabbit may require a bit more to prevent their weight from dropping. However, this is not always the case, as senior rabbits are likely to be less active, so may need fewer pellets. You’ll need to monitor your rabbit’s weight closely, and feed them accordingly. A good diet should provide your rabbit with all the vitamins and minerals they need, so there should be no need for any form of supplementation, unless advised by a vet.
A lot of senior rabbits will have developed some form of dental disease. Signs include, eating less, changes in food preferences, losing weight, salivating, less droppings and swelling around the mouth and jaw. Take your rabbit for a dental examination and x-rays.
Arthritis and spondylosis are common conditions in pet rabbits, though often go undiagnosed, as it’s perceived that the rabbit is just slowing down with old age. Get your vet to perform x-rays on your rabbit’s bones/joints to detect any problems. If your rabbit is suffering and prescribed medication, it will probably be needed for the rest of their life. Medication is typically liquid Meloxicam, which is a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID). It’s advised that your rabbit has blood tests before taking any medication, to check for any other diseases, and for tests to be repeated every 3-6 months. Some vets may also, in addition, prescribe a drug called Ranitidine, which has anti-ulcerative properties that can help protect the intestine from potential ulcers caused by the use of Meloxicam. An overweight or arthritic rabbit will have trouble keeping themselves clean, so be sure to check and clean their bottom if they are struggling.
Claws may need clipping more frequently, as a senior rabbit is likely to be less active, meaning the claws won’t be naturally worn down.
Up to 80% of female rabbits who haven’t been spayed will suffer from reproductive cancers by the age of 5 years old, putting them at a high risk of illness. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to neuter your rabbits (See Importance of Neutering).
Pressure points/sores may develop if the rabbit isn’t housed on thick, absorbent bedding, especially in rabbits with mobility problems or carrying excess weight.
Elderly rabbits tend to have some sort of mobility problems, so you may need to make alterations to their housing to make it easier for them to get about.
Losing a Companion
Losing a rabbit is always a sad time, for both you, and any bunnies left behind. If your bunny has lost their companion, you will need to give them time to grieve and accept that their partner is gone. Spend extra time with your rabbit, stroking and talking to them, so they don’t get too lonely, and find them a new bunny friend as soon as you can.