Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) is all about improving the welfare of our cute, but complicated furry friends, and over the last 15 years, it’s had a significant impact. Our PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report 2020 highlighted that many bunnies across the country are now leading fuller, healthier lives – and more rabbits are living to reach a golden age!
Caring for older bunnies can be difficult, but if they’ve remained active and eaten the correct diet throughout their lives, they shouldn’t find the transition into their senior years too dramatic. However, just like us, there can be some hiccups along the way, so we’ve put together our top tips for caring for your OAPs!
Hay is always the most important part of rabbits’ diets and it’s just as vital in their old age. As they get older, change their rabbit feed pellets to a senior version and still offer a handful of rabbit safe, fresh food each day.
2. Health checks
Home health checks are really important for all rabbits, every day of their lives. Not only does it get them used to being handled, it strengthens the bond between you and is a fantastic opportunity to pick up potential problems early on – especially as they’re getting older!
3. Lumps and Bumps
Your daily health check will help you understand what is normal for your rabbits. Therefore, new lumps or bumps can be spotted quickly and you can get them checked by your vet.
Bunnies can also have the occasional scuffle, even with their much loved rabbit companion, so you could see the odd scratch or bite mark. Daily health checks allow you to know about these straight away, so they can be treated if needed. Just remember that proper fights and pulling out fur could be a sign that your bunnies’ bond is broken.
Rabbits’ teeth continually grow throughout their lives. If your rabbits eat a healthy diet mainly consisting of hay, they will naturally grind those teeth down.
As rabbits get older however, their jaw joint can deteriorate causing dental issues such as loose or misaligned teeth. These can result in sharp painful teeth spurs, which require veterinary treatment. To ensure that your rabbits’ oral and gut health stay in perfect working order, regular dental checks are important!
Vaccinating your rabbits is vital to keeping them healthy. Sadly, the diseases we vaccinate against are often fatal if caught by your bunnies. As rabbits get older, vaccinations remain just as important so be sure to visit your vet to get their boosters on time.
Just like us, rabbits can suffer with arthritis in their joints, as a result of wear and tear. Spondylosis (arthritis of the spine) in particular, is common in adult rabbits, causing pain and lack of movement.
It’s important to remember that rabbits are masters of hiding their pain, so looking out for subtle signs of discomfort is vital. Sore feet, looking weak on their back legs, or a lack of self-grooming from feeling sore, are all signs that something’s not right.
Vets can prescribe anti-inflammatory painkillers to provide relief from stiff and sore joints, so they may even be able to binky again!
If rabbits are not grooming because they are feeling uncomfortable, they can be at risk of flystrike. A lack of grooming can lead to a build-up of poops on your rabbits’ bottoms. It’s therefore essential to check and groom your bunnies daily, as messy bottoms are a tempting place for flies to lay eggs – and this can have fatal consequences!
8. Overgrown nails
If your bunny is feeling stiff and uncomfortable, they might not want to be as active – meaning their nails can overgrow, causing even more discomfort.
It’s important to keep a close eye on your bunnies’ nails, and if you know how, safely trim any that may be overgrown. Alternatively, ask your vet team to do this for you.
As with all animals, rabbits are at risk of developing life threatening cancers – a risk that increases with age. Daily health checks will allow you to spot signs such as weight loss, altered appetite, changes in their behaviour, any changes to their urine or faeces and discharge from body openings.
10. Losing a loved one
Rabbits are social animals, so it’s vital for their mental wellbeing that they share their lives with other bunnies. However, sadly, as they get older, it may be likely for one bonded partner to pass away before the other.
If this happens to your rabbits it’s important to give them time to grieve. If appropriate, give your rabbit some time with their friend after they have passed, as it can help them understand their loss.
Company is important, so following the loss of a rabbit, you can introduce a new friend by starting the process of bonding your bunnies. Some owners however, may be coming to the end of their rabbit owning lives. In this case, it’s important to spend time with the remaining rabbit to make up for their lack of bunny soul-mate. Providing plenty of toys and enrichment will also allow your Old Aged Pal to live out the rest their lives feeling fulfilled and content!