What is classified as a senior rabbit? This would mean rabbits that are adult and generally from the age of 5 and over (but mostly from 7 & older).
How old can rabbits live?
Some bunnies can live to 12 years or more with regular vet care and special attention. By the time a rabbit reaches around 5 years of age, a rabbit may need some changes to their care. Looking after an elderly bunny is a joy. Elderly rabbits are affectionate and love lots of snuggles. Elderly bunnies often rely on us to provide care, medications, assist with hygiene and provide the best food. We would advise that all rabbits live indoors, particularly as bunnies age. The best way to care for an elderly bunny is to watch them closely and to know when your bunny needs assistance.
The signs that your bunny is ageing
* A decrease in energy levels
* Stiffness in the joints
* Losing or gaining weight
* More quiet, less destructive behaviour (which is a good one!)
* Loss of hearing (or selective hearing! haha)
* Sight loss or cataracts forming on eyes
* Difficulty/inability to groom ears, eyes or bottom by themselves
* Weepy eyes
* Snoring when sleeping/resting
* Small lumps or bumps on the skin
* Dirty bottom
* Toileting on the floor instead of the litter tray
* Drinking lots of water
* gut stasis episodes
Diet for an older bunny
When bunnies age, they often cannot tolerate some vegies that they used to tolerate when they were younger. You may find that your bunny ends up with a dirty bottom regularly. This may be due to the food that they are eating and, most of the time, a dirty bottom can be avoided with a change of diet.
To avoid wet poos or excess cecals that can get stuck to a bunny bottom, the diet may need to be adjusted. It is recommended to keep a routine small group of vegies to avoid tummy & bottom problems. Avoid the brassica family (brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower & kale) as these vegies seem to be a very common problem for elderly bunnies. Our bunny favourites are:
* bok choy
* carrot tops
Encourage more hay eating or provide a bowl of oaten chaff to increase fibre intake.
Always have a bowl of water available so your bunny can drink whenever they wish. Bottles do not provide enough water and if your bunny starts to suffer from kidney problems, they will need to have access to fresh water in large volumes easily. If you notice that your bunny is drinking a lot of water, ask your vet to take a blood test to check kidney function,
Avoid too many pellets unless your bunny is losing weight. If losing weight, have your bunny's teeth checked. Dental issues can develop when older (even if they have never happened before). Pellets are high in calcium so are best to provide as a treat (a tablespoon per day is adequate). If a bunny is losing weight, is elderly and teeth are in good order, the Oxbow pellets are excellent to help a rabbit keep to a stable weight. It can be advised to provide pellets in the diet if it is to gain weight but a good quality pellet, such as the Oxbow brand, is the best option as fibre content is the highest we can get in Australia.
How to help your bunny get around
As your bunny gets older, you may notice that they have a bit more difficulty getting in & out of a litter tray or may not want to use a ramp or stairs. If you notice that your bunny is not using the litter tray as they used to, and toileting more on the floor, this may indicate they have joint issues or the start of arthritis.
Senior bunnies will need some adjustments when it comes to litter trays or enclosures. High sided trays will be awkward and older bunnies may struggle to get in & out. You may find that your bunny starts to toilet on the floor outside the litter tray. Look for low sided trays or trays that have a low front access. If your bunny lives in a 2 storey enclosure, you may need to remove the second storey and provide larger one level floor space.
Keeping the floor & bunny bottoms dry
As most elderly bunnies become a little bit messier than they used to be when they were younger, you will notice that they will probably toilet on the floor instead of the tray (no matter how low the tray).
Porous vet bed
One of the best tips I can suggest is getting yourself some puppy pads and porous backed vet beds (sometimes called "fluffy beds"). The porous backing means that your elderly bunny can have an accident on the floor, the vet bed will stay dry on the top and the puppy pad underneath will absorb the urine so your floor remains dry!
If your bunny suffers from urine scalding (when acidic urine touches the skin, the area can become red and irritated). If the area is hairless (fur does often drop out leaving the skin very sore), you can gently wash the skin with a damp cloth and apply some sudo cream (available in supermarkets or chemists) and visit your vet as soon as possible. If the area is soaked in urine and the fur is wet or damp, please visit your vet as soon as possible to clip the fur and treat the skin condition.
Once a bunny reaches a mature age, it is recommended to have a health check with an experienced rabbit vet every 6 months. If your bunny has dirty bottom problems, ask your vet about clipping the dirty fur (often called a "bunny brazilian") and discuss a change in diet. A yearly blood test is always a good idea for an elderly bunny to check organ function (you will need to do this prior to administering common pain relief to avoid any complications).
Don''t forget yearly vaccinations for your bunny aganst calici virus. If your bunny is not well at the time of vaccination, sometimes it is best to hold off until your bunny's immune system is improved. Sometimes vaccinations can cause reactions, particularly if your bunny is elderly or is suffering from an ongoing illness, so ask your vet whether they advise a vaccination on the day. Always better to be careful with senior bunnies.