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Care of geriatric rabbits

02 July 2018
9 mins read
Volume 9 · Issue 6


With the continual advancement in veterinary medicine, rabbits have the care they need to live longer. While rabbits of all ages have similar needs, geriatric rabbits can have a longer, better quality of life with proper identification and management of age-related diseases. Important considerations for elevated quality of life for geriatric patients include: adjustments in husbandry and nutrition, and medical management of age-related diseases such as congestive heart failure, chronic renal insufficiency, and a wide variety of mobility issues. Becoming familiar with signs of age-related medical complications is extremely important due to a rabbit's natural instinct to hide signs of illness. Supportive care at home is key to the ongoing wellbeing of geriatric pets with health conditions. It is also important to be prepared to discuss the delicate subject of end-of-life care and euthanasia with owners of geriatric rabbits. Humane and stress-free euthanasia is important for all species, including pet rabbits.

With more owners choosing routine veterinary care, which allows for early detection and treatment of illnesses and diseases, it is becoming increasingly common to see geriatric rabbits in the veterinary practice. As pets age, special considerations are taken in regard to nutritional needs, comfort level, health status, and quality of life (Figure 1). Veterinary nurses play a key role in educating clients on the special needs of these patients. In the past, the average lifespan for domestic pet rabbits was considered 5 to 7 years (Meredith and Lord, 2014). Improved quality of care, ideal diets, routine veterinary visits, and elective altering are thought to be associated with increased lifespan, in some individuals as old as 10–14 years (Harcourt-Brown, 2002). The authors consider rabbits to be geriatric starting at 7 years of age.

The ideal diet for pet rabbits is unlimited grass-based hay, green leafy vegetables, and limited high-quality, hay-based pellets (Bradley, 2004). As they age, geriatric rabbits are fed the same foods, with proportions and amounts adjusted based on condition. If the geriatric patient is sedentary or not active and burning calories, which can lead to weight gain, it may require less pellets and more hay. Generally, rabbits should be fed 1/8–1/4 cup of hay-based pellets per day or as per package instructions (Mayer and Donnelly, 2012). If the patient is experiencing muscle wasting, more pellets and the addition of alfalfa hay may help maintain weight (Lennox, 2010).

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