caring for senior rabbits
Care Guides

How To Care for An Older Rabbit

Rabbits will inevitably experience the limitations of old age. As your rabbit becomes elderly, it may experience health issues, changes in its energy levels, and differing appetites. An old rabbit is just 7 years of age. You want to keep your pet feeling good, but this will all depend on how you care for it in its golden and twilight years.

To care for an old rabbit, you’ll need to adjust to its new metabolism, reduced mobility, and grooming issues. You may need to provide dry baths, place more litter boxes, offer more water, or change its food. If your bunny has age-related conditions, like blindness, deafness, kidney issues, incontinence, sore hocks, or arthritis, you need more extreme measures. After medical intervention, this may change how you play with or feed the rabbit, and how its enclosure is set up.

Even a healthy rabbit will need adjustments to its lifestyle. This may involve putting its food and water closer to its sleeping area. Its bedding may need to be softer or warmer. Ramps may need less of an incline to help with joint problems. Your bunny may crave more attention, or need exercise that’s low-impact.

What Age Is A Rabbit Considered Old?

On average, rabbits can live anywhere between 10 to 12 years of age. According to the Guinness World Records, the oldest rabbit is currently 17. Depending on how it’s cared for, your bunny may live to a ripe old age.

Most rabbits are considered elderly at 7 years old, so they may begin showing degenerative signs at this age. Much will depend on their breed. It’s also influenced by how they’re cared for, their diet, and their genetic history. Your rabbit may show signs of old age before or after 7 years.  

Signs of Old Age in Rabbits

As your rabbit grows older, the years will naturally wear on it. As a result, it may display these behavioral or physical changes:

  • White hairs
  • Sleeping more
  • Coarse hair
  • Thinning fur
  • Less mobility
  • Appetite changes
  • Changes in nails
  • Reduction in eyesight
  • Sensitive to temperature changes
  • Change in weight
  • Loss of muscle
  • Issues grooming
  • Change in bathroom habits
  • Increased health issues

What Should Older Rabbits Eat?

Older rabbits will eat the same foods as younger rabbits. However, the amounts may need to change.

Likewise, new foods should be added to ensure they get the nutrients their aging bodies require. For example, elderly bunnies may struggle to get sufficient calcium. That makes it wise to incorporate more calcium-rich foods in their diet, such as alfalfa hay. On the whole, make sure your aging rabbit has access to:

  • Grass-based hay
  • Oat-based hay
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Hay-based pellets
  • Water

Rabbits should be fed 1/8–1/4 cup of hay-based pellets per day. That’s in addition to their regular loose hay and leafy vegetables.

what age is a rabbit considered old?

Do Older Rabbits Eat Less?

Your rabbit may eat less as it ages. That’s because its metabolism will change to process food at a different rate. Its level of activity will also lessen, as it experiences the fatigue or joint issues common with elderly rabbits. If it’s running, playing, and binkying less, there’s no need to eat so much.

If your rabbit empties its bowl more slowly than in its youth, don’t worry. That’s natural. When tailoring a bunny’s diet to its age, be sure to:

  • Provide unlimited hays and grasses. Most rabbits will self-regulate their diet as they age.
  • Offer fewer treats. With a reduced appetite, your bunny may choose to only eat treats and not compensate with hay. A younger bunny would have the appetite for both. An older bunny, instead, may just forego the real nutrients it needs.
  • Keep its water full. Elderly rabbits must stay hydrated to maintain their gut and joint health. That’s especially important if they have kidney issues or arthritis.
  • Keep food and water in easy reach. Mobility issues could make it more difficult to access food or water bowls. Make sure your bunny doesn’t have to work for it.

There are exceptions, however. An elderly rabbit’s appetite could go wrong in two ways:

Obesity In Older Rabbits

If your aging rabbit overeats, it may be at risk of obesity. What a young bunny could work off, an older bunny cannot. In the wild, rabbits know to self-regulate, but pet bunnies can be easily overfed with tempting treats.

According to Hypertension, a particularly high-fat diet may also cause obesity and high blood pressure in rabbits. An elderly rabbit’s metabolism will change, so it may be unable to safely consume the fat content it once enjoyed. This may include beans or some fruits.

Your pet’s reduced mobility may also result in weight gain if the food portions remain the same. At this point, it’s wise to ration out the bunny’s diet. It should be provided with unlimited hay, but careful amounts of any other food.

Weight Loss in Older Rabbits

In contrast, some rabbits become underweight as they get older. Your bunny may naturally recognize that it has no appetite and won’t overeat. If that drop in appetite becomes severe, it may eat very little – or not at all. This can result in malnutrition. After all, aging bunnies still need to keep up their body temperature and store energy.

Here, it’s wise to contact your vet about appetite boosters. In the meantime, you can add more rabbit pellets to its food. This should provide the calorie boost to ensure it still receives nutrients, but with less eating needed.

Do Older Rabbits Drink More or Less?

A bunny may drink more water as it ages. In the same way its metabolism processes food differently, the rabbit may be in greater need of hydration. That’s because with age comes deterioration. Aging bunnies have an even greater need to maintain their kidney, joint, and digestive health. Water helps in all these factors.

If your bunny is draining its water bowl, this can be a good sign. However, if it appears constantly thirsty, it may be a sign of kidney failure. Be sure to discuss this sign with your vet.

In contrast, a bunny may drink less water as it ages. This should be to a minor degree. If your rabbit drinks half the water it used to, this is a health risk. The bun’s joints, heart, and digestive system will be harmed, and it could result in kidney issues. If your bunny stops drinking enough water, try to encourage it to hydrate again:

Place Its Water Bowl Or Bottle Nearby

If your rabbit has mobility issues, meet it halfway. Place the water bottle closer to its sleeping area in the enclosure. Likewise, you can move the water bowl within its reach. If it doesn’t have to strain itself, it’s more likely to stay hydrated.

Soak Greens in Water

Your rabbit may need tempting. This can be done by soaking leafy greens in water and then feeding them to your bunny. This creates a treat that’s both juicy and hydrating. It may be necessary to hand-feed your rabbit until it grows used to this process.

If your bunny doesn’t finish all the wet greens, be sure to dispose of them after a day. Otherwise, they may begin to rot.

Caring for an Older Rabbits Mobility

Rabbits will slow down as they age. This may be due to a lack of energy, or mobility issues such as:

  • Joint pain
  • Arthritis
  • Lethargy
  • Obesity

Each of these have their own complications. To help your rabbit with its mobility, be sure to modify its environment.

  • Keep things in easy reach. As mentioned, make sure your rabbit can access its litter box, food, and water.
  • Provide softer bedding. Joint pain can be greatly eased if your bunny has a gentle, supportive place to rest.
  • Decrease the angle of ramps. Jumping, running, or climbing will be far more difficult for an aging rabbit. After all, its joints don’t have the same elasticity and the rabbit itself has less energy.
  • Add more litter boxes. If your bunny roams throughout your house, it may not have the energy to trek to its litter box. Instead, place several throughout your home. An elderly bunny will appreciate not traveling more than one room to relieve itself.
  • Providing anti-slip mats. Hardwood or tile floors are difficult for any bunny to navigate. However, a fall is detrimental to an elderly bunny. Put anti-slip mats next to ramps, furniture, or anywhere bunnies need good traction.

Caring for Elderly Rabbit Arthritis

Older rabbits can absolutely get arthritis. After hopping around while they’re young, it can become more difficult as they grow old. You’ll notice these signs as:

  • Stiffness when moving
  • Getting dirty or scruffy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Difficulty in jumping up/down
  • Difficulty getting into and out of the litter box
  • A change in behavior, especially grumpiness or aggression

There is no cure for arthritis. However, with the help of a doctor, you can ensure your bunny lives a healthy, happy life. This may be through the assistance of:

  • Pain medication.
  • Physical therapy and careful exercise. This will help maintain some elasticity in the joints, while causing minimal pain.
  • Staying hydrated and adding foods that help soothe joint pain.
  • Changes to its environment, such as ramps or anti-slip pads.

Do Old Rabbits Go Blind?

Aging rabbits can lose their vision as they grow old. This can happen fairly quickly, or the bunny may get cataracts over time. To see if your rabbit suffers from this, try this test:

  • Look into your rabbit’s eyes.
  • They should look colorful, clear, and alert.
  • The rabbit should blink or close its eyes if you try to put your hand or finger over it.

It’s a bad sign if:

  • The rabbit shows no reaction to your hand gestures
  • The eyes have discharge
  • The eyes have tears or rips
  • The eyes have streaks in the corners

This could indicate anything from cataracts to an eye infection. It’s recommended to take it to the vet immediately. Letting this fester for too long may result in permanent damage.

Caring for A Blind Rabbit

In some cases, a rabbit’s lost vision is unavoidable. Whether it has a condition or an infection got out of hand, your rabbit may end up blind. If so, that doesn’t mean it can’t live happily with you. The day-to-day care will just need to change. For example:

  • Ensuring its food, litter box, and toys aren’t moved. Rabbits that are blind or have fogged vision may struggle to find objects later on.
  • Announcing yourself as you approach the rabbit. It may struggle to see you, but it can hear you.
  • Putting down non-skid mats. This will keep it from falling or sliding on slippery surfaces it can’t visually gauge.
  • Cutting out one side of the litter box. This makes it easier for it to climb inside. After all, it can’t see how high it must jump or reach.
  • Change playtime to touch- or sound-based activities. Instead of having your bunny run mazes, invest in toys that make noise. You can also take up more grooming activities to bond with your rabbit, so it can feel your touch. 

Caring for A Deaf Rabbit

Older rabbits can also go deaf. You may notice your rabbit struggles to notice your presence or startle easily despite verbal warning. Like blindness, a deaf rabbit can still be a happy pet, with the right care.

Stay In Its Line of Sight

This will help the bunny detect your presence. Note that rabbits have a blind spot directly in front of them and behind them. It’s best to approach your pet from the sides.

Keep It Away From Other Rowdy Pets

A large dog may not mean harm to your bunny. However, it can still bump into the rabbit or trample over it. If your bunny can’t hear, it can’t avoid this. 

Approach At A Distance

A rabbit should have time to notice you. If you suddenly appear in its vision, this can startle it. If frightened too badly, it may jerk to the side and injure itself. 

Caring for A Rabbit with Kidney Disease

The kidneys filter waste from the bloodstream and control many other bodily functions. As such, complications or failures may be fatal to rabbits.

There are two kinds: acute and chronic. Acute kidney failure appears suddenly. It can be serious unless it’s diagnosed and treated quickly (and aggressively). Otherwise, it can lead to death.

Chronic kidney failure can affect rabbits at any age, but is seen in older rabbits more commonly. The condition appears gradually over time.

If your rabbit gets kidney disease or experiences kidney failure, it is irreversible. Medication is available to help certain parts of the body function. With that said, unlike the liver, the kidneys won’t rejuvenate. The only cure for kidney failure is a full kidney transplant. These operations are not performed on rabbits.

With kidney failure, euthanization may be necessary to prevent suffering. If your rabbit is in the early stages of kidney disease, however, there are treatments available. Most importantly, the care you offer your pet at home will boost its quality of life.

What Can Cause Kidney Disease in Rabbits?

There is a long list of conditions that can bring on kidney disease in rabbits:

  • Cancer
  • Cysts
  • Infections
  • Kidney stones
  • Obesity
  • Old age
  • Toxins
  • Trauma

Treating the underlying issues can mean:

  • Giving your rabbit antibiotics for infections
  • Having fluid therapy
  • Making sure the bunny is eating well
  • Surgery for any cysts, tumors, or obstructions

What Are The Symptoms Of Kidney Disease?

According to Veterinary Record, kidney stones and blood in the urine can be used to determine if your rabbit has kidney disease. However, symptoms of kidney disease are just as varied what causes it:

  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive thirst
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss.
  • Kidney stones
  • Blood in urine

Caring for Rabbits With Kidney Disease

To care for a rabbit with renal or kidney disease, you’ll need patience. The majority of the treatment will be applied by the veterinarian. In the meantime, however, you can improve the bunny’s lifestyle at home.

  • Provide ample water. As mentioned, water is crucial in maintaining kidney health. Your rabbit may not be interested, but you should encourage it to drink water constantly.
  • Temperature control. If your bunny experiences kidney issues, it may struggle to regulate its body temperature. Be sure to provide a fan that circulates cool air for your bunny.
  • Add fiber. If your bunny experiences diarrhea because of kidney disease, try to add more fiber to its diet. This may include discussing new hay alternatives with your vet.
  • Handfeeding. Your bunny may lose its appetite and refuse to eat, leading to weight loss. In this case, try to coax your bunny into eating from your hand. You can also follow the steps mentioned earlier to combat weight loss.  

What Other Problems Do Elderly Rabbits Get?

With age may come deterioration. Here are a few other illnesses older rabbits are prone to, and how to care for them.

Incontinence in Older Rabbits

Of all sicknesses, incontinence is common in elderly rabbits. This will manifest as your bunny’s inability to control its bladder or bowels. In this case, you can:

  • Provide more litter boxes
  • Consider pet diapers
  • Place potty mats throughout your home
  • Play with your bunny on towels or easily cleaned fabrics

Limb Paralysis

Limb paralysis is a problem that can either be temporary or permanent. It’s often caused by joint inflammation and can be relieved by pain medication. Other times, it can be more serious, leaving your bunny unable to use its limbs. The paralysis is more common in the front legs, but rear limb paralysis can occur as a rabbit gets older.

If your rabbit has mobility in some limbs, you can invest in a rabbit wheelchair. This will help it continue to move and explore your home.

Sore Hocks

Sore hocks are an issue most rabbits face at some point in their lives. Hocks are the heels of a rabbit’s feet. The skin is thin and sits against the bone. As rabbits get older, the skin becomes brittle and sore. If you notice this issue, you can:

  • Rub petroleum jelly on the area
  • Give your rabbit softer flooring to hop around on

Day To Day Care for Older Rabbits

If your rabbit experiences no illnesses as it grows old, that’s wonderful. Its day-to-day care won’t remain the same, however. By applying a few changes to the routine, you can ensure the bunny lives a healthy and happy life.

rabbit mobility problems

Vet Checks

With or without health issues, an elderly rabbit must see a vet more frequently. Once it reaches 6 years old, it should receive a full exam, including blood panels, at least once a year. The results of the blood panels accomplish four things:

  • Your vet has constant updates on the rabbit’s health
  • Reveals genetic defects or diseases early
  • Catches developing conditions, such as arthritis, in time to apply treatment
  • Allows you to discuss changes to the rabbit’s diet. That’s especially important as its appetite and nutritional needs change.

Grooming

As rabbits grow old, its mobility issues could make grooming more difficult. Without help, urine and feces may build up in its fur. To prevent this, you can help it in the grooming routine.

Brushing

Brushing your rabbit will clear out debris and soften the fur. Just be sure to check underneath the bunny’s hips and around its tail. These are great hiding spots for food, hay, or waste.

Dry Baths

Rabbits do not like water baths. To keep your bunny clean and fresh anyhow, you can undertake a dry bath:

  1. Find a large bucket to place your rabbit in
  2. Gently sprinkle cornstarch down your rabbit’s back
  3. Massage that through its fur with your hands
  4. Be sure to work the starch into its joint areas to remove moisture
  5. Once the rabbit has been thoroughly rubbed down, comb your bunny with a fine-toothed brush
  6. Remove as much cornstarch as possible. If it doesn’t all come out, don’t worry; it’s not harmful to your bunny. It will work the starch out of its fur itself.

Nail Clipping

An older rabbit won’t be running or digging as much. Because of this, its nails won’t file down on its own. Make sure to clip them more often.

Teeth Checks

At least once a month, check your rabbit’s teeth. You should ensure they look healthy and not overgrown. Should your bunny’s teeth get out of hand, you can invest in a rabbit-safe tooth-toy.

These are designed to provide an abrasive surface for your bunny to wear down its teeth. If the rabbit shows no interest in this solution, you can contact your vet for different options.

Exercise

While older rabbits may be less mobile, exercise is still necessary to keep it healthy. Its joints won’t appreciate high-impact activities. However, you can schedule play sessions to get the bunny moving. This may include a few minutes of:

  • Wandering through a maze
  • Playing with a toy
  • Taking a leisurely walk through your yard (on a harness)

How to Comfort An Elderly Rabbit

If it seems to be your rabbit’s twilight years (or days), be sure to fill them with love. Here are ways to provide comfort to your aging bunny.

Keep The Temperature Right

Keep your bunny and its environment at an optimal temperature (100-103°F). If you find that’s difficult, then:

  • Use a hot water bottle or a heater and blanket to increase temperature
  • Use a cold pack, a fan, or ice water to decrease temperature

Create The Right Sleep Area

Older bunnies get tired easily. As such, it’s important to provide a clean, calm, and quiet sleeping area. Be sure the area is large enough to comfortably stretch out in. The bedding should consist of:

  • Newspaper
  • Shredded paper, straw and hay for warmth and insulation
  • Layer of peat or cat litter to absorb urine

Provide Lots of Attention

While your rabbit may lack its youthful, energetic behavior, that’s replaced with a desire for cuddling. Most rabbits will be pleased to curl up in your lap and receive pets. Your bunny may sleep more as well, but will be glad to do so in your presence.

Keep Medication Consistent

If your rabbit has medication prescribed by a vet, be sure to administer it on time. Likewise, keep to a strict schedule for pain killers. Rabbits will do everything they can to hide the pain. You can’t rely on physical signs to gauge when your bunny needs pain killers. Nonetheless, some signs may include:

  • Reluctance to move
  • Aggression
  • Squinting eyes
  • Inability to sleep
  • Hunched posture
  • Teeth grinding

Have Patience

Most of all, older rabbits need patience from their owners. Your bunny may not have its previous energy, and it may have new conditions. Nonetheless, it’s still a loving pet that adores you. Just be sure to apply the right care and make adjustments to its routine. By doing so, your bunny will feel and act its best in its twilight years.