You might think that your rabbit will remain healthy and active for its entire life. Over time, however, your rabbit will start to slow down and sleep more. This is just one rabbit old age symptom. If you need to know how to tell if your rabbit is getting old, there are some obvious signs.
Signs that your pet rabbit is getting old may include a greying coat, cataracts or loss of sight, hearing loss, or sleeping more often. You may also notice mobility problems, trouble grooming, weight loss, frequent avoidance of the litter box, or temperature change sensitivity. Age can also bring a range of illnesses, such as dental disease, heart disease, respiratory problems, kidney problems, or urinary tract infection. Your rabbit might even get dementia or cancer.
Some of these signs will not manifest if your senior rabbit has received high-quality care for most of its life. Other signs will be unavoidable, so you will also need to adjust your rabbit’s lifestyle. The older your rabbit gets, the more it will rely on you to remain happy and healthy.
Rabbit Aging Chart
|Stage of Life||Rabbit Age||Human Years|
|Infancy||0 to 3 months||0 to 8 years-old|
|Adolescence||3 to 6 months||8 to 16 years-old|
|Teenage||6 months to 1 year||16 to 20 years-old|
|Young Adulthood||1 to 3 years||20 to 36 years-old|
|Middle Age||3 to 5-years old||36 to 60 years-old|
|Senior||6+ years||60+ years-old|
A rabbit will grow up rather quickly from a human perspective. Within the span of 1 year, it will change from a baby rabbit to a fully-grown adult. This can make the rabbit-human age conversion more complex.
Once this first year is over, it gets easier to calculate a rabbit’s age from there. A rabbit will age around 8 years for every 1 human year.
Do Rabbits Go Grey with Age?
A rabbit’s fur can go grey or whiter due to old age. The hairs on its coat may also become thinner and finer, or conversely, much coarser than before. You will be able to spot these greying hairs around and behind its ears.
Of course, a greying coat can be more difficult to pick out on a rabbit that already has a grey or white coat. You might have to look out for other signs that your rabbit is aging on top of this.
Can Older Rabbits Go Blind?
According to Comparative Medicine, as a rabbit ages, its sight will begin to deteriorate. It may develop certain ocular issues such as:
- Blocked tear ducts
Glaucoma is a broad medical term that indicates any condition in which an abnormally high pressure is forced on the eye. It is rare for a rabbit to have glaucoma on its own.
Rather, a rabbit is more likely to suffer from ocular-related conditions that may cause glaucoma, namely blocked tear ducts and conjunctivitis. Left untreated, this could eventually lead to blindness.
When a rabbit’s tear ducts are blocked, its eyes will become watery. Excess tears may also run down its face, which can dampen the fur and skin and cause a bacterial infection that worsens the condition. This can later lead to inflammation, fur loss, and a steady build-up of pressure in the eye that causes glaucoma.
Conjunctivitis occurs when the tissues around the eye become inflamed. Not only can this cause the eyes to water, but it may also cause glaucoma and blindness if left untreated.
A rabbit will develop cataracts at birth due to bacterial or parasitic infections. A rabbit can also develop cataracts over time, leading to a slow loss of sight as it ages and eventual blindness. Cataracts can be surgically removed to restore your elderly rabbit’s sight close to what it once was.
This is not to say that blind rabbits live unfulfilling lives. A blind rabbit will learn to adjust to its newfound disability given time, relying on its sense of hearing and smell to get around. You should always make sure you announce that you are close by or let your rabbit smell you, so it does not get scared when you approach.
Likewise, put food, water, and its litter box in roughly the same area of its play pen. This helps your rabbit know where to go for these things.
Do Older Rabbits Lose Their Hearing?
Rabbits have a keen sense of hearing that can pick up sounds even human ears cannot detect. In fact, a rabbit can swivel its ears 270 degrees independently from one another to detect multiple noises from up to 2 miles away.
Unfortunately, this sharp hearing can start to dull as your rabbit grows older and it may even become deaf. Some rabbit breeds are also more likely to develop ear problems later in life.
According to the University of London, a lop-eared rabbit is more prone to ear problems due to how its skull is shaped. Because its ears automatically flop down rather than stay up, a lop-eared rabbit is more likely to suffer from narrowed ear canals, excess ear wax build-up, ear infections, and ear pain.
These may eventually lead to permanent hearing loss if left untreated. You need to take a lop-eared rabbit to the veterinarian more often for cleaning and check-ups to ensure its ears remain clean and healthy.
Unless your rabbit was born deaf, it will rely heavily on its sense of hearing. Not only does it help the rabbit detect potential predators, but it also helps it to learn and understand commands and its environment. You will know if your rabbit is losing its hearing if it does not react to loud or strange noises, or if its ears do not flick in the direction of where a noise emits.
Hearing loss can make a rabbit deeply distressed, so you will need to be even more gentle and patient with its care than before. A deaf rabbit may become aggressive towards humans.
Do your best to approach your rabbit slowly and within its field of vision. You should also let it smell you so it is reassured that you are not a threat. Outside of this, its behavior will not change all that much.
Do Rabbits Sleep More as They Get Older?
When a rabbit enters middle age, its once seemingly endless energy will begin to wane. Your rabbit may sleep more or longer than it used to, or it may not feel up for playing with you as much as before. Reduced activity is simply a sign of its older age.
It is best to just let your rabbit relax and sleep when it wants. There are times of the day when it will feel more energized, though, so you should encourage your rabbit to exercise and play during these times.
The rabbit is a crepuscular animal, which means it is most active at dawn and dusk. If your rabbit does not want to move around all that much during the times it should be more active, however, then it may be having rabbit mobility problems.
Older Rabbit Mobility Problems
Arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis, is a common condition for a senior rabbit. A rabbit that has arthritis will have inflamed joints, which can inhibit movement and be painful. Signs of rabbit arthritis include:
- Strange, stiff gait
- Difficulty hopping or moving
- Difficulty jumping over small objects or onto high surfaces
- Reduced activity
- Losing balance on its back legs
- Reduced grooming, particularly around its bottom
- Difficulty eating cecotropes
- Ear wax build-up
- Aggression and/or refusal to be touched or handled
Cartilage aids in smooth movement of the joints and can wear down or tear over time, leading to arthritis. This constant wearing in itself can be caused by several different factors.
If you do not encourage your rabbit to exercise and play, then it will likely become overweight or obese. Too much weight on the joints can cause them to wear down or even tear, which in turn causes arthritis. Additionally, a rabbit may also get arthritis from a joint injury or infection. Left untreated, arthritis can also cause muscle loss.
If you suspect your rabbit has arthritis, it is best to take it to see your veterinarian. The vet may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs) to relieve your rabbit’s joint pain or give your rabbit’s joints a massage. The vet may also suggest ways to adjust your rabbit’s diet so it can lose weight. A low-fat, high-fiber diet is crucial for optimal health.
Fortunately, not all elderly rabbits will have mobility problems. Some will remain just as active and spry as they were when they were younger. It is still a good idea to watch your rabbit to make sure it will not develop any mobility issues later on.
Do Older Rabbits Have Trouble Grooming?
Oftentimes, you may spot your rabbit licking its paws and cleaning its ears, or craning its head to lick itself clean. A rabbit cannot stand being dirty, and it can be quite thorough in cleaning itself to ensure this will not happen.
If your rabbit is having trouble grooming itself, however, then it may have developed arthritis. It is especially important that a rabbit’s bottom stays clean to prevent urine scalding, which is when urine soaks into the rabbit’s fur, bladder sludge, and other digestive complications.
Usually, you should never give your rabbit a bath, but in this case, you should wash your rabbit’s bottom every so often so it does not have to strain itself to do so. You should also make sure to regularly clean any soft blankets or other pads it lies on as well.
Arthritis can make even the smallest of jumps difficult for a rabbit to make. This can make it hard or impossible for your rabbit to use its litter box.
Why Older Rabbits Stop Using Litter Boxes
An elderly rabbit not using the litter box anymore can be yet another sign that it may have arthritis. This problem is quite simple to fix.
It will help to lay out an absorbable bathroom pad flat on the floor for your rabbit to use instead of a box the rabbit has to jump into. This will allow your rabbit to relieve itself without having to jump or hop over any obstacle in its path. You can simply sweep or pick up the pad to throw out at the end of the day and replace it with a new one.
Do Rabbits Lose Weight as They Get Older?
A rabbit’s weight may fluctuate when it grows older. Change your rabbit’s diet according to its change in weight. If it has become overweight, reduce its pellet intake.
If your rabbit has become underweight, on the other hand, increase the portion of pellets you feed it daily. Alfalfa pellets contain more calories, so you might want to give your rabbit these until it gains enough weight back.
If your rabbit still seems to be losing weight after all this, then you should take it to see your veterinarian. This could be a sign of some severe dental or digestive condition.
Are Older Rabbits More Sensitive to Temperature Changes?
Rabbits tend to be quite sensitive to sudden temperature changes, and this temperature sensitivity only increases as rabbits age. Rabbits tend to fare quite well in cold weather, though they will tend to eat more during this season to stay warm.
Excess heat, on the other hand, can stress rabbits out. Rabbits cannot sweat, and their only method of cooling off is by panting. This panting is not that effective, either, so they might overheat and even die without cool shade, water, and proper air flow.
It is best to keep an elderly rabbit in an indoor hutch where you have more control over these temperature changes. You can provide a rabbit with enough heat and food in winter and cool shade, water, and proper air ventilation during the warmer months.
Older Rabbit Health Problems
An elderly rabbit will also be more susceptible to other health problems, especially if owners have neglected some, if not most, aspects of their rabbit’s health. However, even the most involved rabbit owners might find that an underlying condition may have developed without their notice.
This is why it is important that you take your pet rabbit to your veterinarian for a check-up at least once every 2 years (and once every year once it reaches seniority). Here are just a few serious health conditions your rabbit could develop if not caught in time:
A rabbit’s teeth are constantly growing. This is why it is important to provide your rabbit enough hay, toys, or other roughage throughout its life to wear its teeth down to a more manageable level. This wear can also help prevent painful dental diseases from cropping up later in its life.
The Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine states that dental disease is one of the most common reasons a rabbit needs constant veterinary care. An elderly rabbit is more predisposed to dental disease due to the progressive changes in its skull shape and structure over time.
This can lead to malocclusion, which is when misalignment of the rabbit’s teeth can cause them to grow out-of-control, and root elongation. These conditions are very painful for a rabbit and can even interfere with its eating and grooming.
Fortunately, most dental diseases work in identifiable stages and can be caught early enough to prevent the worst. Dental disease cannot be cured on its own. If your rabbit exhibits the following symptoms, take it to your veterinarian immediately:
- Refusal to eat
- Weight loss
- Drooling constantly
- Producing less feces
- Swelling around its mouth or jaw
Sore Hocks (Pododermatitis)
Pododermatitis, more commonly referred to as sore hocks, is a condition many older rabbits tend to get on their back legs. More specifically, it affects the bottom of its feet and its hocks, which are basically like the heels of a rabbit. Sore hocks are characterized by:
- Hair loss on the affected foot
- Tougher skin on the hock
- Open wounds
Sore hocks can be quite painful for a rabbit and cannot be cured without treatment. Your veterinarian may clean out any wounds and prescribe mild painkillers.
To aid in the healing process, lay out blankets, mats, carpets, or other soft surfaces in its hutch and play area to alleviate the pressure it puts on its hocks. You will also have to clean these blankets and soft things more often to ensure its injuries stay clean. If your rabbit is also overweight, you should adjust its diet to help it lose weight.
According to the American Journal of Physiology, age can stiffen the aorta, which is the main artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the heart, and the heart of the rabbit itself. This can increase incidences of cardiac arrhythmias (or irregular heartbeats) and even cause sudden cardiac death. A rabbit can even suffer from a heart attack if stressed enough.
If your senior rabbit has a heart condition, you might notice it coughing more, eating less, having trouble moving around or breathing, and losing weight at an alarming rate.
You must take your rabbit to the veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these symptoms or it could die. Keep in mind that a rabbit will tend to hide signs of pain until its condition becomes severe.
Your veterinarian will inject isotonic saline as a treatment alongside other medications to ease pain and improve cardiac contraction. The vet will also advise you on how best to change your rabbit’s diet. Oftentimes, poor heart health can be prevented by feeding your rabbit a low-fat, high-fiber diet.
A rabbit with respiratory problems will have similar symptoms to one with heart conditions, which makes watching its behavior and health all the more important. Your rabbit may sneeze or produce nasal discharge.
A rabbit that lives in a dirty or dusty hutch or has been exposed to an already infected animal might develop respiratory problems. Do your best to keep your rabbit’s hutch and its play area clean and free from any drafts for a while. Your veterinarian may also prescribe antibiotics if its respiratory issues were caused by infections.
According to the British Veterinary Association, the presence of kidney stones or high concentrations of urea and creatinine in the blood are telling signs of renal (or kidney-related) disease.
Typically, these symptoms in turn are caused by high amounts of calcium in the rabbit’s diet. Therefore, it is imperative that your rabbit is fed a low-calcium diet to prevent this.
If you spot your old rabbit drinking a lot of water, peeing a lot, losing weight, or being depressed, then it might be suffering from renal disease. Renal disease in a rabbit can be a life-threatening emergency, so you must take it to your veterinarian immediately.
Urinary Tract Infections
Excess calcium can also cause urinary tract infection, which is a condition where a build-up of bacteria in the rabbit’s bladder can cause painful, bloody urination.
You can easily prevent this by letting your rabbit exercise often and feeding it a proper diet. This is why it is important for both a rabbit’s hutch and its play area to be wide enough for it to be able to eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom in different spots. A rabbit confined to a smaller area will develop plenty of health issues.
Dementia is a broad medical term that covers memory loss, problem-solving skills, and other cognitive abilities necessary to function on a day-to-day basis. It differs from Alzheimer’s disease in that Alzheimer’s is just one of the causes of dementia.
According to the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, a rabbit that is fed a cholesterol-enriched diet is more likely to develop sporadic Alzheimer’s disease and symptoms of dementia. It may help to adjust your rabbit’s diet to try and combat this development.
Unfortunately, because little is known on how to treat dementia and related conditions in humans in the long-term, there is even less research regarding treatment for a rabbit with dementia.
All you can do is try to create a consistent space for your rabbit where it can find its food, water, litter box, and other amenities in the same places to make it feel comfortable and safe.
YA female rabbit is especially at-risk for several different types of cancer. Uterine cancer is the most common type of cancer a female rabbit can develop, especially if you do not get it spayed in time.
Around 70% of all unspayed female rabbits that are 3 years old or older will develop uterine cancer. It is best to get your rabbit spayed when it reaches 5 to 6 months-old to completely prevent this cancer from forming.
If your female rabbit has bloody urine, then it may have uterine cancer. Uterine cancer is quite easy for veterinarians to treat if detected early enough. All the vet needs to do is surgically remove the uterus and ovaries (effectively spaying it) before cancer has spread too far.
A female rabbit can also develop mammary cancer, which is comprised of tumors found within the mammary gland. Much like with uterine cancer, mammary cancer can be treated fairly easily if detected early.
Your veterinarian will advise you to limit your rabbit’s movement until it fully heals from surgery. This means you need to confine it to a smaller play area that discourages jumping and provides limited to no obstacles.
Once your rabbit becomes 6 years old or older, certain rabbit old age symptoms may start to manifest. You need to pay closer attention to its health and behavior at this stage in its life to catch these signs early on.
There are also several things you can do to help ease your rabbit’s transition into old age. It is crucial that you feed your rabbit a diet full of fiber, dark leafy greens, and limited pellets to ensure it remains healthy. You will also need to increase vet visits from once every 2 years to once a year so your vet can catch any signs of serious health conditions early on.