Understanding Rabbit Mobility Issues – Osteoarthritis
Just like their human owners rabbits can develop mobility problems as they age with one of the most common being Osteoarthritis. It is important to note, however, that whilst osteoarthritis is more frequently seen in older rabbits it can also occur in younger rabbits.
Osteoarthritis is a painful and progressive disease that causes inflammation, stiffness, and pain in the joints and can have a significant impact on mobility. Unlike dogs and cats, due to the fact they are prey animals, rabbits will often hide pain until it becomes overwhelming; as a result of this arthritis in rabbits is frequently missed.
Rabbits are more at risk of osteoarthritis if:
- They have had a previous injury affecting one or more joints
- They are overweight
- They are considered a ‘giant breed’ (e.g. Flemish Giant, Giant French-Lop)
- They are genetically predisposed to joint problems
One of the first signs that your rabbit may be suffering from OA can simply be that they appear to be ‘slowing down’; they may sleep more, or perhaps they’re just not as active as they once were. Other signs that your rabbit may be suffering from OA may include some (or all) of the following:
- You may notice your rabbit keeps getting a dirty back end especially underneath or around the tail region. Due to stiffness and discomfort, osteoarthritis may prevent your rabbit from cleaning themselves adequately.
- You may notice urine soaked fur around the rear end, underneath the tail and between the hind legs. This can occur if Osteoarthritis prevents your rabbit from getting into the correct position to urinate and can cause pain and inflammation in areas of skin that are exposed to the urine (known as urine scalding).
- Your rabbit may begin to develop knots/tangles in areas of fur where they cannot comfortably reach to groom themselves – this may be more pronounced in breeds with long fur.
- Your rabbit may appear to limp, show signs of stiffness or ’wobbliness’; this is often worse after they have been lying down.
- Your rabbit may appear to have difficulty jumping on or off raised areas that they previously had no issue with.
- Litter trained rabbits may have difficulty getting into or out of their litter trays.
- Your rabbit may generally seem to be less active/move around less, especially when the weather is cold and/or damp.
- Your rabbit may develop a reduced appetite.
If your rabbit shows any of the above symptoms it is important to get them checked out by your vet as soon as possible. It is also important to remember that some of the signs mentioned are not specific to osteoarthritis and can also occur in other disorders that may affect your rabbit. Once your vet has confirmed that your rabbit is suffering from osteoarthritis they may prescribe pain relieving medication. There are also lots of simple changes you can implement at home to help make life more comfortable for your rabbit. Your vet can discuss this with you at your appointment.