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The Rabbit Who Introduced A Veterinarian To Pet Old Age

Are you up to the challenge of caring for a senior pet versus a young or adult pet?

Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Posted: July 7, 2014, 4 a.m. EDT

Many years ago, a client of mine had to move back to England unexpectedly. She needed to find a home for her 11-year-old rabbit, Misty. Unfortunately, Misty was not only older but had significant malocclusion (poorly aligned teeth) and chronic weepy eyes. The only place that would take her was a local rescue that would house her outside with the other rabbits. The idea of this lovely, geriatric rabbit with health problems being housed outside after a lifetime of being a pampered house rabbit was too much. I volunteered to adopt her and the owner was very grateful.

This was my first experience with an elderly rabbit.

Taking care of a senior pet was definitely an eye-opener for me. As rabbits get older, they experience the same age-related changes that other pets do. They are more likely to have kidney problems, arthritis, foot sores, cataracts, heart disease, cancer and hind-end weakness. Some conditions can be treated with relatively good success, while others can be managed so that the pet remains comfortable. In some circumstances, we need to make an honest evaluation of the animal’s overall quality of life to determine if humane euthanasia is a reasonable option.

rabbit lounging in hideaway
© Courtesy Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Misty enjoyed hanging out in her hideaway.

In Misty’s case, I was able to manage her teeth and eye problems with regular dental trims and medication. I also determined that she had arthritis and started her on medications and supplements to improve the health of her joints. My goal at home was to provide her with an environment that would make her comfortable.

What I noticed immediately was that Misty slept much more than a younger rabbit and preferred to shuffle around instead of hopping. In order to help her navigate the environment, I always ensured that she had access to non-slip flooring. Lots of towels and bedding gave her a soft area to rest on. I also provided her with a litter box with a very low edge (about 1 inch) so that she could get in and out easily or else I gave her access to a puppy training pad (ensuring she did not ingest any of it).

Given her poor mobility and weaker hind end, Misty often had large accumulations of droppings stuck to the fur under her back end as well as lots of wax in both ears. I would bring Misty in for my technicians to shave off the fur from under her tail to help keep her clean. Careful use of cotton balls and tissue helped aid in removing waxy plugs from the ears.

One of the greatest achievements in the field of exotic veterinary medicine is the increased life span of our special pets, but senior pets require a little extra TLC. In general, it is recommended that elderly pets visit the veterinarian every six months to help aid in early detection of problems.

Note: This article is meant for educational purposes only and in no way represents any particular individual or case. It is not for diagnostic purposes. If your pet is sick, please take him or her to a veterinarian.

See all of Dr. Materi's blogs, click here>>

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And check out:
Treatment For Arthritis And Back Pain In Small Animal Pets, click here>>
Recognizing Arthritis And Back Pain In Small Animal Pets, click here>>
Senior Ferrets, click here>>
The World's Oldest Living Rabbit, click here>>

Posted: July 7, 2014, 4 a.m. EDT


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