Arthritis, the inflammation of a joint in the body, is usually accompanied by pain, swelling and stiffness. Arthritis can result from a variety of causes, including infection, trauma, and degenerative changes. The latter is the most common cause of arthritis in rabbits, usually occurring in the elderly rabbit.
Arthritic rabbits will display symptoms to varying degrees. Affected rabbits are frequently less flexible and may no longer able to bend around and clean themselves or reach their cecotropes as they pass them. Cecotropes (‘night poops’) are nutrient-rich and are re-ingested by the bunny so they can reabsorb the nutrients. If bunny cannot reach the cecotropes, the cecotropes may cling to the fur at the rectal area and cause matting and infection. It is important to observe your bunny daily for this condition and cleanse the area with warm water. Your veterinarian can trim the fur around this area to help your rabbit keep clean. Most rabbits will simply ingest the cecotropes after they pass onto the floor, but if your bunny can’t or just doesn’t consume his cecotropes, contact your veterinarian.
It is also possible for a less mobile rabbit to have a problem with urine scalding (like diaper rash for rabbits).You may need to help your bunny with his daily hygiene by providing a personal bath as needed. Some bunnies will tolerate or even enjoy sitting in a small plastic tub with a few inches of tepid water; after a few minutes, the cecal material should be soft enough to be easily removed from the fur.
Some rabbits, however, may become extremely upset at being placed in a tub with a few inches of water; these rabbits may better tolerate being placed in a ‘football hold’ or held in one’s arms like a baby in order to have their personal areas cleansed under tepid running water. Whichever method you use, make sure to support their spine and keep it as close to a neutral position as possible during the bath. Dry their bottom well after the bath; more thickly-furred bunny bums may need the use of a blow dryer set on the coolest temperature. Keep the area clean; a light film of pure coconut oil (available at Olympia health foods) will protect the skin from irritation, may make future clean-ups a bit easier for bunny, and is safe for bunny to lick off (if s/he can reach it). If the condition persists or worsens, consult your veterinarian; in addition to anything else s/he may prescribe, your vet can shave some of the fur from your rabbit’s bottom to decrease soiling and matting and make it easier to keep clean.
Pain control is critically important to maintain your bunny’s overall health and quality of life; like humans, rabbits with arthritis will have varying levels of discomfort. Your veterinarian can prescribe medications for pain control; many bunny owners have also reported success with adjunct therapies such as nutritional supplements, homeopathic preparations, massage and acupuncture.
Here in the greater Dayton area, Veterinary Alternatives at 21 E. Ridgeway Drive in Centerville offers Chinese herbal therapy and acupuncture for all pets.
With proper medical and nutritional management and a little extra assistance from their owners, most bunnies afflicted with arthritis can lead happy, pain-free lives.
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