Q: Does arthritis affect rabbits? My Netherland Dwarf is turning seven next year and she is on the chubby side! Is she at risk of arthritis?    Q: Does arthritis affect rabbits? My Netherland Dwarf is turning seven next year and she is on the chubby side! Is she at risk of arthritis?    

Yes, it can definitely affect your senior bunny! Arthritis occurs when there are degenerative changes to your bunny’s joints. The soft protective cartilage that lines it will slowly wear down as your furkid ages, and when that happens, it will become uncomfortable and painful. Rabbits are very good at hiding their pain. Here are some symptoms that signal discomfort:

• They may not run or jump, and may lie down at a certain location more often than usual.
• They may also hide, and not enjoy being carried.
• Check her hocks and hind legs for any indication of sores, especially since she is overweight. The combination of pain, reluctance to walk, and being slightly chubby can add pressure on her paws, causing ulcers and skin sores.
• Some rabbits lick and groom their painful joints, so you may notice fur loss and inflamed and raw skin at the affected area.

For a start, reassess if your Netherland Dwarf’s diet is causing the weight gain and stress to the joints. As she gets older, add more fibre to her diet—that will improve her dental and gastrointestinal health, and help to manage her weight as well. Keep her litter tray at a suitable height. 

She should be able to easily jump in and out of it. If she cannot reach it, she may urinate or defecate randomly, resulting in skin irritation. Arrange the food bowl and water bottle at a height at which your bunny does not need to strain to access her food and water. It also helps to provide a non-slip walking and running surface, as she needs enough friction to safely walk and run on. Always keep her paw fur and nails short, so that she can use her paw pads to increase her grip as she walks. Arthritic rabbits will walk slowly and cautiously, and may be more prone to injury if she loses balance on a slippery surface.

If you are concerned, bring your bunny for a check-up. Pain relief medication and supplements like glucosamine can be prescribed to help your bunny cope with arthritis, and lead a pain-free life.