Arthritis refers to joint inflammation, which can have varied causes and consequences. There are some key signs that can clue you in on your rabbit's joint health and it is important to be aware of what normal behaviour is for your pet. Preventive measures and treatment options can reduce the impact of arthritis on a pet rabbit's quality of life.
Signs and Symptoms
If a rabbit is sluggish or listless, it may be in pain, not want to eat and move more slowly than usual. A happy, healthy rabbit will have bursts of energy and love to run. If a rabbit is not displaying energetic behaviour, it may be sick or in pain; in older rabbits, this often means osteoarthritis is to blame. The rabbit will have difficulty standing from laying down, will not want to jump up to its favourite places to relax and will appear stiff when moving. In more advanced cases, joints may be swollen and warm to the touch due to inflammation.
Types of Arthritis
Arthritis will set in as a rabbit ages, but this very common type of arthritis (or osteoarthritis) is not the only cause of joint problems for house rabbits. Arthritis and inflammation can be caused by bone spurs (called osteophytes) that occur over time as joints are damaged from the arthritic process. X-rays can confirm the extent of damage, which will determine the type of treatment the rabbit needs.
There is also an illness called bacterial, or septic, arthritis that can occur at any age, in any breed of rabbit. If a rabbit contracts a pyogenic infection, this can migrate to the joints and induce inflammation referred to as septic arthritis. Trauma, dental disease and upper respiratory tract infections can increase the risk of infections that lead to septic arthritis.
For cases of old-age arthritis, supplements can be given that aid in joint mobility, such as glucosamine and chondroitin. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin) can also be administered to reduce inflammation and increase the animal's mobility. NSAIDs are also likely to be given in cases of septic arthritis, along with antibiotics to treat the underlying infection causing the inflammation. Restricting activity until the condition is under control can also help reduce damage to joints. Soft bedding will make the rabbit more comfortable and in some cases your veterinarian may prescribe pain medication such as Metacam.
In extreme cases of septic arthritis or in arthritis where bone spurs are present, surgery may be required. This will usually greatly improve the comfort of the rabbit. In old-age arthritis, it is not a situation that will clear up with treatment but rather will become manageable. In septic arthritis, often when the causative infection is treated the inflammation will subside over time.
Proper nutrition can go a long way to keeping the joints of your rabbit healthy. Nutrition will also help prevent other health issues that can lead to septic or bacterial arthritis. Exercising your rabbit daily will keep the animal slim and limber, which also helps fight against inflammation throughout the rabbit's life. A healthy, well-nourished rabbit will also have lower odds of dental disease, respiratory infections and a heartier immune system that can fight both infection and inflammation.