What are Arthritis?
An uneven gait in your rabbit may indicate that he is experiencing arthritis. The disease often presents with slow movement and pain. If you suspect your rabbit may be suffering from arthritis, contact your veterinarian to discuss your pet’s symptoms and ways to manage the condition. Medication and diet are two factors that may be considered as treatment.
Arthritis is a term that covers many different diseases that cause inflammation of the joints in the body. There are certain factors that predispose pets to the condition such as poor diet, injury to the joints in earlier life, breed, and obesity.
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Symptoms of Arthritis in Rabbits
As arthritis causes pain and discomfort you may notice your rabbit beginning to slow down and reduce in activity. As this can also be normal for aging rabbits, the disease can often be difficult to spot. Symptoms may include;
- Difficulty with moving and hopping around
- Difficulty hopping in and out of bedding or litter trays
- Uneven or abnormal gait
- Reluctance to climb onto higher surfaces
- Poor coat quality or reduced grooming
- Mucky bottom or urine scalding due to inability to groom
- Build-up of ear wax
- Aggression or reluctance to be handled
There are two main types of arthritis your pet may suffer from:
Osteoarthritis – This is a chronic, degenerative form that causes the cartilage to deteriorate over time. This natural process can be exacerbated by factors that place extra strain on the joints such as large breeds, obesity, missing limbs or other conditions that cause ataxia.
Septic arthritis – This is caused by injuries to the joint that introduce bacteria into the joint capsule. This type of arthritis can affect rabbits of any age or breed. Rabbits who contract infections through trauma, dental disease or infection are at increased risk of developing this disease.
Causes of Arthritis in Rabbits
- The joints may become stiff and inflamed
- Arthritis can cause the joints to have less lubrication
- Bacteria can be present in the joint capsule
- Age and degeneration can cause arthritis
Diagnosis of Arthritis in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will look at your rabbit’s clinical history and perform a full body examination. The physical examination may highlight symptoms that suggest arthritis, such as decreased range of movement on extension, deformity and swelling of the joints, and ataxia.
If osteoarthritis is suspected, radiographs can be taken to confirm the presence of arthritis. Your veterinarian will need to sedate your pet in order to perform these. “Haze” or “fuzziness” in the radiographs around the joints indicate arthritis. Other diagnostic imaging techniques that your veterinarian may choose to use to provide a more accurate diagnosis are ultrasound, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and arthroscopy.
If septic arthritis, is suspected an analysis of the fluid from around the joint may be performed. This sample will be obtained by fine needle aspiration. Presence of bacteria would indicate septic arthritis, further cultures performed by your veterinarian will be able to identify the bacteria.
Treatment of Arthritis in Rabbits
In the case of osteoarthritis there is, unfortunately, no cure for the disease. Instead, your veterinarian will discuss ways to manage and control the symptoms your rabbit is experiencing.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be given to your pet to reduce inflammation around the joints and provide pain relief. As these are metabolized by the liver and kidneys, your veterinarian may take a blood test to check the function of these systems.
In cases of septic arthritis, antibiotics will be required for treatment. Cultures performed on a fluid sample will be able to indicate to your veterinarian the most effective medication for your pet.
Your veterinarian may suggest a commercially available rabbit food with added glucosamine. Research in both humans and animals suggest that glucosamine may benefit arthritis sufferers by providing joint lubrication and increasing joint mobility.
If your rabbit will tolerate being handled, gentle massage over the affected areas and gentle flexing of the joints may help to relieve the pain and tension. It is vital that any physical therapy you consider is discussed with your veterinarian first, as in some cases this may be detrimental.
Animal physiotherapists and acupuncturists are gaining popularity and some owners are finding that regular treatments are leading to a reduction of symptoms and pain relief needed for their pets.
Recovery of Arthritis in Rabbits
Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis in rabbits. There are, however, things you can do to help manage the disease such as;
- Keep hair clipped around the perineum and regularly wash the area to prevent urine scalding and secondary skin infections
- Provide your rabbit with soft, absorbable bedding to prevent pressure sores and reduce urine scalding
- Remove ramps and obstacles from your pet’s environment and provide easy movement around his hutch and in and out of litter trays
- Ensure your rabbit maintains a healthy weight as extra weight adds strain to their body and exacerbates arthritic symptoms
- Due to discomfort your rabbit may not be able to access their caecotrophs (pellets excreted from the rabbit’s own digestive system which is then eaten by the rabbit), which are essential for their well-being; it may be necessary to place them in or near their food area