What is Degenerative Joint Disease?
This condition often affects geriatric patients, however, there are certain factors that may predispose your pet to degenerative joint disease such as poor diet, injury to the joints in earlier life, breed, and obesity.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease, but the resulting pain can be reduced and managed. 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.
Degenerative joint disease in rabbits is also commonly known as osteoarthritis. This chronic condition is caused by long-term joint deterioration.
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Symptoms of Degenerative Joint Disease 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 moving and hopping around
- Difficulty hopping in and out of bedding or litter trays
- Uneven or abnormal gait
- Reluctance to climb onto higher surfaces
Due to the reduced movement or pain on movement your pet may be unable to groom normally which can lead to:
- Poor coat quality
- Mucky bottom or urine scalding
- Build up of earwax
- Aggression or reluctance to be handled
Osteoarthritis can often be the underlying factor in bacterial infections caused by poor grooming.
There are two main types of arthritis your pet may suffer from:
Degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) – This is a chronic, degenerative form that causes the cartilage to deteriorate over time
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 and rabbits who contract infections through trauma, dental disease or infection are at increased risk of developing this disease
Causes of Degenerative Joint Disease in Rabbits
- Deterioration of cartilage
- Chronic degeneration
- Primary infection introduces bacteria
Diagnosis of Degenerative Joint Disease in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will look at your rabbit’s full clinical history and perform a full body examination in order to diagnose degenerative joint disease. 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 your veterinarian suspects degenerative joint disease, she may take radiographs. Your pet will likely need to be sedated in order to have these performed. Bony changes seen on the radiographs confirm the diagnosis; these may include uneven joint space, cartilage erosion, new bone growth or lysis. Other diagnostic imaging techniques that your veterinarian may choose to use to provide more accurate diagnosis are ultrasound, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and arthroscopy. Biomarkers in synovial fluid following arthroscopy can be used to confirm diagnosis but are often considered unnecessary.
Treatment of Degenerative Joint Disease in Rabbits
Unfortunately, degenerative joint disease is a life-long affliction and there is no cure, there are however, ways to manage and reduce the symptoms your pet may experience.
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.
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 pet is overweight, a slow weight loss may be encouraged, this will reduce the load on the joints and could potentially reduce pain experienced by your pet.
This may offer some relief for your rabbit, along with warm compresses. Speak to your veterinarian about the possibility of using massage if your rabbit will tolerate it. Gentle massage over the affected areas & gentle flexing of the affected joints may help relieve the pain and tension.
Alternative treatments such as animal physiotherapy and acupuncture are gaining popularity. Many owners feel that regular treatments are leading to a reduction of symptoms and pain relief needed for their pets.
Recovery of Degenerative Joint Disease in Rabbits
Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis in rabbits, however there are things you can do to help manage the disease:
- Clip the hair around the perineum to prevent urine scalding and infection
- 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; extra weight adds strain to their body and exacerbates arthritic symptoms
- Due to discomfort your rabbit may not be able to access their cecotropes, which are essential for their well-being; it may be necessary to place them in or near their food area