Osteoarthritis in Rabbits
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a chronic (long-term) condition that causes the cartilage surrounding the joints to deteriorate. Arthritis, on the other hand, is the general medical term for inflamed joints. And much like humans, rabbits can suffer from osteoarthritis.
Symptoms and Types
Symptoms of DJD vary depending on severity and cause, though affected rabbits may show lameness or a stiff gait, restricted motion, or be unable to hop. These symptoms may also worsen with exercise or after long periods of immobility.
Animals with a history of joint trauma, such as fracture or dislocation, are sometimes prone to arthritis. In addition, a physical examination by a veterinarian may reveal further symptoms such as joint swelling and pain, joint instability, or an inability to properly groom (flaky skin or feces residue on the behind), depending on which joints are involved.
DJD may result as a secondary symptom of an alternate problem such as trauma or joint instability. Or it may be a primary symptom, resulting from long-term joint use which usually comes with aging.
Obesity is sometimes identified as a risk factor, as obese animals place more pressure on the joints. However, there is no predisposing cause that leads to the primary form of arthritis.
Diagnosis of DJD may be done based on an assessment of past symptoms, such as decreased activity or stiffness, as well as a physical examination which will reveal a decreased range of motion, stiff-legged gait, deformity of the joints, and swelling or pain in the joints. Further diagnostic procedures may include X-rays and an analysis of the fluid surrounding the joints.
Rabbits with DJD can be treated at home by limiting exercise and administering prescribed medications. Physical therapy may be recommended by the veterinarian to help enhance movement and limb function. For obese patients, however, a diet plan to encourage weight loss decreases the stress on the joint.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are usually prescribed to alleviate inflammation and pain. While surgery may be a treatment option in some cases, such as reconstructive procedures to fix unstable joints.
Living and Management
Unfortunately, DJD is a progressive condition, and symptoms do eventually worsen. Nevertheless, there are some things which can be done to make the patient more comfortable.
Soft clean bedding is important, and activity should be limited to a level where the rabbit still feels relaxed. Rabbits in pain may also be reluctant to eat. These pets should be encouraged to eat by feeding fresh moist greens such as spinach, dandelion greens, carrot tops, and cilantro. If the rabbit still refuses to eat, nutrient injections may be necessary.
Identifying and correcting predisposing causes, such as obesity, may help prevent the development of DJD. And while DJD is not necessarily preventable – especially for rabbits of old age – some sort of medical or surgical treatment generally allows for a good quality of life.