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Arthritis or degenerative joint disease is the progressive deterioration of cartilage found in the joints.


  • Lameness or stiffness in gait. It may be intermittent and slowly become more severe and frequent. There may also be a history of previous joint trauma, disease, or disorder.
  • Restricted motion, inability to hop. May be intermittent.
  • Unable to properly groom or obtain a normal stance while urinating due to stiffness or pain. May result in poopy butt due to an inability to consume cecotrophs directly and urine scald.
  • May be exacerbated by exercise and result in long periods of rest.
  • Crepitus - grating sounds produced by friction between bone and cartilage.
  • Joint swelling and pain.
  • Joint instability.
  • Obesity.


There are no breed or gender predilections. Arthritis can be due to hereditary or developmental disorders in young animals or trauma or infection induced at any age.

The primary cause is thought to be the result of long-term usage combined with aging. It can also be caused by joint instability and trauma.


Depending on severity, surgical options include the following:[1]

  • Arthrotomy, a surgical procedure that creates an opening in a joint, to treat underlying causes such as osteochondral diseases.
  • Reconstructive procedures to eliminate joint instability.
  • Arthroplasty procedures such as femoral head ostectomy as a salvage procedure to reconstruct or replace a diseased joint.
  • Arthrodesis, the surgical fixation of a joint, for selected chronic cases and for joint instability.

Home care includes the following:

  • Keep the bottom clean and dry through regular baths.
  • Use soft bedding, and keep bedding clean and dry to prevent dermatitis or bed sores.
  • Physical therapy may be beneficial in enhancing limb function and general well-being. This includes range-of-motion exercises and combination heat and cold therapy.
  • Limit activity to minimize aggravation.
  • Reduce weight of obese rabbits to decrease stress placed on affected joints.
  • Rabbits in pain often refuse food, so it is important to make sure they are eating normally to prevent GI stasis.

Drugs that can be used include the following:[1]

  • NSAIDs have been used for short- or long-term therapy to reduce pain and inflammation in rabbits with musculoskeletal disease. Common choices include meloxicam (Metacam, Mobic, Mobicox) and carprofen (Rimadyl, Novox, Vetprofen). Meloxicam should be used with caution in rabbits with compromised renal function.
  • Chondroitin sulfate (Cosequin, Nutramax) has been used anecdotally using feline dosage protocols.
  • Polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (Adequan, Luitpold) is another drug of choice that has shown improvements.
  • Acupuncture may be effective for rabbits with chronic pain.
Corticosteroids (topical or systemic) should not be used in rabbits as they have been associated with gastrointestinal ulceration and hemorrhage, delayed wound healing, and heightened susceptibility to infection.[1]

Further reading

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Barbara L. Oglesbee, Blackwell's Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Small Mammals, 2nd edition, 2011.