How to Determine a Rabbit's Age

Learn how to determine a rabbit's age in this Howcast video featuring bunny lover Amy Sedaris and rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter.

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Rabbits make wonderful pets. If you're thinking of getting one, check out these videos: Actress Amy Sedaris, who is a loving mom to her own pet bunny, helps rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter, Ed.D., LVT answer all your questions about how to take care of a pet rabbit. It's not always easy, but it's worth the work.

 
 

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So, people are always interested in how old a rabbit is especially if they're trying to adopt a rabbit from a shelter. Unfortunately, rabbits who come into shelters don't come with tags on them telling us how old they are and it is very hard to tell the age of a rabbit. There really is no reliable way. Some people look at their teeth, but in fact you can have a young rabbit that has pretty lousy teeth and you can have an older rabbit that has beautiful teeth just as you can with dogs. With small breeds of dogs, you can find a young dog with lots of tartar and you can find an older dog with brilliant gleaming white teeth that look like toothpaste ads. Similar with rabbits, their teeth are not a reliable way to tell the age of a rabbit unless the rabbit is extremely young, but other than that when a rabbit comes into a shelter, how do we tell the age? Well, there's two ways that I do. One is when they're being spayed or neutered, the toughness of their tissue will often give you a really big clue as to how old they are especially with males. When you're neutering a male, the influence of testosterone over a long period of time like many years will make the tissues very tough and hard to manipulate. Even when I'm injecting the rabbit pre-surgery with his medications, it's hard to get a needle through very tough skin. The skin become almost like a football. That's an older rabbit. A younger rabbit will have much softer skin and softer tissues for the veterinarian to manipulate during surgery, so that gives you a little bit of a clue. Another thing that I've learned through the years is that there is a relationship between the condition of the rabbits hocks or heels and his age. It's just a personal observation, so take it for what it's worth. I have read this in a book or a text book, anything like that, but I've notice it by caring for many hundreds of rabbits over a very long period of time. When a rabbit is really young, his heels are healthy, pink, beautiful, nice skin, no problem. The heel on a rabbit is like our elbow. The bone is right up against the skin. As a rabbit gets older, the constant pressure on his heel, on his hock, by that bone against the skin starts to change the condition of the hock. So, if you're getting a really young rabbit, you're going to have a fully furred foot with no callous on it. As rabbits start to get older, that one spot develops a callous on it. If the rabbit doesn't get enough exercise and is left to sit for long periods of time, this can be either in a wire bottom cage where the wire is cutting into the foot, but it can also be in a flat bottom cage where the rabbit's weight is just constantly on that one spot then you start to get a callous that turns a different color. It starts to get and irritated. Sometimes the flesh actually breaks and the bone starts to come through. That's really dangerous and that opens a path for a serious infection. So, I'm going to show you with this little guy, what his hocks look like. We know from his adopter that this rabbit is around seven years old, something like that. He's in great shape and his heels, I think you can get a close up here. See that callous. That is a callous of an older rabbit. It is not inflammed [SP], but it is a dark pink. There's no break in the skin. Nothing looks like it's going to come through, but that's a way that you can check the age of the rabbit as he gets older. When you pick up a rabbit and see that condition, you know that that weights been resting on that spot for a long time. So, those are my best tips for aging a rabbit. If you know the rabbits age at the outset, that's great, but don't let that stop you. Don't let your lack of knowledge stop you from adopting a rabbit that you really like because older rabbits need loving families too.

Expert

  • Mary E. Cotter

    Mary E. Cotter, M.A., Ed.D., LVT is the founder of the NY-based Rabbit Rescue & Rehab. She serves as chapter manager of the NYC House Rabbit Society and is vice president of the International House Rabbit Society. Involved with rabbit rescue since 1982, she speaks and writes frequently on rabbit-related topics, addressing owners, veterinary professionals and shelter workers. Mary is an adjunct assistant professor in the veterinary technology department of LaGuardia Community College (City University of New York) and co-manages a 7,000-member Internet mailing list focused on rabbit health, care and behavior.