The bond between owners and their pets grows with time. But as we grow older, death is inevitable. So how can you keep your pet healthy for as long as possible? In the second instalment of a two-part series on pets' common age-related illnesses, this week's column looks at ageing rabbits and parrots. 'All exotic pets should be brought to a vet specialising in exotic animals once a year for a health check, weight check and routine blood work so that these old-age issues can be dealt with before they become a problem,' says veterinarian Nicole Wyre, of Tai Wai Small Animal and Exotic Hospital. For selected species, Wyre says some veterinarians may recommend health checks every six months, particularly in smaller species of birds such as cockatiels, budgies and lovebirds. If there is anything out-of-the-ordinary, your rabbit or bird should be taken to a veterinarian immediately, Wyre says. For your rabbit, signs could be trouble seeing or standing; or for birds it could be trouble breathing, lethargy, decreased appetite, increased urination, and lumps or bumps. Rabbit Years For those who want to keep their Thumper in tip-top health, Wyre says the average life span of a rabbit depends on the breed. Smaller breeds, such as Dwarf rabbits, live up to 10-12 years, while larger Flemish Giant rabbits only live to about six years. Rabbits can develop eye problems as they age. 'Just like people, older rabbits can develop cataracts that may lead to blindness or glaucoma,' Wyre says. Symptoms are cloudiness or whiteness of the eyes. The good news is surgery can cure this condition, but treatment will depend on the age of the rabbit and the animal's health. Kidney failure is another common disease in senior bunnies. Owners should look out for increased urination and drinking, urine staining around the hind legs, weight loss and decreased appetite. If you notice fur mats around your pet's backside or urine staining around the rear legs, your rabbit may have arthritis, which makes self-grooming difficult. Other signs include difficulty walking, standing up or limping. Wyre says you might notice these arthritic symptoms in four-year-old large-breed rabbits and eight-year-old small-breed rabbits. So owners should adapt the ageing animal's environment to make their movements easier, the veterinarian says. Neoplasia or cancer is also found in rabbits. 'Symptoms of neoplasia can vary - depends on where the cancer is,' Wyre says. Symptoms of uterine cancer in female rabbits include blood in the urine or from the vulva, painful abdomen or even trouble breathing if the tumour has spread to the lungs. Uterine cancer is preventable in female rabbits if they are desexed. If your pet is old and ill, is the treatment worth its cost? 'This depends on the disease and how quickly it is caught, Wyre says. 'Early detection always yields the best results,' she says. 'Uterine cancer can be cured with surgical removal of the uterus as long as it hasn't already spread to the lungs. Cataracts can be cured with surgery as long as secondary issues, such as glaucoma, have not occurred. Kidney disease can be managed with fluid therapy - managed not cured - early in the disease. The costs depend on the type of disease and severity.' Precious Parrots Parrots' lifespans vary but males generally live longer than females, since mother birds may have complications with egg laying or cancer-related ovulation problems, Wyre says. Small parrots, such as cockatiels, can live for up to 20 years. Larger parrots, such as Amazons, Cockatoos and African Greys, can live to about 50 to 60 with proper care, but usually die when they are 30 to 40 due to poor husbandry, Wyre says. 'Older parrots develop similar diseases to rabbits, but birds are one of the only animal species that develop atherosclerosis, just like humans do,' Wyre explains. Commonly found in parrots, especially African Greys, atherosclerosis and heart failure develops when the arteries are clogged from too much fat in the diet and lack of exercise. Symptoms include lethargy, exercise intolerance, trouble breathing and fainting spells. A parrot can have clogged arteries, suffer a stroke, or faint, just like people, Wyre says, adding this condition is manageable with exercise, the appropriate diet and routine blood work. Ageing parrots also have kidney failure, with symptoms including increased drinking and urination, weight loss and decreased appetite, she says. 'For people with exotic pets, it's important to get a routine check-up,' Wyre says. 'People shouldn't think, 'I have an old pet and nothing can be done'. There are so many medical advances.'