House Rabbit Society
Southeastern PA-Delaware Chapter
Vol. 1 Issue 1
Perhaps you have encountered this scenario with your own rabbit. Your bunny may be fine in the morning but when you get home at the end of the day, she seems lethargic, uninterested in you or her food (even her favorites) and may feel cool to the touch. He could be sitting in a hunched position or pressing his belly to the floor. Loud gurgling noises may be heard coming from his stomach and fecal output has ceased. Your rabbit may very well be experiencing a painful episode of gas or GI Stasis.
Gas and GI stasis can be caused by
several different factors. An
inappropriate diet, high in carbohydrates and sugar and low in indigestible
fiber is usually the main cause.
Stress, inadequate water intake (which leads to dehydration) or the
discomfort of dental disease or other illnesses can also play a role in the
development of gas or GI stasis. The
consumption of foreign materials or toxins, such as poisonous plants or
chemicals, can be a causative factor, as well.
The most prominent symptoms of gas are gurgling noises coming from the stomach, lethargy, decreased appetite, hunched posture or pressing stomach against floor, or low body temperature (under 100oF). So, what should you do if this happens to your rabbit? Try to keep your rabbit warm. In most cases, the body temperature will drop and keeping bunny warm is essential. You can achieve this by using plastic soda bottles filled with warm water and having the bunny lay up against them. You can also use your own body heat by holding your rabbit close to you underneath a blanket. You can also use a Snugglesafe, which can be heated in the microwave and is much safer than a heating pad. Pediatric Simethicone 1cc (20mg/ml suspension) can be given orally as often as every hour for 3 hours and then 1cc every 3-8 hours. Infant Mylicon drops work well. This will help to break down the gas bubbles and alleviate gastric dilation, as well. Pain medication can also be prescribed by your veterinarian. Also, be sure that your rabbit continues to eat and drink. If not, Pedialyte and baby food may be syringe fed to your rabbit. Be sure to do this slowly and carefully so that the rabbit does not breath it into his lungs. Gentle tummy massages also go a long way. If the symptoms do not subside within 12 hours, take the rabbit to a veterinarian immediately. Also, if the rabbit gets gas on a regular basis be sure to have him examined by a veterinarian because the rabbit my have an underlying illness.
Symptoms usually include decreased fecal production, decreased appetite and lethargy. Most of the time rabbit parents do not even notice a problem until the rabbit stops eating. When the rabbit stops eating, you have an emergency. Call your rabbit-knowledgeable veterinarian immediately. Be sure to tell them, to the best of your knowledge, the last time you saw your rabbit eat or drink anything, the last fecal output you noticed and was it normal and estimate the amount of time you believe your rabbit has been acting abnormally. Quick action on your part could make all the difference.
After a physical examination, your vet may want to perform radiographs of the stomach and cecum to confirm the diagnosis and to rule out an intestinal obstruction. At this time, bloodwork can also be a useful diagnostic tool. Oral and/or subcutaneous fluid therapy is started, but in advanced cases, intravenous fluids may be necessary. GI motility drugs are usually prescribed (unless a blockage is confirmed) and an analgesic, for pain, can be a very valuable addition to the treatment plan. Be prepared for the possibility that your rabbit may need hospitalization. Continued drug and fluid therapy and pain management, in conjunction with monitoring body temperature while keeping your rabbit warm, may be best provided by a rabbit-knowledgeable veterinary hospital. However, if you are experienced in administering subcutaneous fluids at home, then bringing your rabbit home and continuing treatment will most likely benefit your bunny, especially emotionally. Familiar surroundings and a doting bunny parent can go a long way toward recovery. Once at home, you should begin nutritional support, offering your bunny their favorite foods and lots of green, leafy vegetables. Shredded carrots, fruit or vegetable baby foods or ground-up pellet slurry are all options to tempt your rabbit to eat. The Oxbow Hay Company has a product on the market called "Critical Care" which some bunnies will eat directly from a syringe. It is available at some veterinarian's offices, at our chapter and on-line from the Oxbow Hay Co. with a prescription. Good quality grass hays are also essential for recovery and, most importantly, the prevention of GI stasis. If you do decide to bring your rabbit home with you, please be sure to follow your veterinarian's instructions carefully and report any adverse changes in your rabbit's condition immediately.
If you notice these signs and symptoms and cannot get to your veterinarian quickly (it's the weekend, a holiday or late in the evening) you must try to stabilize your rabbit until you can get to the vet's office. Give water orally or if you are equipped and feel comfortable doing it, give subcutaneous fluids. Tempt your rabbit with her favorite foods or try fruit or vegetable baby food. Your goal right now is to get something into the rabbit's stomach. But you must get your rabbit to your veterinarian as soon as possible because an unknown, underlying illness may be contributing to your rabbit's problem.
Many times rabbit inexperienced veterinarians may diagnose this as "hairball" or "wool-block". However, hair is always present in the rabbit's stomach, as they continually groom themselves or their partners. The problem is not the hair but rather decreased motility caused by other factors that leads to impaction of hair and food. The mass of dehydrated stomach contents sometimes seen on radiographs is commonly referred to as a hairball (or trichobezoar) but are a result of GI stasis, not the cause. Please do not let a veterinarian suggest surgery for GI Stasis fluids and motility drugs along with syringe feeding and hydration usually fix the problem.
So, to sum up, gas and GI stasis (also known as GI hypomotility) can be prevented with a diet high in fiber and low in carbohydrates and sugar. Lots of leafy, green vegetables, good quality grass hay, such as timothy, plenty of fresh water, which must be available at all, times and exercise are also important components. Be observant and monitor your rabbit for changes in appetite, activity level and fecal output. Your bunny's life just may depend on it!
Things to Have on Hand
Pediatric Gas Medication (Simethicone or Mylicon Drops)
Baby Food (fruit, carrot, squash)
Baby Food (fruit, carrot, squash)