A rabbit’s digestive system is different to our cats and dogs, and even us as humans. Rabbits actually digest food in a similar way to horses, with bacteria in the gut breaking down the nutrients in grass and hay. Their digestive system depends on constant movement of fibrous food in the intestines.
A common and potentially serious issue in rabbits is Gastrointestinal Stasis, or for short gut statis. This is when the digestive system slows down or stops completely. When this happens, the loops of intestine fill up with gas and fluid, which in essence causing bloating. This can be very painful. Rabbits suffering this condition will be reluctant to eat, which unfortunately worsens the condition as the digestive system slows down more and more. Rabbits will become dehydrated and undernourished quickly as a result. If you suspect your rabbit has gut statis, we urge you to bring them to the practice for a check-up as soon as possible, as if left the condition can be fatal.
When does it happen?
Gut Stasis can be caused by many factors, which can include:
Inadequate fibre the rabbit’s diet
Pain – this could be associated with dental disease or other illnesses
Stress – for example, if there has been a change to the environment, increased loud noises, loss of a companion
Anaesthesia or Surgery
Symptoms that can be seen
Reduced faecal droppings
Lethargy or hunched posture
How can it be treated?
Speed of treatment is key, so it is important to bring your rabbit to the surgery as soon as possible if you think they are experiencing gut stasis. If there is an obvious underlying cause, the gut statis will still need treating first and further investigation can be completed once improvement has been seen.
Your rabbit may receive the below as part of their treatment plan:
Syringe feeding of a high fibre supplement
Medication to improve gut mobility
Fluid therapy to improve their hydration status
Can it be prevented?
Gut stasis can be difficult to predict if it is related to an unexpected medical condition as there is not always any obvious warning. However, gut statis due to dental disease and diet can be more easily avoided by providing the correct diet. Rabbits in the wild will eat grass and very little of anything else. Our pet rabbits are very similar to their wild counterparts and should be fed similarly. It may seem boring to us, but it is a natural diet that they need.
Rabbits should have access to fresh grass or hay at all times, and it should make up to around 85% of their diet. They should also have a fresh supply of water which is changed daily. Pellet food should only make up to around 5% of their diet, and the last 10% being fresh plants, fruits and vegetables – predominantly dark green vegetables.