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Can Rabbits Vomit? Your Essential Guide To Rabbit Digestion

Can Rabbits Vomit? Your Essential Guide To Rabbit Digestion

Can rabbits vomit? The question may sound strange, but the truth is, rabbits cannot vomit, and that can present special challenges for your bunny. Rabbit owners should be aware that, in addition to being incapable of vomiting, rabbits have a digestive system that is very different from ours. Here’s what that means, for you and for your pet rabbit.

The Weird, Wonderful Rabbit Digestive System

Why can’t rabbits throw up?

The rabbit digestive tract consists of the rabbit’s mouth, oesophagus, stomach, cecum, and intestines. In the wild, rabbits graze on grass and leaves. Their stomachs are often quite full, and reflux (food coming back up from the rabbit’s stomach) is a danger.

For this reason, wild rabbits and pet rabbits alike have evolved several features of stomach anatomy to prevent food and stomach acid from traveling back up the oesophagus and damaging the lining.

can rabbits vomit
Image by sujo-foto, under Pixabay license, via Pixabay

First, the oesophagus is tilted at an angle to make it more difficult for food to come back from the stomach.

Next, rabbits, like horses, have a very tight oesophageal sphincter. This circular muscle tightens to prevent backflow.

Finally, a thick fold of tissue surrounds a rabbit’s stomach and also helps to prevent food from going back.

Image by SunshineConnelly at English Wikibooks., CCY BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the past, people have theorized that a rabbit’s inability to vomit stemmed from a weak diaphragm. However, it’s actually the strength of these other digestive system features that render a rabbit physically incapable of purging its stomach.

Rabbits can't vomit, and they can't fart either. Why did you need to know that? Because it means that if your bunny has an upset tummy it can turn into a serious problem fast. Click To Tweet

In the wild this works well. However, captive rabbits don’t graze on grass all day, and they generally get a lot less exercise than wild rabbits. They often eat commercial foods, which aren’t as healthy for the digestive system as grass. This can lead to tummy troubles, including gas.

And if a rabbit is incapable of vomiting, then even a healthy bunny may be in greater danger from certain kinds of digestive problems.

Can Rabbits Fart?

No. Unlike most mammals, bunnies cannot vomit and are physically incapable of passing gas. For this reason, gas can be quite painful for your rabbit, and can even result in GI stasis or other health problems.

Therefore, it’s very important to be careful of what your rabbit eats and to make sure that your bunny gets plenty of exercise in addition to high-quality foods.

Why Is This Important?

You might be happy that you’ll never need to worry about rabbit vomiting. But a rabbit’s inability to purge its stomach means that your rabbit may be at a greater danger from intestinal blockages and poisoning than other animals might be.

Wool Block

Image by Ross Little, under CC  Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license, via Wikimedia Commons

Wool block can happen when a bunny grooms itself and swallows fur. This is a particular problem for wool breeds during molting. The fur can become trapped in the intestines and block the digestive tract. Rabbits incapable of expelling the fur can become quite sick or even die.

One sign of wool block is a loss of appetite. Other signs include decreased faeces, or pellets strung together with pieces of fur. Rabbits may also become lethargic.

As with many problems of the rabbit digestive system, wool block can turn deadly fast. So if you suspect it, contact your vet immediately.

Poisoning

Do you know which garden plants are toxic for a bunny? Unfortunately, many plants that are safe for other animals are toxic for rabbits. And poisonous plants aren’t the only things that can harm your bunny if eaten. Rat poison, fertilizer, weed killer, and other substances can harm your rabbit.

Vomiting is a major way that animals mitigate the effects of toxins. Unfortunately, for rabbits, vomiting isn’t part of their toolbox.

Choking Hazards

Vomiting is one way of clearing the throat of foreign objects. But throwing up isn’t an option for a bunny, so choking is a greater danger for rabbits than for other pets.

How Do Rabbits Clear Toxins and Blockages?

Unfortunately, vomiting is the only way in which many animals can eject a foreign object or a poison. But a rabbit is incapable of vomiting.

If you suspect your rabbit has swallowed an object or a toxic substance, or that it has an intestinal blockage, don’t wait for them to vomit. Get your rabbit to the vet immediately for treatment.

But It Looks Like My Rabbit is Vomiting

Rabbits are unable to vomit. However, instead of vomiting, your rabbit may be coughing or choking.

Rabbits are very prone to respiratory illnesses. Like digestive problems, these can become serious fast. If your pet rabbit is snuffling or having trouble breathing, contact your vet ASAP.

Your rabbit may also be choking. Dry, stale food can get stuck in a rabbit’s throat. A rabbit may also choke on a foreign object. Signs that your rabbit may be choking include:

  • Rabbit holding or throwing its head up and back
  • Frantic behaviour
  • Loud, rattling, or open-mouthed breathing
  • Mouth and/or nose turning blue
  • Screaming
  • Fluid or mucus coming from the mouth and nose.

If your pet is choking, you won’t have time to get to the vet. You will have to help your rabbit yourself.

How to Help a Choking Rabbit

Many of us know to perform the Heimlich Maneuver when a human is choking. Is there a Heimlich Maneuver for your pet? Actually, there is. Here’s how you do it.

First, get control of your bunny. Wrap them in a towel and try to calm them down. You may get bitten or scratched, so it pays to have gloves and other protective equipment within easy reach before you need them.

Next, look inside your rabbit’s mouth for an obvious obstruction. Many times, food may be causing the blockage.

Now, hold your rabbit firmly. If there is fluid coming out of your rabbit’s mouth, be sure to wipe it away, to prevent your rabbit from aspirating.

There are three different maneuvers; one is designed for small and medium-sized rabbits. The others are meant for giant breed rabbits. All three techniques use gravity, rather than pressure, to dislodge the object from the rabbit’s throat.

You can watch all three techniques here:

Five Signs Your Rabbit is In Danger

How can you tell if your rabbit is in immediate danger? Look for these signs.

Obstructed Airway

If your rabbit is having trouble breathing, this is a universal sign of trouble. Don’t wait for your rabbit to vomit. Take steps to clear the airway immediately.

Loss of Appetite

If your rabbit isn’t eating as much food as it usually does, refuses to eat its favourite foods, or isn’t eating any food at all, this is a bad sign. In fact, if your rabbit hasn’t eaten in twelve hours, you should call your vet.

Lethargy

Lethargy means your rabbit isn’t as active as it usually is. Being prey animals, rabbits try to hide illnesses and injuries. However, if your rabbit has gone unusually quiet and still, it could be a sign of many different serious problems.

Changes in Faeces

Because rabbits have such a complicated and delicate digestive tract, they’re prone to digestive system problems. Often these problems show up in their poo. Be on the lookout for:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Faeces that’s harder than usual
  • Smaller than usual faeces
  • Wool in the faeces
  • Clumps of faeces rather than individual pellets
  • Misshapen poops

These can all be signs of different types of digestive problems.

Suspected Injury

Bunnies can be surprisingly delicate, and they will try to hide any injuries. If you suspect your rabbit is injured, it’s time to go to the vet.

Other Symptoms

Any change in behaviour could signal a change in your rabbit’s health status. In fact, as with any animal, if your bunny just seems “off,” it’s a good idea to call your vet.

How to Prevent Digestive Problems

Image by VladVictoria, under Pixabay License, via Pixabay

Your rabbit can’t vomit, so it’s important to head off digestive issues before they start.

Feed your rabbit as much fresh hay as they will eat. They may also eat small amounts high quality pellets. And, like all animals, rabbits should have constant access to fresh water.

Other foods that your rabbit may enjoy include vegetables (cut into small pieces to prevent choking) as well as rabbit-safe greens and herbs. Occasional treats are fine, too, as long as they don’t make up more than ten percent of your rabbit’s diet.

Also, make sure your rabbit is getting enough exercise. Every rabbit should have all-day access to a spacious run or other exercise space.

Final Thoughts

Rabbits can’t vomit, so it’s up to you to keep an eye out for trouble.

Feed your bunnies appropriate, high-quality food, and give them plenty of exercise. Keep rabbit areas clear of poisonous substances and choking hazards. Learn the bunny Heimlich manoeuvre.

Your rabbit’s health is in your hands.

Do you have any tips for our readers? We’d love to hear them!

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Jess Faraday

Jess Faraday is a longtime bunny lover and a mom to a succession of rescue rabbits. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience and hopes that it will make the world a better place for bunnies

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