Gastrointestinal stasis is a potentially deadly condition that affects a rabbit’s digestive tract. Changes in a rabbit’s gut bacteria slow digestion. As a result, gas forms and toxins accumulate. GI stasis is extremely painful and can quickly lead to organ failure and death.
Rabbits have very complex digestive systems. This complexity means that there are a lot of ways for things to go wrong. And they do. GI stasis is one of the more serious, and more common, digestive problems that rabbits can face.
Stasis means inactivity. Various things can cause your rabbit’s digestive processes to slow and stop. And this, in turn, causes the accumulation of toxins. Your rabbit can’t expel gas in the same way humans can, and the resulting buildup is incredibly painful and potentially deadly.
The information in this article is not meant to substitute for professional veterinary advice. In case of any health problem, it’s important to seek help.
Why Do Rabbits Get GI Stasis?
The simple explanation is that GI stasis in rabbits is caused by an imbalance of GI bacteria. But this imbalance has numerous causes. These include:
- A diet that is too rich in carbohydrates
- Too much dietary fat
- Not enough dietary fibre
- Lack of exercise
- Discomfort from parasites
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Dental problems
- Cuts or abscesses in the mouth
- Kidney disease
These problems can all cause pain and/or stress. And these often cause rabbits to stop eating. When they stop eating, their digestion slows down, causing a bacterial imbalance in the digestive tract.
At one time, professionals believed that hairballs can cause gut stasis. This is no longer the case. More often, hairballs and other blockages of the GI tract are the result of gastrointestinal (GI) stasis, rather than the cause.
Symptoms of GI Stasis
So, how do you recognise gastrointestinal (GI) stasis? Look for these signs.
Loss of appetite can indicate any number of rabbit health problems, including GI tract issues. If your rabbit suddenly seems to be eating less, or isn’t eating at all, it’s time to get to the pet clinic, stat.
Loss of appetite can also lead to loss of activity. Your rabbit’s energy level may diminish, and it may seem that your rabbit is just sitting still.
Your rabbit may also become dehydrated. Dehydration can also cause urinary tract infections.
Also, look at your rabbit’s poop for clues. Healthy rabbit poop is round, dark, and soft enough to squish. If your rabbit is suffering from GI stasis, you may first see pudding-like poops. Then the poops will become harder, drier, and smaller than usual. Eventually, there will be no new poops.
Your rabbit may also appear bloated. Its tummy may feel doughy. Both of these come down to gas buildup. And if you notice either, it’s likely that your rabbit is in significant pain. It’s important to get your rabbit professional help immediately.
Stomach gurgling means intestinal gas, and that means trouble for a rabbit.
An unusually high or unusually low temperature — below 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 degrees Celsius) or above 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius) may also indicate gastrointestinal stasis.
Hunching over and teeth grinding are signs that your rabbit is in pain, whether from GI stasis or from another problem. If you notice these behaviours in your rabbit, it’s important to find out what’s causing that pain and address it.
A rabbit is a prey animal. Its instinct is to hide injuries and illness. So it’s our job to keep vigilant watch for signs of trouble.
Can Rabbits Recover From GI Stasis?
Yes. If you recognize the problem early enough and seek treatment, there’s every chance for a full recovery.
Your rabbit may need to stay in hospital for several days, however. And you will probably need to administer medication, liquid food, and other treatment at home.
It’s important not to underestimate the seriousness of the problem. A study by the American Veterinary Medicine Association showed that without treatment, one in four rabbits may die from GI stasis.
Also, in cases of sudden rabbit death, GI stasis is often to blame.
What Do I Do if my Rabbit Has GI Stasis?
If you suspect your rabbit has a digestive system problem, it’s important to seek treatment immediately.
Your practitioner will start with an examination to determine the extent of the problem, and to try to figure out the cause. They will first feel your rabbit’s stomach to see if there’s a blockage in the GI tract.
After that, your vet will likely take X-rays. X-rays will allow the vet to determine if there’s an unusual amount of undigested food in the stomach or cecum. The X-ray will also show any buildup of liquid or gas. It can also rule out an obstruction in the digestive system.
It’s possible that your vet will also want to perform blood tests. Blood tests will show your rabbit’s level of dehydration. They can also allow your vet to determine if your rabbit has suffered damage to its kidneys or other organs.
Depending on the severity of your rabbit’s condition, your vet may send your bunny home with liquid food and equipment for syringe feeding, as well as medications for pain, for gas, and to help increase gut motility.
He or she may also want to keep your bunny in hospital for a few days.
At the hospital, the vet will administer IV fluid therapy. Fluid therapy will help to restore fluid balance to the stomach and intestines. Your vet may also give your rabbit anti-inflammatory medication for pain relief and a different medicine to help increase intestinal motility.
Since the main cause of bacterial imbalance is your rabbit not eating, your vet may also give your rabbit liquid food in a dropper or through a stomach tube. Syringe feeding will help your rabbit’s digestive system to get back on track and to restore both gut motility and the balance of GI bacteria.
Once your rabbit has seen a full recovery, it will be time to address any underlying causes, such as dental problems, chronic pain, or feeding and diet issues.
How Long Does GI Stasis Take to Kill a Rabbit?
It can become life threatening a lot quicker than you might think.
Rabbits, like many herbivores, are constantly feeding throughout the day. This helps to keep their digestion moving along as it should. If your rabbit has stopped eating for 12 hours, this is a problem that should be addressed by a vet, possibly with critical care.
Once GI stasis has set in, death can occur in affected rabbits in a matter of hours.
Can I Prevent GI Stasis?
Prevention is, of course, the best treatment.
The great news is, it isn’t difficult to reduce your rabbit’s chances for developing GI stasis. In fact, you can stop a lot of problems before they begin by establishing some healthy lifestyle routines. (P.S. This is also true for humans.)
Food and Diet
If we haven’t said it enough, rabbits need to eat hay. A lot of hay. In fact, high-quality feeding hay should make up around 80 percent of rabbits’ diets per day. Grass hay provides fibre, which is essential for keeping your rabbits’ digestive motility in tip-top shape.
Some rabbits don’t eat as much hay as they ought to. This is often because they’ve become used to pellets, which taste better than hay and are easier to eat.
While high-quality pellets are nutritious, pellets shouldn’t be fed freely, and pellets definitely shouldn’t be the main component of your rabbit’s diet.
Diet can play a large role in either preventing or causing GI stasis. Specifically, too many carbohydrates (pellets) and too much fat (nuts and seeds) can upset the bacteria in your bunny’s digestive system.
On the other hand, a diet rich in fibre can promote a healthy bacterial balance.
Some rabbit breeds are more active than others. However, all bunnies need exercise.
Make sure that your rabbits have daily access to a spacious run or other safe, rabbit-proofed exercise space. If they can access that space 24/7, all the better.
Dehydration can quickly slow things down. Provide your rabbit with 24-hour access to fresh water. And when it comes to water bottles, the more the better, especially in warm weather.
If your hutch is too small, overcrowded, or lacks adequate exercise space, this can cause stress. Stress is a common cause of GI stasis.
Rabbits need a minimum of 1.1 square metres (that’s 12 square feet) of living space per rabbit. Your rabbit will need to be able to stand on its hind feet without its ears touching the ceiling. It will also need enough room to hop three times from end to end. And that’s just the hutch.
Rabbits also need daily access to a spacious run or other rabbit-proofed exercise areas.
Regular Health Checks
The earlier you catch any problem, the more likely you’ll be able treat it successfully. So give your rabbits a quick daily check. Once a week, do a more thorough rabbit M.O.T. Look for:
- Uneaten food
- Abnormal faeces
- Signs of injury, stress, or pain
- Dirty bottom
Also, set up a schedule for regular check-ups with your vet, to keep your bunny’s health in tip-top condition.
Gastrointestinal stasis is painful, frightening, and potentially deadly. At the same time, by setting your rabbit up with healthy habits and a healthy living environment, you can greatly reduce your bunny’s chances for developing it.
Do you have any experience with GI stasis in rabbits? Do you have any advice for our readers? We’d love to hear about it!