Gastro-Intestinal Stasis in Rabbits
By : Victoria Carey
G.I. Stasis can kill a rabbit if undetected far more quickly than a lot of ailments which rabbits can be afflicted with. It can creep up without warning on apparently healthy and lively rabbits. Some of the causes remain a mystery, being that the rabbit’s gut is like a production line and if one thing stops, then the rest grinds to a halt. Known causes can be over grown molars, bacterial gut infections, an imbalance in the gut flora, stress, moulting (ingesting hair), an unsuitable diet rich in sugars and low in fibre, not enough vegetables or fluid being consumed – which is vital to keep the gut going, or depression following the loss of a cage-mate. If an imbalance of gut flora is to blame, then it can be helpful to offer a pro-biotic, such as Avipro to re-establish a healthy gut flora.
Bacteria in the gut proliferates when the contents of the ceacum remain static, and cause havoc in the gut. Rabbits are not designed to vomit, so the only way the contents in a static gut can be passed is via the anus. In GI stasis, the ceacum is unable to expel the contents at the normal rate, thus a vicious circle is formed by the contents remaining in the ceacum and fermenting. Bacteria causes a build up of gasses which are extremely painful in a rabbit. In stasis, the bacteria which usually inhabit the ceacum move into the small intestine, where they multiply and release toxins. It is the liver’s job to rid the body of toxins. This is very taxing on the liver and can lead to liver damage.
Initially, the first sign of GI stasis is inappetance and no droppings. If this is not picked up straight away, you will find the rabbit at a more severe stage where he will be hunched in a corner of the hutch/enclosure, subdued, completely uninterested in even his favourite foods and the water bottle/bowl is untouched. The ears will be cold if you feel them when picking up the rabbit. The stomach may feel bloated and hard. The rabbit may be dehydrated. To check for this, pinch the skin on the rabbit’s back. If it tents as you pinch it and is slow to go back down, then that is an indication of dehydration.
If you think that your rabbit has gone into GI stasis, then it is vital to make an emergency appointment with your vet. Keep the rabbit warm by wrapping him in a blanket or towel whilst taking him to the vet. It is a good idea to phone the practice first to let them know you have an emergency. Most veterinary surgeons have 24/7 emergency coverage, so they should be able to see you.
Most rabbits do recover from GI stasis if caught early, and treatment is given for what has caused it in the first place. In extreme cases, surgical intervention may be necessary, but the vet has to act promptly as rabbits can only survive for a limited time without gut motility.
I own a beautiful New Zealand white rabbit called Archie who goes into stasis at the drop of a hat! Even a visit to the vet for his routine myxomatosis injection makes him produce excess adrenaline, which constricts gut motility and throws him into stasis. The last time he had his Myxomatosis jab, I had to leave Archie in his pet carrier in the car and the vet had to come out to my car to give him his dose. I then paid the vet and rushed Archie home as soon as I could. Because he is so prone to this problem, my vet has supplied me with the drug Metoclopramide (Reglan) to give Archie as a precaution before any noisy events, such as fireworks night and my neighbour’s noisy motorbikes. This drug seems to work a treat in preventing him going into GI stasis.
I inject Archie with Metoclopramide one hour before a stressful event, and give him another injection 8 hours later.
Metoclopramide comes in a syrup form and in injectable phials and tablets. I find injecting the drug is less stressful for Archie rather than giving the syrup or tablet version orally. However, if you are not skilled at administering injections, then I would suggest you ask your vet to give you metoclopramide syrup, or train you on how to inject it if you have a rabbit with this problem.
The first port of call the vet will make is to check the rabbit’s teeth, even if your rabbit’s appetite has stopped abruptly, the teeth should be checked, so please get your rabbit to a competent vet in rabbit dentistry to check the teeth. It is not necessary to administer anaesthetics when doing routine dentistry. A skilled veterinary surgeon can remove spurs on the edges of the molars by securely wrapping the rabbit in a towel and putting him on his back. A gag holding the mouth open is inserted, along with cheek dilators to part the lips. This gives a full view of the inside of the mouth. Anaesthetics are only ever necessary if the crowns of the rabbit’s teeth need to be reduced using a burring tool, as cutting the crown is painful and can crack a tooth leading to problems such as abscesses. Spurs are brittle and are usually found on the far edges of the molars and they are easy to trim off. The main cause of dental problems is genetic, compounded by incorrect feeding. Feeding too much dried food will make the rabbit feel full and it will thus eat less hay or grass, so the teeth do less work than if the rabbit is forced to eat hay and grasses and is only given a small amount of quality commercial dried food once or twice daily.
So what do you do if your rabbit exhibits the symptoms I have mentioned above? Gently lift him out of the cage and look for droppings. If there are none, or tiny ones strung together like beads, then this is a sure sign of GI stasis.
The best way to rehydrate a rabbit is by injecting fluids intravenously. For this procedure to be done, the rabbit needs to be hospitalised. Fluids can also be given directly under the skin. Ringers or Hartmans Solution drip bags can be obtained from the vet. Withdraw and inject 10ml per kilo of body weight. An easier way of doing this is to ask the vet to set up the drip on a line with a dial, so you can leave the needle under the skin whilst the drip bag is suspended and you can control the speed of the fluid going under the skin by turning the dial. A rabbit in a severe state of dehydration is unlikely to go anywhere and will sit still whilst you hold him.
Listen to the gut with a stethoscope, if you have one, for sounds. If you do not own a stethoscope, then try to put your ear to his stomach. If you hear a noisy gurgling sound, then it is a sign that there is gas in the gut. A noisy gut is what you want to hear, as a silent gut is far more serious and would indicate a possible gastric torsion (twisted gut) or complete blockage. This requires urgently veterinary intervention. Even then, the prognosis for this is poor. If your rabbit’s tummy is hard, gassy and bloated, then this is extremely painful. This awful pain is even less likely to get him eating again on his own if not addressed. The best pain relief to give is Buscopan, which can be bought in tablet form over the chemist counter. Powder it down with a pestle and mortar and administer it orally with a little water in a syringe if you are not confident in giving a rabbit a pill. Prescription pain relief such as Rimadly or Metacam can also be given, but Buscopan is more gentle in dealing with gut problems. Abdominal massage can also help shift the gas, but this should be done carefully so as not to bruise the internal organs. If you own a vibrating massage pad, then this is very useful too in helping to dissipate the gas.
You need to get the gut going again and you need to do this ASAP. Veterinary attention is necessary to establish whether or not there is an obstruction. If there is an obstruction, then gut motility drugs can make matters worse by pushing the blockage further down in the intestines. If there is no obstruction, then intensive syringe feeding should be carried out to offer sustenance. A mix made from Oxbow Critical Care (obtainable over the internet or from the vet) should be given. It is best mixed 50/50 with Farley’s baby porridge and warm water added and made to the consistency of mash potato. Cut off the end of a 2.5ml syringe, as this will enable you to draw up the mash easily, and then insert the syringe as far back into the mouth as possible. Most rabbits find this product palatable and will readily chew it when introduced into the mouth using this method.
In conclusion, the key to get your rabbit eating again during a bout of GI stasis is to seek urgent veterinary attention. Syringe feeding and the giving of fluids and motility drugs should soon put your rabbit on the road to recovery.
I do a lot of work involving rabbit healthcare. If you have any concerns about GI stasis, I would be glad to be of help. I can be contacted by email at: Victoria@drvicnwo.wanadoo.co.uk
Victoria Carey GBAR RVECP Rodentologist
Author Resource:- You can order Oxbow Critical Care from the following link:
Article From Animal Pets and Friends
This article is presented through the courtesy of Animal Pets and Friends