How The Rabbit Gastrointestinal Tract (GIT) works, a quick overview:
begins in the mouth. When the rabbit chews its food it is mixed
with saliva, which contains proteins that begin breaking down
is swallowed, enters the stomach where it is mixed with stomach
acid and digestive enzymes, which continue the digestion process.
food then exits the stomach into the small intestine, where nutrients
are absorbed into the body, and then it continues on into the
large intestine where the food particles are sorted by size: larger
particles of indigestible fiber (those nice long pieces of fresh
timothy hay) drive the smaller fragments of digestible fiber backwards
into the cecum. The cecum is a large blind-ended sac located at
the junction of the small and large intestines. The indigestible
particles are then passed out in the fecal pellets (regular poop)
and the cecum begins the fermentation process that will produce
what is commonly referred to as night feces or cecotropes, which
a rabbit will ingest directly from the anus.
Is GI Stasis?
When the speed with which material moves through the GIT is altered
it can affect how quickly the stomach and cecum empty. This will
generally decrease the appetite for both food and water, causing
the body to extract the water from the stomach, which exaggerates
the problem by causing the contents of the entire GI tract (food,
hair from grooming, etc.) to become further dehydrated and impacted.
The bunny is then unable to pass the mass of food/hair in the stomach,
feels full, uncomfortable and often gassy (due to the build-up of
bad bacteria in the cecum), which only adds to his “I don’t
want to eat” mentality. Rabbits who are not eating can quickly
become anorexic and can die from something called hepatic lipidosis
or commonly “Fatty Liver Disease,” which is caused by
the toxins produced by the bad bacteria in the cecum. A rabbit in
GI Stasis is often said to have a “hairball” –
and while this may be a part of the problem, the hair/food mass
in the gut is a RESULT of the stasis, not the cause.
Of GI Stasis
ingested during grooming
high fat, low fiber diet (such as a pellet-only diet)
many carbohydrates in the diet (breads, crackers, etc.)
(moving, illness, changes in family life, loss of rabbit companion,
term use of antibiotics
paralyzation or mobility problems
of proper exercise
The first and most important thing to do is learn to recognize the
early signs of GI problems and treat your rabbit accordingly or
get him or her to your Rabbit Vet before things get worse.
Of GI Stasis
strung thickly together with hair (from grooming)
or sudden lack of appetite for both water and food
soft, pudding-like stools followed by erratically shaped fecal
diarrhea in combination with irregular shaped poops
To Do If You Notice Early Signs Of GI Problems
If you notice that your rabbit’s feces are strung with hair,
smaller than usual or not uniform in shape and size there are several
things you can do before getting extra-concerned and calling your
rabbit’s fiber intake: offer her a variety of fresh hays.
Change or add hay frequently throughout the day to encourage bunny
to investigate and munch.
pellets for a day or two to encourage a hungry bunny to eat more
produce. Rinse it and offer bunny wetter veggies to encourage
water consumption to help hydrate impacted gut:
your rabbit water in a crock as well as water bottle; crocks
offer rabbits a more natural way of consuming water, which
may encourage them to drink more;
a small amount of sugar free fruit juice, such as apple, grape
or (our choice) Gerber’s baby “Apple Carrot”
juice to the water for a day or two (change water frequently
to avoid spoilage) and make sure to ask your vet about
the use of fruit juice for each rabbit/case;
rabbits will even drink a V-8/water mixture!
your rabbit’s exercise routine. If this is a “caged”
rabbit, get her out to run around your house (supervised) for
several hours a day. Often just getting the body going will motivate
the gut to function better.
your bunny malt flavored cat hairball remedy, 1 inch 2 to 3 times
a day for 2 days.
your rabbit’s feces do not improve within 2 days, or if they
get worse(smaller) or stop altogether – or if her appetite
diminishes – contact your rabbit vet IMMEDIATELY.
Things Your Vet May Do Or Prescribe
vet will examine your rabbit, listen to and palpate (feel) her gut
and often ask to take x-rays (and occasionally even a blood sample)
in order to make her diagnosis. It is worth it to mention that allowing
your vet to take x-rays, even if she is already fairly sure it is
a hair/food mass, is an important procedure prior to prescribing
medication. If a real “obstruction” is present, the
use of GI “motility” drugs could cause the mass to move
into a smaller area, causing an intestinal eruption. GI Surgery
should only be considered as a last resort.
- Intestinal Motility Agents: Propulsid® (cisapride) or
Reglan® (metaclopramide) are safe and effective drugs which
can help get the GI tract moving again. Propulsid works mainly
on the lower GI and Reglan on the upper. In severe cases, both
drugs may be prescribed simultaneously.
- For rabbits with mucous in their stools: Questran® (cholestyramine),
generally used to reduce serum cholesterol in humans, can be
used to absorb the harmful toxins which cause the mucous and
pass them out through the feces.
- Subcutaneous (Sub-q) Fluids: For the rabbit with an impacted
gut who refuses to drink and is getting sick of being syringe
fed/watered. Sub-q fluids not only hydrate the body, but help
to balance the electrolytes as well. Your vet or vet tech will
teach you how to administer these fluids at home as well.
- Antibiotics: Sometimes an antibiotic such as Flagyl, Bactrim
or Baytril is prescribed to help combat the overgrowth of “bad
bacteria” (clostridium spp). This is not always necessary
and should be only be done if bacterial infection is suspected.
- PAIN RELIEF: Pain relief for a rabbit is often the critical
key to his or her recovery. Rabbits do not deal well with pain
and will sometimes give up and die. The gases caused by stasis
can cause a lot of abdominal pain. Sometimes simply relieving
the pain will encourage them to begin eating/drinking and becoming
Care of the Rabbit in GI Stasis
Patience. Patience. Patience. Patience, proper vet care, observation
and at-home supportive care will almost always solve this problem.
Once you have visited your vet and started your rabbit on the proper
road to recovery, there are things that can be done at home to help
Frequently a rabbit in GI Stasis simply feels too yucky to eat.
The build-up of gas in her gut can be painful and she probably feels
full and uncomfortable. There are some extra at-home things you
can do to help break up the gas in the tummy, as well as to help
stimulate the GI tract and get it moving again:
(liquid pediatric suspension, can be purchased at grocery stores
or pharmacies). Simethicone helps gather and pass gas bubbles
in your rabbit’s gut, which will relieve a lot of pain and
may be what’s needed to encourage your rabbit to begin eating.
It has no known side effects and is inexpensive. Administer 1ml
per hour for first three hours, then 1ml every 3 – 8 hours,
as needed. You may hear your bunny pass gas: a bunny who poots
is a bunny on the road to recovery! We recommend that ALL bunny
owners keep some Simethicone on hand.
or vibrating your rabbit’s tummy is one of the best ways
to help break up gas bubbles and encourage the gut to ‘get
moving’. Sit bunny on your lap or on a towel on the counter
and with your hands gently knead your rabbit’s abdomen,
as deeply as she will allow. If she reacts in a painful manner,
stop. You can also vibrate bunny’s tummy by holding your
hand, palm up, under her belly, or one hand on either side of
the belly and jiggling as quick as bunny will allow. Do these
for as long and as often as bunny will tolerate. Ask your
vet to show you where your bunny’s tummy is, it may not
be where you think it is!
Bunny To Eat
As stated, most often a rabbit in stasis will not want to eat or
drink on his or her own, yet it is absolutely crucial to keep your
rabbit eating! Following are some suggestions that have worked well
for us at Zooh Corner - for many many rabbits:
pellet mixes. In a small bowl, add about 1-2 tablespoons of your
rabbit’s pellets and enough water to cover them, with a
tiny bit to spare. Microwave for 15-20 seconds, until water is
absorbed and pellets are puffed almost completely apart (looks
a bit like fluffed rice). Fluff with fork an allow to cool until
luke- warm and give to bunny. Often the aroma will entice bunny
adding a bit of sugar-free applesauce or sugar-free fruit
juice to the pellet mix will entice bunny. Ask your vet
if this is okay in your rabbit’s specific case, as sometimes
sugary fruits can add to an existing problem.
sure you offer bunny a VARIETY of FRESH hays throughout the day.
Pet store hays are often stale and un-enticing. Buy your hays
instead a local rabbit rescue or feed store. Change hay often
to encourage bunny to investigate and munch. Pick out pieces and
“play” with your bunny by waving it in her face, hoping
she will get nip at them, like the taste and eat them.
bunny a variety of fresh vegetables throughout the day. Kale has
a lot of fiber and is often a good choice, but try all sorts of
veggies, including fresh fragrant herbs, such as basil, cilantro,
dill, etc.. You can also offer your rabbit fresh, pesticide, chemical
free grass clippings from your yard! Again, pick out pieces of
produce or grass and “play” with your bunny –
try to entice her to eat.
Bunny Refuses To Eat
Sometimes bunny simply refuses to eat, no matter what you do or
try, so you have to resort to “force feeding.” This
should only be done if your rabbit vet tells you there is no blockage
and that it is safe to do so. We prefer to simply call it syringe
feeding and we strongly suggest that before your rabbit EVER gets
ill, you begin to get her used to taking food or liquid from a syringe,
so that when the emergency time comes, you will have a less stressful
situation on your hands. [For “training” your rabbit
to use the syringe, use a bit of sugar-free fruit juice mixed with
water or some mashed banana (some people even use malt flavored
hairball remedy), follow the directions for the actual feeding process
You Will Need
pellets (or whichever pellets your House Rabbit Vet recommends)
CLEAN coffee grinder (one bought for just this purpose is best)
bowl or cup for mixing the ground pellets with liquid
30cc or 60cc ORAL syringe, obtainable from your rabbit vet
water and assorted sugar-free fruit juices for making an enticing
formula (again, consult your vet to be sure that using fruit juices
is okay for your rabbit)
To Make the Syringe Formula
a your coffee grinder, add the timothy pellets and grind them
until they are in a fine, powdery-like state. Even then you will
sometimes need to sift through them to pick out larger chunks
which will not go through the oral syringe.
2-4 tablespoons of the powdered mix to your bowl or cup (save
the rest in a ziplock for later).
warm water (or Pedialyte), slowly, as you mix - until the mix
is about as thick as semi-congealed pudding. Wait 3-5 minutes
for pellets to absorb water.
more water until the mix is once again like semi-congealed pudding.
Wait another minute or so…
add the juice, a little at a time, waiting 30 seconds to 1 minute,
until your mix is the consistency of semi-congealed pudding. It
should be liquidy enough to flow well through the oral syringe,
but not so watery that you won’t be getting actual food
into your rabbit.
NOTE: If you are unable to make your own syringe formula, OxBow
Hay Co. makes a wonderful syringe feeding formula called “Critical
Care” which can usually be purchased through your rabbit
vet. This is GREAT stuff, however, over a long period of time
it can become quite expensive.
Feeding Your Rabbit
bunny on a towel on the counter facing sideways (as opposed to
towards or away from you).
to your bunny and tell her what you are doing as you wrap your
arm around your bunny so her bottom or back-end is against your
upper arm / crook of your elbow; place that hand on bunny’s
head, thumb behind the ears and against cheek closest to you –
other fingers along far side of face (I have my index finger in
the middle of the face). You can use this hand to help steady
bunny’s face and to help keep her from moving forward.
the OTHER hand, insert the tip of the filled syringe into the
side of bunny’s mouth, behind the incisors (front teeth)
and slowly squeeze out 1-2cc at a time, allowing bunny to chew
and swallow. Be very careful not to squirt food or liquid
straight back down the throat or you could get liquid into her
lungs (aspiration), which could kill your rabbit.
it is necessary to make a “bunny burrito” in order
to help restrain your rabbit: sit bunny across towel width-wise;
fold back of towel up over bunny’s rump; fold either side
up and over bunny’s back, the top side wrapping beneath
bunny – so that only her head sticks out. This often has
a calming/secure effect on a rabbit. Continue as listed above.
your vet how frequently you should do this each day and how many
total cc's you should try to get into your rabbit at each feeding.
It is crucial to remain patient while nursing a rabbit through GI
Stasis. The road to recovery is often long, and you need to allow
the therapies and medications time to do their work. It may be several
days before you see any fecal pellets, and several weeks before
your bunny is back to normal again. DO NOT STOP any medications
or therapies or change them without first consulting your vet! We
also suggest that when it is time to stop medications that you not
do so abruptly , but in a tapering-off manner. When you do see your
vet, if your rabbit has a companion, make sure he or she goes along
as well. Separation can cause stress and make matters worse.
cannot stress enough the importance of talking to your rabbit, encouraging
her, loving her and giving her extra-special attention during this
period. Rabbits respond amazingly well to love and attention.
vet care, proper feeding, pain relief, tummy massage, love and patience
will almost surely get your rabbit through a bout of GI Stasis.
Dana M., PhD. GastroIntestinal Stasis, The Silent Killer. 1997,
Susan, DVM. Sluggish Motility in the Gastrointestinal Tract. Hand-out.
Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital, Westchester, Ill.
Peter R. Rabbit Feeding and Nutrition. Orlando: Academic Press,
Jeffrey R., DVM. Feeding Recommendations for the House Rabbit.
The Veterinary Clinics of North America, 1999.
plus years of hands-on experience “in the trenches”
of rabbit rescue and care.
also like to thank Drs. Bronwyn Dawson and Sari Kanfer of Dr. Domotor's
Animal House in Monrovia and Dr. Ann McDowell of Chaparral Pet Hospital
in Claremont - for answering my constant questions, loaning me books
and passing on updated diet and medical information/papers as they