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June Feature: GI Stasis in Rabbits
Perhaps the most common of all rabbit emergencies that we see is the pet rabbit who becomes suddenly very sick and stops eating. On presentation, we frequently find that these bunnies are also lethargic, producing little or no stool, and may have a dangerously low body temperature. This combination of symptoms is considered a medical emergency, as these patients decline quickly.
Our diagnosis in these cases is often a condition called Ileus or GI Stasis. Put simply, it means that the rabbit’s GI system (stomach and intestines) have basically stopped moving (decreased motility). Historically, the owners often report that their rabbits have been in decline for a few days – usually eating less and producing fewer and smaller stools.
In rabbits, GI Stasis is known as a “silent killer.” Its symptoms may appear to come on suddenly and are often not noticed until the pet is very sick. In truth, the bunny may have been suffering from symptoms for days or even weeks, but may have been hiding signs that they were ill.
Rabbits, like birds, guinea pigs, and rats are technically “prey animals.” Prey animals’ instincts tell them to hide signs of illness to prevent becoming the victim of a predator looking for an easy meal. As a result, these pets often don’t show obvious signs of illness until they are too sick to hide it anymore. Owners of prey animals must look for subtle signs and changes as an indicator of potential problems.
Symptoms of GI Stasis
Detecting Ileus early means being aware of your rabbit’s behavioral, dietary, and elimination habits.
Early signs may include*:
More serious symptoms include
*please note that these symptoms can be indications of other medical problems, so a proper veterinary diagnosis is important.
GI Stasis is very often related to stress, dehydration, pain from another condition, or other illness. It can be the rabbit’s primary problem or a secondary symptom of another condition.
As a primary problem, Ileus is usually related to husbandry problems (improper diet and housing), psychological stress, or can be idiopathic (without apparent cause) in origin. GI Stasis can also be a secondary condition of another problem. It may be related to poor dental health (a common problem in pet rabbits), pain from a medical condition, or urinary tract disorders. In general, a condition that causes dehydration (from rabbit not eating/drinking), pain, or stress can result in GI stasis.
GI stasis is normally considered a medical emergency which requires intervention by a rabbit-experienced veterinarian. The initial treatment is aimed at correcting dehydration, pain and low body temperature. Medications to encourage GI motility (movement of the stomach and intestines) are normally added in during the early stages of treatment, as well.
Once the rabbit is “stable” the veterinarian and owner can attempt to find the root cause of the rabbit’s distress. Husbandry concerns, dental problems, stress, and pain levels will be addressed in an effort to completely resolve the condition and prevent recurrence.
As with most medical problems, the earlier treatments are started the better, so as a rabbit owner it is important to know the early signs of this dangerous condition.
Prevention of GI stasis involves preventing or treating the underlying causes:
Please note that Ileus does not always have an obvious cause. We have seen the very best rabbit owners’ pets suffer from GI stasis. While it is important that owners do what they can to prevent the condition, it is vital that all bunny stewards know the early signs of GI Stasis, so treatment can begin as early as possible.
If you have any concerns about this condition or your rabbit's health, please do not hesitate to contact us at (760) 634-2022