Since we are a busy exotics practice, a large number of our patients are rabbits. One of the most common problems we see in pet rabbits is Gastrointestinal Stasis (also referred to as GI Stasis). In this condition, the GI tract slows down or stops resulting in little or no droppings, poor appetite and often abdominal pain. We see about one case of this per week, sometimes more.
The most common cause of this problem is an inadequate diet. Rabbits require a fairly continuous intake of a good diet for the health of their GI tract. They need large amounts of indigestible fiber as a component of this diet. Lack of fiber is the number one cause of this problem and lack of intake is probably second on the list of causes.
Rabbits, unlike most other animals, cannot vomit. In the course of grooming they swallow significant amounts of hair. This hair is normally excreted with other waste products in the feces. With impaired motility, this hair and other ingesta will accumulate in the stomach and intestines.
Not enough fiber (such as hay and greens) and too many carbs (such as pellets) are often the culprit when diet is the cause of GI stasis. Besides dietary causes, any other illness or injury that leads to a decrease in feed consumption can result in GI stasis. GI stasis is a serious, sometimes life threatening condition.
One area that our clinic is very vigilant in protecting against GI stasis is post operative care. Post operative pain can lead to GI stasis as well as certain drugs and anesthetics. Because of this, pain control is extremely important when dealing with rabbit surgery. We also will generally begin syringe feeding rabbits as soon after surgery as possible to encourage normal GI motility.
The major signs for a rabbit owner to be on the look out for in regards to gastric stasis are: decreased dropping, decreased appetite, and possible abdominal pain. If any of these are occurring, we should be contacted immediately. As a reminder, we provide after hours emergency care when required.