Treating GI Stasis In Rabbits - Bunny Stops Eating? Act Now!

What is GI Stasis?

chinchilla netherland dwarf rabbitIt’s no contagious disease, not a bacteria or a parasite.  It’s when the digestive system of a rabbit slows to almost a standstill.  The cause can be many different things: a diet overly rich in energy or protein, stress, dehydration, dental problems, pain from injury or other illness, anything that causes a rabbit to stop eating for an extended period of time.   In the wild, rabbits are grazers and their digestive tract is slowly and steadily digesting high-fiber material.  A dramatic slowdown of intestinal movement can lead to a painful and sudden death.  That’s why it’s so important to feed your rabbits free-choice hay.  Feeding free-choice pellets leads to obesity, but hay is high in fiber and just what rabbits need to keep the gut system moving not too fast and not too slow. 

Signs and Symptoms of GI Stasis

GI Stasis can come on quickly, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your rabbits.  Signs include:

  • Refusal to eat for more than 12 hours; lack of appetite
  • Very small or few fecal pellets (relative to what is normal for your rabbit,of course).
  • Loud gurgling noises from the intestinal area.  Normally movement of the intestine should have some sound.  Complete silence for a long time is cause for concern.
  • Lethargic, sitting hunched in a ball, teeth loudly grinding in pain.  (Note: this is a different posture than the “hunched in a ball” reclining one.  When a bunny is comfortably resting, it sits over its hind feet and actually tucks its front legs under the body, so you can’t see them.   It is resting on its knees, and the front paws are not touching the cage.   A bunny in this position may softly chatter its teeth in contentment.  A rabbit in GI pain will sit still with all four feet on the floor, and the teeth grinding is very loud and unmistakable once you have heard it.)
  • Liquid or mushy feces; diarrhea

Rabbit Health 101: Care of Rabbit with Gastrointestinal Stasis

by Laurie Stroupe
I am not a veterinarian. Please consult your veterinarian before treating rabbits. I am only sharing my views as a breeder and rabbitry manager.

There is a wonderful article on GI Stasis by Dana M Kremples called GI Stasis: The Silent Killer. I read the article several months ago and have made changes in my barn because of it, after trying out several of the many suggestions in the article.

Here are some of the things mentioned in the article that I have:

Infant Gas Drops (simethicone)- I keep generic infant gas drops on hand in the barn now. According to the article, the drops are pretty inert, staying in the GI tract and not spreading to the rabbit’s other systems. It helps physically break up gas bubbles and reduce pain for a rabbit suffering from a gastrointestinal distress. I do not want my rabbit to give up eating because of gas pain.

Stethoscope – For about $10, you can purchase a stethoscope at your local pharmacy. Use it to listen to several healthy rabbits’ gut sounds. The sounds are low and frequent. Then use it on a rabbit that is ill. You may hear nothing, meaning that the gut has stopped working. Or you may hear loud and frequent sounds. Either extreme indicates a problem. But it’s only by comparing between a healthy population and your sick animal that you will hear the differences clearly.

Pedialyte (electrolyte solution) – I use unflavored Pedialyte or the generic equivalent. In the pedialyte, I may dissolve feed pellets and vegetable baby food or canned pumpkin, as recommended in the article. I was able to feed a very sick rabbit by syringe for almost a week before she died. Later, I found that the pellets themselves were the source of her problem. But I was amazed that I was able to keep her alive so long with this method of feeding. I believe that, had it not been that the pellets were the problem in the first place, she might have had a chance to recover.

Syringes – I keep syringes of various sizes available in the rabbitry. I use larger ones to administer lactated ringer’s, medium sized ones for feedings (always point the syringe sideways toward the cheek and never toward the throat), and smaller ones for Pen B, often sold under the name Combi Pen (3 cc).

Lactated Ringer’s (“IV fluids”)– I keep lactated ringer’s in the fridge all of the time. You should talk with your vet well before you have problems (rabbits always get sick when the vet office is closed, don’t they?). Most likely, you will need to have a relationship with your vet so that he or she is comfortable with your skill and knowledge level before you would be sold Lactated Ringer’s. I administer it subcutaneously under the skin on the back of the neck/shoulder area.

Fresh Herbs (parsley, raspberry leaves, tarragon, thyme, etc.) – I almost always have fresh herbs in my garden, unless the weather is totally frozen. Since many GI problems occur in the spring and fall, I’m usually prepared. I have a number of raspberry plants that yield plenty of extra leaves. The rabbits usually like the young, tender leaves the most. I do plan to plant more parsley this year. It’s the only biennial herb I grow, so it’s the one I have to remember to replant.

There are still a few items I have not collected, but still plan to:

Thermometer – a plastic rectal thermometer can be used to see if the rabbit has an elevated or depressed temperature.

Papain and Bromelain – I’ve heard various accounts about whether the papain tables from a health food store are actually active enough to do any good. But papain comes from papaya and bromelain comes from fresh pineapple. Since I’m not likely to keep either of those on hand at all times, I think I will try the powered or tablet forms. The benefit of the refined forms is that they are not packed with sugar, as the natural forms are. And sugar could exacerbate problems with a hind gut that is already out of balance.

Electric Massager – I think a massager that fits on the back of the hand would be the best type for rabbits. My rabbits are often afraid of strange things as it is, but the comfort of my hand might be acceptable to them. Of course, once they feel the relief from pain, they may be willing to be massaged by most anything! I am looking for one that will provide a mild massage quietly.

Several cliches and sayings come to mind about now. An ounce of prevention . . . is one of them. Even if you get bogged down in all of the medical jargon of the article, be sure to read the section on prevention; it is near the end.

“Be prepared.” That’s the next step. Be sure to have supplies on hand to deal with gastrointestinal distress.

Doing your homework ahead of time and having what you need on hand will allow you to better evaluate your rabbit, make a plan, and provide care to your bunny.

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