Gut Stasis or ileus is a serious, but fairly common condition in rabbits where food stops moving through the gut. If a rabbit stops eating or reduces its intake of food for any reason then its gastrointestinal system will slow down, or even come to a complete standstill. This can be fatal, even within just a matter of hours. As the guts stop moving, bacteria build up in the intestines, which release gas causing painful bloating. This further reduces the rabbit’s appetite, so the rabbit becomes more dehydrated. The contents of the guts become compacted making it more difficult for the rabbit to pass them.
What are the causes of Gut Stasis?
There are many reasons a rabbit could reduce or stop eating and drinking, such as;
- Dental problems
- Low fibre diet
- Stress (predator, change in environment or diet, loss of a partner, extreme heat or cold)
- Lack of exercise
What are the signs of Gut Stasis?
- Small faeces
- No faecal production
- Reduced appetite
- Hunched posture
- Swollen or firm abdomen
- Grinding teeth
How is Gut Stasis treated?
If you notice any of the above signs in your rabbit then you should take them to your vet straight away. Treatment needs to be aggressive and started immediately. They are usually admitted for hospitalisation and fluid therapy (via a drip in their ear vein) to rehydrate them and help get their guts moving again. The vet may administer medication to help kick start the guts such as pro-kinetics, as well as pain relief to alleviate the discomfort due to gas build up in the intestines. Antibiotics are sometimes given. It is very important to encourage their appetite, so fresh hay and greens are offered, as well as syringe feeding a high fibre critical care diet to ensure they get the essential nutrients.
If the rabbit is treated at an early stage (after only a few hours of not eating) then the prognosis is good. The longer the treatment is delayed then the less likely a good recovery is. Some rabbits require several days of hospitalisation and treatment to recover.
Written by Laura Sullivan MRCVS