Recognize GI Stasis and try to avoid it

GI Stasis, technical term ileus, is a silent killer. If left untreated, the complete intestinal tract will cease to operate and perform its movement function, resulting in a painful death for the rabbit.

This can happen in as little as 12 hours.

GI Stasis is the condition of food matter not moving through the gut as normal or not moving as quickly as normal.

The gut contents compact into a hard immobile mass blocking the digestive tract.

Food matter in an immobile gut may also ferment causing a gas build up and resultant pain for the rabbit.

An intestinal slowdown can cause ingested food matter or hair to lodge in the intestinal tract causing the blockage.

In addition, if the cecum/caecum is not emptying quickly enough, harmful bacteria will override the cecum's natural defence system emitting gas and causing the rabbit terrible pain.

Bacteria can produce deadly toxins damaging the liver thereby being a side effect of this serious condition.

GI Stasis (ileus) is not an illness but a symptom of another underlying problem and it will become an emergency extremely quickly and if left untreated, will be fatal.

The symptoms are no fecal pellets/droppings or very few compared to the amount your rabbit usually produces. They may also be unusually very small.

The rabbit becomes lethargic and has no appetite, becomes disinterested or may hunch up in a ball as if cold. You may also hear them loudly crunching their teeth, which is a sign of pain.

There might be sounds in the belly that sound different to what you are use to, such as unusually loud or indeed deadly silent.

It could be that you simply notice the difference in your rabbit's behaviour, that the rabbit just does not look right.

You know your rabbit's behaviour pattern and nature better than anyone and any difference is very obvious.

If no feces/droppings are being produced by your rabbit, you should consider GI Stasis and immediately take your rabbit to the vets.

It is often believed that the rabbit stops eating and consequently produces no droppings.

A more accurate diagnose would be that the rabbit stops passing feces/droppings first and thereby loses their appetite and stops eating.

A rabbit's intestinal tract can become static for several different reasons such as stress, dehydration, pain form an underlining disorder or illness, dental problem, wind, infection, intestinal blockage or insufficient fibre in the diet. Lack of fibre is a common cause.

At the bottom of this page we have given a checklist on how to try and avoid this condition.

The stomach and intestine of a rabbit are never empty. The rabbit may eat normal amounts of food up to the GI tract shutting down and therefore the stomach may contain a large bolus of food when GI stasis occurs.

A mass that is misidentified as a hairball in a rabbit usually composes of food held together by hair and mucus. Such a bolus or ball of mass chewed food matter is unable to pass out of the stomach but can be broken down slowly.

Do not try and treat GI Stasis yourself. An immediate visit to a vet familiar with rabbits is essential.

If the vet diagnoses GI Stasis, then they will try to determine the cause of the slowdown.

If there is an underlying condition, it is imperative to address it.

The vet may then decide that the best course of treatment is to stimulate motility in the gut, and may advise one or more of the following:

Motility drugs (like cisapride or metoclopramide) which will help to stimulate movement in the digestive system.

Administer fluids and rehydration techniques which help to soften the mass in the intestines.

Administer enzymatic digestive aids in order to loosen and soften an impacted mass.

Pain medication to alleviate discomfort due to gas build up.

Syringe feeding to ensure the rabbit continues to get essential nutrients.

If the rabbit shows signs of a bacterial infection then antibiotics might be used to combat the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. The vet might only use antibiotics if it is felt absolutely necessary. For the treatment and aftercare of your rabbit, work with your vet.

With these treatments it may take time and patience for a rabbit to make a full recovery.

To correct this condition involves patience in allowing the treatments to work. It may take several days before any fecal pellets are seen.

The first few pellets may be small, hard misshapen, perhaps covered in mucus.

Avoid stress for the rabbit. Recovery can be very slow.

It might be helpful to mention that sometimes GI Stasis is misdiagnosed as hairballs by a vet. Use your own commonsense in the matter. The hairball is more likely a result of GI Stasis, not the cause.

It is also advisable to remember that, unlike cats, rabbits do not have the ability to vomit.

Bloat is an extreme form of G stasis

Here is a checklist to try and avoid this condition;

1. Plenty of fibre in diet, are you giving too many starchy treats? A rabbits diet must be very high in fibre.

2. Beware of an underlying infection or illness? This can be an indirect cause of GI Stasis.

3. Overgrown molars or abscessed tooth or related tooth problems.

4. Stress. Beware of major changes to the rabbit which include the loss of a bonded partner, a change of living environment, a new pet in the house, suddenly noisy environment etc.

5. Lack of exercise. Your rabbit whether it is a house or garden pet must have regular exercise. Being left in the hutch or cage all day long is not good. Obviously, if you are away or on holiday or and have someone looking after your rabbit, that can't be helped but under normal circumstances, exercise is a must.

6. Ensure plenty of water.

7. Find a recommended vet who is experienced and familiar with rabbits.

The best cure for GI Stasis is prevention.

Leave 'GI Stasis' page and return to 'Digestive System' page

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