Gastrointestinal Stasis in Rabbits
By Dr. Christina McCullough
Gastrointestinal stasis is a condition in rabbits when the intestines stop moving. This can be caused by a variety of conditions, most commonly improper diet and dental disease. Stasis is a serious and potentially fatal condition. Rabbits have sensitive intestines and need to have a proper balance of appropriate food, water and healthy bacteria. When this balance is disturbed there is a risk of stasis. If left untreated this can progress into gastric obstruction, or blockage within the stomach, which is an extremely serious and commonly fatal condition.
Rabbits are hindgut fermenters, meaning their absorption of nutrients happens in the back end of their intestinal tract, unlike dogs and cats. Additionally, this is why rabbits need to eat their cecotrophs, or night feces. If you see night feces in your rabbit’s cage, this is an indication your rabbit does not feel well. Rabbits need a diet that is very high in fiber in order to maintain a healthy intestinal system. High fiber diets consist of roughage, such as timothy hay or orchard grass. A diet that consists primarily of commercial pellets or treats such as fruit or yogurt can abnormally alter the motility of the intestines.
Roughage not only is great for the intestinal tract, but also great for dental health. Rabbits have teeth that are continuously growing and are prone to severe dental issues. Dental issues include: tooth root abscess, malocclusion and ulcers. Ulcers on the tongue can be caused by tooth elongation which can be prevented by a primarily roughage-based diet.
Indications your rabbit may be having dental issues include decreased appetite, “slobbering”, and decreased fecal production. “Slobbering” is a condition where the rabbit begins to drool heavily due to dental pain. A decreased appetite and fecal production indicate your rabbit doesn’t feel well, and if left untreated can lead to stasis. Rabbits have a quick gastrointestinal transit time, and if it appears that a rabbit has not eaten in 4-6 hours, this can be considered a medical emergency.
Just like dogs and cats, we recommend regular check-ups, every 6 months, to ensure your rabbit is healthy.