If you're a rabbit owner, you need to read this! Did you know that GI stasis is a common health condition that can affect your furry friend's digestive system? It can cause them to stop eating, poop abnormally, and even lead to death if not treated properly. But don't worry, I'm here to help you recognize the signs before it's too late.
GI stasis is a condition that causes a rabbit's digestive system to stop moving. This causes them to stop eating and poop abnormally (if at all). It's important to catch it early. To prevent GI stasis, make sure your rabbit has a healthy high-fibre diet, plenty of exercise, and access to fresh water at all times. If you notice any abnormalities, visit a vet immediately. This is an emergency!
In this article, I'll be discussing everything you need to know about GI stasis, including the signs, causes, and treatments. So, let's get started!
NOTE: This blog is meant to inform and is not meant for treating your rabbit without medical advice from a vet. If you suspect GI stasis, see your vet immediately!
Gastrointestinal (GI) stasis is the slowdown or complete stoppage of a rabbit's digestive system. In other words, it’s a gut condition where a rabbit’s intestine becomes static and ultimately stops moving.
It happens when certain factors, like the absence of fiber, alter the rate at which materials move through the gut. As a result, the stomach and cecum will no longer empty their contents as quickly as they should.
This can be distressing for rabbits' and leads to a lack of appetite for food and water. As a result, the bunny will become severely dehydrated leading to further issues.
Dehydration promotes the compression of the contents in the gut, including food, hair (from grooming), etc. This makes it difficult for rabbits to move this solid mass through the gut which leads to problems like impaction.
Rabbits experiencing this will feel bloated and uncomfortable, making them lose interest in eating or moving. Rabbits need to eat every day, all day long. If they refuse food for an extended period of time, they will develop fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis), which will eventually lead to death.
Gut stasis in pet rabbits can result from a variety of factors. See some of the major causes below:
Dehydration – inadequate water intake
Stress (change of location, loss of a rabbit companion, noises, etc.)
Lack of dietary fiber
Pain from other illnesses and disorders
Prolonged use of antibiotics
Hair ingestion (especially during the shedding season)
Any rabbit illness is capable of resulting in GI stasis. Hence, whenever your rabbit gets ill, monitor them for any symptoms of stasis. This will help you catch it early.
Rabbits experiencing gut stasis normally feel reluctant to eat or drink anything. This is a very common sign that gastrointestinal stasis has set in.
Since GI stasis affects the gut mobility, your rabbit’s poop will change and look different from normal. See some of the poop you might notice if your rabbit is experiencing gastrointestinal stasis:
Strung Poop: This poop appears as fecal pellets tied together on a string. This string is normally tied together by strands of hair ingested during grooming.
Tiny Dry Fecal Pellets, which look much smaller than normal rabbit poop. Aside from seeing this abnormally tiny poop, you might also see a reduction in poop production or no poop at all.
On-again/Off-again diarrhea accompanied by abnormally shaped poop
Regular or mushy poop accompanied by irregularly shaped fecal pellets
Tiny fecal pellets covered in yellowish or clear mucus
It’s normal for a healthy intestine to make soft gurgling noises. If a rabbit suffers from gastrointestinal stasis, these quiet gurgles become very loud and aggressive. This is a painful movement of gas in the stomach.
In severe cases, the rabbit’s intestine might make no gurgling sound at all. This means the gut stopped moving completely and is an emergency.
A rabbit might become lethargic (weak and less active) if s/he suffers from gastrointestinal stasis. If a rabbit stops moving due to pain, you can recognize the signs by your bunny sitting in a hunched position or pressing the belly to the floor while refusing to move.
GI stasis is an emergency. If you suspect that your rabbit is suffering from GI stasis, take steps to help your bunny immediately. The key is to recognize this condition before it becomes severe.
At these early stages, a tweak in your rabbit’s diet and some additional care can help your rabbit recover. You can force-feed your bunny baby food made of vegetables and fruits, force-feed critical care for herbivores, and encourage eating by offering tasty greens.
Make sure to call your vet in advance. Here are a few more things you can do while waiting for your vet to respond:
There should be a steady supply of hay available to your rabbit every day. You can change to a different kind of hay to encourage eating.
Moreover, you can do this for about two days. This will help increase a hungry bunny’s appetite for hay. Giving rabbits a fiber-rich diet is the goal!
It’s not just by offering your rabbit clean water at all times. Interestingly, you can help increase your rabbit’s hydration by offering them very wet veggies.
Toys do the trick! As they move around and play with interactive toys, the motion helps their digestive tract to work better. You can also let them free roam in a rabbit-safe area to pique their curiosity and get them moving.
After these practices, you should see some improvement. But if nothing changes about their poop or more signs of gut stasis begin to show, do not hesitate to see a veterinarian.
Gently massaging your rabbit’s abdominal region can help stimulate and restore motility in a static stomach. Do this by placing your rabbit on your lap or any surface where it feels secure.
Just make sure your rabbit can't hop down from the surface and get hurt. When you’ve made your pet comfortable, start to massage the stomach area.
With your fingertips, try to gently press your rabbits stomach in a right to left motion to move feces along the intestine. Make sure to use firm pressure but soften your touch if your bunny shows signs of discomfort or pain.
What’s more, if you could slowly raise your bunny’s rear legs a few inches to stretch them. It stimulates the easy flow of gas in the stomach.
Alternatively, you can also use electric vibrating massagers for bunnies. It’s also effective in relieving a static gut. Above all, massage regularly, so long as your rabbit allows it.
Monitoring your bunny's body temperature is critical in dealing with GI issues. Since a rabbit's normal body temperature is around 101-103°F, a sudden change in temperature can indicate that something is wrong.
For instance, a high temperature (more than 103°F) normally indicates infection or stress. Lower body temperatures (less than 100°F) or hypothermia, are cause for concern.
Hypothermia is a sign that your rabbit might be experiencing shock or bacterial infection in the bloodstream (septicemia). Visit a rabbit-savvy vet immediately after you notice your rabbit’s temperature drops.
Before that, you should try to restore your bunny’s temperature to normal. You can do this by placing warm water bottles (wrapped in a towel) around your rabbit. Or placing them on a reptile heating pad. Just make sure they can't chew on it or bite the cables.
In rabbits, anorexia can quickly result in hepatic fatty liver disease and stomach ulcers. It is dangerous for a rabbit to go 12 hours without eating food.
Hence, you should keep your rabbit eating as long as your vet confirms that there isn’t any blockage in the GI tract by doing x-rays or ultrasound scans. The vet will prescribe medication for pain and gut motility which should help with appetite and gut movement.
All of these are to prevent the rabbit from getting other complications. “Critical Care" is a great ready-to-mix emergency supplement for rabbits that are sick and unable to eat.
When you can’t access critical care for your rabbit immediately, you can use homemade alternatives. Simply add about two to three teaspoons of rabbit pellets to warm water (about half a cup).
Allow them to soak till they become soft. The goal here is to blend them into a fairly liquid paste (pudding-like consistency). Add more water, vegetable baby food, canned pumpkin, or tea to the pellet fluff to do this.
Next, use a large bore feeding syringe to administer the food to a rabbit after it cools. Use extreme caution. Getting food in the lungs could be fatal!
Giving a warm, clear water enema with a very small amount of odorless laxative-grade mineral oil may be beneficial. Epsom salts can be added to the enema fluid (at around 1 tablespoon per 30–40 cc of water). Do not do this without an okay from your vet, however.
They aid in hydrating compacted materials by drawing fluid from the surrounding tissues into the intestines. However, if you use Epsom salts, you must make sure the rabbit is properly hydrated with a subcutaneous lactated ringer solution. This must be done by a vet.
This is necessary to prevent the body’s reservoir of fluid from draining. Please ask your vet to walk you through this procedure before you try to administer an enema to your rabbit.
Since gut stasis also results from a lack of fiber, rabbits prone to it should have high-fiber foods as part of their daily diet and preventative treatment. Dietary fiber is essential for a healthy gut.
It also facilitates good bowel movement. An excellent and steady source of dietary fiber is hay. And rabbits can eat hay as much as they want to.
Make sure there is an abundance of timothy or other grass hay for your rabbit. Stay away from alfalfa hay if you have an adult rabbit. This is because alfalfa contains too much protein and calcium to be a nutritious portion of the diet for rabbits. It also is more likely to cause bloating in rabbits.
Metoclopramide (Reglan) or Cisapride (Proposed) are common intestinal motility agents that resolve static intestines. That’s right! Giving rabbits these motility drugs can help restore movement in the intestines.
Furthermore, both drugs mentioned above work pretty well. Moreover, the side effects associated with long-term use of Cisapride are lesser than those of metoclopramide.
What's more, your rabbit may need to take these drugs for up to two weeks before their intestinal motility is fully restored.
Your rabbit can take cisapride and metoclopramide at the same time in severe cases of GI stasis. The two drugs work on separate sections of a rabbit’s digestive tract. Hence, together, the effect is greater!
Your vet should carefully check for any possible drug interaction between these motility drugs and any other drug(s) your bunny is taking, regardless of the illness.
For instance, your rabbit should never take narcotic painkillers with Reglan (metoclopramide). Together, they have the potential to cause a deadly drug interaction.
When a rabbit is dehydrated, associated with GI stasis, it will weaken and eventually fall sick. Additionally, the desire to keep living will fade away to a well-hydrated rabbit.
When rabbits do not want to eat or drink during this condition, it’s ideal to give such a rabbit subcutaneous fluids to prevent the worst from happening.
However, there’s an exception to this treatment. This is when your rabbit suffers kidney failure or other health conditions that do not support a rabbit taking these subcutaneous fluids.
Interestingly, administering subcutaneous fluids to your rabbit is something you can do at home. Hence, ask your vet to teach you how to do it properly.
Your vet can also prescribe these drugs for your rabbit’s GI tract. They help soften and loosen the compressed mass of contents (food, hair, etc.) in your rabbit's gut. And this eventually helps to restore intestinal motility.
Papain and bromelain are common protein-dissolving enzymes. They come in powdered form and are available in most health food stores around you.
Some common appetite stimulants are B-complex vitamins (oral or via injection) and Periactin. A good thing about B-complex vitamins is that it doesn’t just stimulate appetites alone.
They can equally cover up for what a rabbit loses by not eating cecotropes for long. Your vet should give you instructions on how to use these stimulants. Normally, Periactin comes in 4 mg tablets.
A regular-sized bunny, about 4-6 lbs., can take 1 mg of this particular stimulant orally. And s/he should have it two times a day. Your rabbit must stop eating, so stimulating their appetite or force-feeding them isn’t bad.
It’s normal if your vet prescribes antibiotics for your rabbit battling with GI tract issues. These antibiotics help to prevent Clostridium spp. from overgrowing. And for this particular bacterial issue, Flagyl is mostly used.
Additionally, your rabbit can take antibiotics to fight against any lesser bacterial infection. For this purpose, a vet may prescribe antibiotic drugs like sulfas or fluoroquinolones.
Bacterial infection contributes to the stopping of the GI tract as well as intestinal blockage. But overuse of antibiotics can do the same. So make sure your rabbit does not unnecessarily take antibiotics.
The abdominal pain associated with gut stasis is much. And many rabbits facing this issue easily give up and die when they can no longer bear the pain.
So this means that a part of treating your rabbit suffering from GI tract issues involves pain relief. Your rabbit will need to take pain-relieving drugs, particularly analgesics, that will help it fight the abdominal pain.
Some pain relief drugs (analgesics) will not only relieve pain but also promote peristalsis. Make sure a veterinarian prescribes the analgesic for your pet. They know better, especially the pain-relieving drug suitable for your rabbit.
Furthermore, your veterinarian would also give you instructions, especially on how often your rabbit should take them.
Rabbits in GI stasis may be given motility-modifying drugs, antibiotics (in the event of a bacterial infection), anti-inflammatory medications, and pain relievers. Your rabbit will also need nutritional support and fluid therapy for rehydration.
As alarming as this condition seems, it’s something you can handle and treat at home so long you’ve made necessary plans for the outcome of this condition.
It’s always better to see a vet, but this doesn’t mean you can’t have some home solutions to this problem any time your rabbit faces it. This comes in handy when you can’t reach the nearest vet or have none in your area.
Currently, no scientific veterinary study proves pineapple can effectively treat GI stasis in rabbits. However, bromelain, a digestive enzyme in pineapple, helps loosen the protein materials that bind fur balls together in a rabbit’s stomach.
For this reason, many people regard fresh pineapple juice as a natural remedy for stasis. However, that’s not the case! Rabbits have a very acidic stomach with PH levels that can destroy these enzymes before they work in the gut.
Unfortunately, pineapple can hurt your rabbit instead. It’s packed with sugar, which is bad for a rabbit’s digestion. And if a rabbit is in stasis, extra sugar in the gut is risky. It’ll worsen their condition.
This is a major sign of constipation in rabbits, which can eventually lead to serious health issues such as gut stasis, liver diseases, and dehydration. As soon as you notice unusual eating or pooping patterns (less than normal) in rabbits, don’t hesitate to see a vet immediately.
Rabbits can go for more than a day without pooping. However, this isn’t a good sign, and if they stay longer and closer to two days, it could be fatal.
So when you notice your bunny hasn’t pooped for a while, see a vet right away. A rabbit that doesn’t poop regularly isn’t healthy.
Now you know what GI stasis is all about in rabbits. With this article, you can identify the symptoms and catch this condition early when it happens.
Though it might be uneasy, your rabbit shouldn’t stay without eating when they’re experiencing stasis. Treating gut stasis is mostly focused on getting a rabbit’s digestive tract to move again.
A veterinarian will prescribe medications as part of the treatment of this gut issue. It is also important that you visit the vet on a regular basis to monitor your rabbit's recovery.
Don't leave without checking out our Complete Rabbit Care Guide!