Written By Dr Lisa Towns
Rabbits are prey animals, and as such they are very good at hiding their illnesses until they are very sick.
For this reason, if a rabbit is starting to show signs of illness, it is important to get him or her to the vet as soon as possible.
Not wanting to eat or drink, being less active than normal and sitting in a hunched position may be the first noticeable signs of illness.
Many diseases in a rabbit can have the same symptoms, but one of the more serious and common conditions that can occur in a sick rabbit is gastric stasis.
Gastric stasis is a painful, and sometimes life-threatening, condition that requires urgent veterinary attention.
In this condition, the rabbit’s intestines slow down or stop completely, which causes a build-up of food, harmful bacteria, and large amounts of gas in the gut.
This causes pain which can make the rabbit stop eating and drinking completely, which contributes to further dehydration.
The rabbit will also produce very little to no poo.
Usually there is another underlying condition which leads to the gastric stasis.
The list of underlying illnesses is almost limitless, as anything which causes pain, stress or inappetence in a rabbit can lead to gastric stasis.
This can include dental disease, bladder stones, and even muscle or bone pain.
Feeding the wrong diet which is not high enough in fibre and too high in fat or sugar is a common cause, as is a lack of access to clean water.
Treatment includes intravenous fluids, pain relief and drugs that promote gastric motility.
We will often take x-rays and run blood tests to help us monitor the response to treatment and also rule out the possibility of a gut blockage (which would require surgery).
If the rabbit doesn’t start eating again after treatment is initiated, we will 'assist feed' them, which involves syringing a special liquid diet into their mouth.
Once the rabbit is eating, drinking and pooing again, we can think about further investigation as to what caused the gastric stasis.
By treating the underlying cause, we can hopefully prevent further episodes of gastric stasis in the future.