Gastrointestinal stasis is a serious, potentially fatal condition that occurs when the digestive system slows down. Decreased gut motility leads to a build-up of bad bacteria in the intestines, which causes a rabbit's abdomen to become bloated. This often leads to the rabbit becoming dehydrated, as the bloating is painful and causes them to stop eating and drinking. Additionally, toxins released by the bacteria can overload the liver and lead to organ failure.
Gastrointestinal stasis can be caused by lack of exercise or consuming a diet that's too low in fibre or too high in starch or stress, which can result from a change in their living conditions. Here's an overview of the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment approach for gastrointestinal stasis in rabbits:
Common symptoms of gastrointestinal stasis include a distended abdomen, loss of appetite and lethargy. The production of faecal pellets will reduce significantly or stop altogether, and your rabbit will show signs of being in pain, such as withdrawing from social contact, adopting a hunched posture or resisting being stroked.
Diagnosis And Treatment Approach
Your vet will diagnose gastrointestinal stasis by taking details of your rabbit's symptoms and carrying out a thorough physical exam. Blood and urine samples will be taken to check for dehydration and signs of infection. Blood tests can also determine how your rabbit's organs are functioning. Diagnostic imaging, such as an X-ray or CT scan, will also be required to determine the severity of the situation by establishing how much food, gas and faecal matter is being held up in your rabbit's digestive tract.
Treatment for gastrointestinal stasis may include intravenous fluids to treat dehydration, pain medication and motility drugs to stimulate their intestines and get food and gas moving efficiently along the digestive tract. Antibiotics are often prescribed to eradicate the bad bacteria that have colonised your rabbit's intestines. Syringe feeding may also be required for a short period of time to ensure your rabbit continues to receive the nutrients required to regain their health.
Your vet will give you advice on how to minimise the risk of your rabbit developing gastrointestinal stasis again in the future. They will evaluate your rabbit's diet and provide information on how much exercise you rabbit should get each day and how you can help your rabbit cope with any changes in their living situation.
Gastrointestinal stasis should be treated as an emergency due to the possibility of the condition causing organ failure very quickly. If your rabbit has any of the symptoms associated with this condition, have them examined at your local vet emergency clinic immediately to prevent unnecessary suffering.