Rabbit Diseases - G.I. Stasis (Hairball)

Rabbit GI Tract
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) stasis is a common cause of digestive disease in rabbits.
  • A rabbit’s gastrointestinal (GI) system is very sensitive.
  • Rabbit is a hindgut or cecal fermentors. Simply, that means that much of the digestion takes place in the cecum of the gut.
  • Normal digestion is dependent on normal peristalsis of the intestines. Peristalsis is the movement of ingesta down the stomach and intestines. When this stops GI stasis is the result.
  • In short we can say that Gastrointestinal (GI) stasis is a syndrome where the normal muscular contractions of the stomach and intestines are greatly diminished and the normal intestinal/cecum bacterial flora is thrown off balance. Without medical attention this syndrome can result in a serious, life-threatening illness.
  • Sometimes a hairball (also called wool block) is considered a part of this disease. In reality, hairball in the stomach is a result of GI stasis and not the cause of it. Ingesting hair is a normal part of a rabbit’s life, and when fed the proper food this small amount of hair passes through the digestive tract normally.
  • The whole system in the rabbit is designed around a high fiber (cellulose) diet. This is why feeding concentrated rabbit pellets is not healthy, and can lead to a shutdown of the whole digestive process. This will lead to GI stasis and the potential or serious disease, pain, and even death in a rabbit.
  • Causes:

  • Hair ingested during grooming
  • A high fat, low fiber diet (such as a pellet-only diet)
  • Too many carbohydrates in the diet (breads, crackers, etc.)
  • Stress (moving, illness, changes in family life, loss of rabbit companion, etc.)
  • Maloccluded teeth so that the rabbit cannot chew properly or it hurts to do so
  • Foreign object consumption (like carpet or furniture fibers)
  • Long term use of antibiotics
  • Partial paralyzation or mobility problems
  • Lack of proper exercise

    • Signs and Symptoms:
    • Heavy shed
    • decreasing or sudden lack of appetite for both water and food
    • periodic soft, pudding-like stools followed by erratically shaped fecal pellets
    • Smaller stools, or with lots of obvious hair present or no stool at all.
    • Depression and lethargy. The rabbit often sits hunched up in its litter box.
    • Gurgling sounds from the gastrointestinal tract.

      GT Statis in rabbits Treatment
    • Abdominal massage: Gentle, deep massage of the abdomen not only stimulates intestinal contractions but also can break down hair balls and gas bubbles, thus easing colic.
    • Intestinal motility stimulants: These medications stimulate intestinal motility and can be used to get a sluggish gut back in action. Cisapride and metoclopromide are two such drugs.
    • Simethicone: To help break down gas bubbles associated with bloating.
    • Fluid therapy: Since most of these bunnies are dehydrated, fluids are needed to make the bunny feel better, rebalance electrolytes and to add fluids back to the intestines so they can contract normally.
    • Pain relief: To ease discomfort associated with abdominal gas and bloating pain relief will go a long way in making the bunny feel better.
    • Appetite stimulants: The sooner the rabbit eats the sooner the intestinal motility will return to normal. Cyproheptadine is an effective appetite stimulant.
    • Diet rich in fiber: Again encouraging the rabbit to eat grass hay (timothy, oat or orchard grass) will help stimulate normal gastrointestinal contractions and function. Also try mixed greens such as leaf lettuce, collards, kale or Swiss chard and herbs such as parsley or cilantro. If necessary a powdered dietary supplement that is mixed with water and syringe fed may be the answer to get the rabbit needed nutrition and fiber to get the gut moving again.
    • Laxatives: Other forms of treatment include laxatives, such as cat hairball medication (a mineral oil-based paste) to help lubricate the system.

      Prevention is always the best medicine in rabbits.
      The most important factors in preventing gastrointestinal stasis are:
    • Keeping rabbits on a high fiber diet by
    • Feeding limited amounts of rabbit pellets
    • Feeding free choice timothy (grass) hay
    • Feeding dark green, leafy vegetables
    • Minimize stress (heat, overcrowding).
    • Maintain a clean environment.
    • Provide fresh drinking water at all time.
    • Regular removal of shedding hair from the rabbit to prevent ingestion.
    • Using laxatives such as cat hairball medicine several times weekly, or when the rabbit is having a heavy shed.
    • Pineapple or papaya juice or papaya enzyme tablets are recommended. These fruits contain an enzyme known as papain that is supposed to digest hair.
    • Good husbandry and keen observation however will go far in avoiding this problem altogether.
    • Bring your rabbit in for an exam at the earliest sign of any problem with appetite or droppings.