Gastrointestinal Problems in Rabbits

Key Points

  • Gastrointestinal problems are common in rabbits.
  • True diarrhea is most often seen in young rabbits and may be the result of parasitic enteritis, usually secondary to Eimeria spp.
  • Bacterial enteritis may manifest as mucoid enteropathy in rabbits housed in commercial or laboratory settings.
  • Cecal dysbiosis can occur in rabbits fed carbohydrate-rich diets. Affected rabbits intermittently pass thick, pasty stool with a pungent odor.
  • Gastrointestinal stasis is often caused by multiple factors including low dietary fiber, inappropriate diet, stress, and/or dehydration.
  • Aggressive supportive care is often necessary to nurse a rabbit through a bout of gastrointestinal stasis or ileus. Treatment often relies upon analgesia, fluid therapy, enteral feedings, gastrointestinal motility agents, encouraging exercise, and/or abdominal massage.
  • Obstruction of gastric outflow is often caused by a small mass of dehydrated ingesta. The resultant gastric distension or bloat can very quickly become life threatening if left untreated. Patients often respond to intravenous fluid therapy, prudent use of metoclopromide, and gastric decompression although surgical intervention is sometimes necessary.
  • Rabbits with intestinal obstruction are occasionally presented and create a diagnostic and therapeutic dilemma. Cases are most commonly the result of a small trichobezoar or hair-filled cecotroph. The duodenum and ileocecal junction are the most common sites of obstruction.
  • Abdominal radiographs may help to distinguish between gastrointestinal obstruction and ileus, with the later the gas pattern tends to extend into the colon.

Gastrointestinal problems are common in the pet rabbit. A thorough history, including a detailed dietary history, can provide invaluable clues to the problem at hand. Signs of gastrointestinal discomfort in the rabbit may include bruxism, reluctance to move, and anorexia. If there is a history of anorexia, it is imperative to differentiate whether the rabbit is not eating because it has no interest in food, or if it is showing an interest in food but unable to eat. A complete lack of appetite is most commonly seen with physiological problems such as renal failure, whereas a reluctance to eat is . . .

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To cite this page:

Kelleher S. Gastrointestinal problems in rabbits. July 28, 2010. LafeberVet Web site. Available at