Gastrointestinal Stasis in Rabbits


Dr. Jessica Magnotti of Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services presented this distance-learning event for the veterinary medical students at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine as part of the Lafeber Company Student Program. View this webinar recording “GI Stasis in Rabbits:  Demystifying the ‘Silent Killer‘, approved for 1 hour of continuing education.



Download a PDF or Word docx version of Dr. Magnotti’s outline.

bunny w hay Magnotti
  • Rabbits have an incredibly complex and sensitive gastrointestinal tract (GIT)
    • This unfortunately predisposes rabbits to many different gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.
    • A syndrome called GI stasis is one of the more common disorders seen in rabbits
  • Anatomy & physiology
    • An understanding of the unique anatomy of the rabbit is essential to understanding, diagnosing, and treating this condition.
    • Anatomical features unique to rabbits
      • Vermiform appendix
        • Rich in lymphoid nodules
        • “Blind end” of the cecum
        • Secretes bicarbonate and water into the cecum for fermentation
      • Sacculus rotundus
        • Also rich in lymphoid nodules
      • Fusus coli
        • Densely innervated section of the colon
        • AKA as the “intestinal pacemaker” due to its control of colonic motility
        • Lacks taenia and haustra
        • Muscular contraction creates the round shape of rabbit stool
    • Particle-dependent separation mechanism within the colon sorts through digestible and indigestible material
      • Digestible material is sent into the cecum where it undergoes fermentation
      • Indigestible fiber is expelled from the anus
      • This separation results in the production of two different fecal products:
        • High fiber, firm, “typical” stool
        • Less frequent, softer, cecotropes
          • Contain symbiotic microbes, vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids
          • Expelled together, as a cluster of pellets that is covered in mucus
          • Ingested by the rabbit directly from the anus
          • The mucus coating protects the contents of the cecotropes from the highly acidic stomach so they can pass through unharmed
  • The complex gastrointestinal tract (GIT) requires an appropriate diet to stay healthy.
    • An appropriate diet for adult rabbits consists largely of fresh grass hay ad libitum
      • There are many types of grass hay, including timothy, orchard, and brome
      • Grass hay helps to prevent GI stasis by stimulating gut motility, moving ingested hair through the GIT, and regulating the microbiome
    • Leguminous hay, such as alfalfa and clover
      • Too rich in protein and calcium to be fed regularly to most adult rabbits
      • May be suitable for rabbits with high calcium and protein needs, including young, growing rabbits and pregnant does
    • Supplemental pellets and vegetables as tolerated
  • Diagnosis
    • A thorough diagnostic work-up
      • Will help to differentiate between various gastrointestinal (GI) syndromes so that appropriate therapy may be initiated
      • May reveal underlying medical conditions that could be a cause or contributing factor to the development of GI stasis.
      • Common underlying conditions include dental disease, lower urinary tract disease and renal or hepatic disorders
    •  A thorough history is essential
    • Physical examination
      • Palpation of the stomach and intestinal contents is informative.
    •  Radiographs
    • Complete blood count and blood chemistry
      • Blood glucose may be useful to differentiate between GI stasis and a GI obstruction (Harcourt- Brown 2012)
  • Prognosis
    • Depends on patient clinical status and underlying illness
    • Most rabbits will show improvement within 24-48 hours after initiating treatment
    • If there is no improvement, diagnostics may need to be repeated or the clinician may need to reconsider potential contributing disease.
  • Prevention
    • Feed an appropriate diet
    • Maintain a healthy body weight
    • Encourage exercise
    • Provide constant access to fresh, clean water
    • Brush regularly to decrease the amount of hair ingested by the rabbit, which may become problematic secondary to GI stasis


Webinar recording

Note:  Dr. Magnotti generously re-recorded a brief segment of her seminar beginning at timestamp 28:41.


With a passing grade of 70% or higher, you will receive a continuing education certificate for 1 hour of continuing education credit in jurisdictions that recognize American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) Registry of Approved Continuing Education (RACE) approval.



RACE approval

This program 903638 is approved by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) Registry of Approved Continuing Education (RACE) to offer a total of 1.00 CE credits to any one veterinarian and/or 1.00 veterinary technician CE credit. This RACE approval is for Category: Medical using the delivery method of Non-Interactive-Distance. This approval is valid in jurisdictions which recognize AAVSB RACE; however, participants are responsible for ascertaining each board’s CE requirements. RACE does not “accredit” or “endorse” or “certify” any program or person, nor does RACE approval validate the content of the program.




Abecia L, Fondevila M, Balcells J, et al. Molecular profiling of bacterial species in the rabbit caecum. FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2005;244(1):111-5. doi: 10.1016/j.femsle.2005.01.028. PMID: 15727829.

Harcourt-Brown FM, Harcourt-Brown SF. Clinical value of blood glucose measurement in pet rabbits. Vet Rec. 2012 Jun 30;170(26):674. doi: 10.1136/vr.100321.

Lichtenberger M. Fluid resuscitation and nutritional support in rabbits with gastric stasis or gastrointestinal obstruction. Exotic DVM. 2005;7(2): 34-9.

Monteils V, Cauquil L, Combes S, et al. Potential core species and satellite species in the bacterial community within the rabbit caecum. FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2008;66(3):620-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6941.2008.00611.x.

Oglesbee BL, Lord B. Gastrointestinal diseases. In: Quesenberry K, Carpenter J Orcutt C, Mans C (eds). Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery, 4th ed. St. Louis: Elsevier, 2021:174-187.

Schnellbacher RW, Divers SJ, Comolli JR, et al. Effects of intravenous administration of lidocaine and buprenorphine on gastrointestinal tract motility and signs of pain in New Zealand White rabbits after ovariohysterectomy.Am J Vet Res. 2017 Dec;78(12):1359-1371. doi: 10.2460/ajvr.78.12.1359.

Smith S. Gastrointestinal physiology and nutrition of rabbits. In: Quesenberry K, Carpenter J, Orcutt C, Mans C (eds). Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery, 4th ed. St. Louis: Elsevier, 2021:162-173.

To cite this page:

Magnotti G. Gastrointestinal stasis: Demystifying the 'silent killer'. LafeberVet web site. June 8, 2022. Available at