Gastrointestinal (GI) stasis is a potentially dangerous condition in rabbits, where muscular contractions of the stomach and intestines are reduced and normal bacteria in the digestive tract become out of balance.

  Rabbit with Hay
  Hay is essential for a rabbit's normal gastrointestinal function.

Rabbits with GI stasis can quickly become lethargic and may exhibit signs of pain such as teeth grinding and a hunched posture. They may also begin to produce excessive gas and sometimes soft stool or diarrhea. If this is left untreated, severe cases of GI stasis can be fatal.

There are many causes of GI stasis including stress, dehydration and anorexia from other underlying medical conditions or gastrointestinal blockage. A common cause is a lack of crude fiber in the diet, specifically, hay.

Hay is essential for normal gastrointestinal function. Pellets contain hay but some brands contain many other types of ingredients. Some pellets are chopped and processed to a finer, more easily digested product, which is actually not to the rabbit's overall benefit.

Hay also provides the best environment for growth of the beneficial bacteria growing in the rabbit's digestive tract. Hay also allows for passage of hair that is normally ingested by the rabbit. Without adequate fiber, hair may accumulate in the stomach causing a partial or complete blockage, since rabbits are unable to vomit. The rabbit may feel "full" and its appetite may often decrease.

When the bacterial population in a rabbit's digestive tract changes, gas-forming bacteria may proliferate causing painful, excessive gas accumulation. Some gas-forming bacteria produce deadly endotoxins that can cause rapid death.

Treatment for Gastrointestinal (GI) Stasis

Treatment of GI stasis varies depending on severity and underlying causes. Recovery is often slow and may take several days to weeks.

  • Fluid therapy — Many affected rabbits are dehydrated or suffering from electrolyte imbalances.
  • Simethicone — This medication helps to reduce the amount of gas in the digestive tract.
  • GI motility drugs — These drugs can help stimulate the digestive tract to begin working properly again.
  • Pain relief — This is important to relieve discomfort associated with GI stasis and distention.
  • Hand feeding — Many rabbits with this condition have decreased or no appetite. It is often necessary to hand or force-feed liquid hay products (Critical Care, Oxbow Pet Products) with a syringe.
  • Hay — Rabbits that will eat on their own must be encouraged to eat grass hay.
  • Treatment of other underlying medical problems — If examination and testing reveal additional problems, these must be treated as well.

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Produced by the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians, aemv.org, 2005