Gastrointestinal stasis, GI stasis, GI hypomotility or ileus is a serious condition that requires immediate attention. The condition occurs when the gut stops moving, is blocked, or is full of gas.
- Loss of appetite (anorexia) or changes in eating habits. A good way to test this is to offer fresh herbs or a favorite treat.
- Small to no stool, loose or mucous covered stool or diarrhea.
- Sitting in a hunched position or pressing stomach against the floor.
- Loud tooth grinding which is an indication of pain. This is different than the "tooth purr" that indicates pleasure or contentment.
- Loud GI sounds or complete silence in the stomach. You can use a stethoscope or listen with your ear pressed against the stomach.
- Stress. Examples of stressful events include changes in housing, introduction of new rabbits or other pets, recent illness, trauma, or surgery.
- Pain from an underlying condition (e.g. gas, dental problems, upper respiratory tract disease, neurological disorders, or hepatic, renal, or urinary tract disorders). Rabbits in signs of pain are reluctant to move, appear less social, may grind their teeth, may dig or scratch, and sit in a hunched position.
- Lack of dietary fiber. Rabbits whose regular diet consists primarily of pelleted feeds are at higher risk of developing GI stasis as the pellets are usually high in calories (high in digestible carbohydrates), low in fiber, high in protein, and highly digestible. Similarly, rabbits routinely fed large amounts of high-simple carbohydrate, high-fat treats such as nuts, seeds, baked goods, and fruits are also predisposed to GI stasis. Acute episodes of GI stasis and dysbiosis are common following ingestion of a large volume of these treats.
- Intestinal blockage. This usually leads to an episode of acute gastrointestinal dilation instead.
Gastrointestinal stasis can be usually diagnosed as non-obstructive or obstructive ileus.
From Keeble, E & Meredith, A. (2006). Rabbit medicine & surgery: Self-assessment color review.
You should seek immediate veterinary assistance if your rabbit has not eaten or passed stools in the past 12 hours or is exhibiting other symptoms of GI stasis. Your vet will provide proper treatment and care. If left untreated, GI stasis can be fatal in 48 hours.
- rehydrating the rabbit and stomach contents
- restoring appetite
- correcting electrolyte imbalances
- stimulating gastric emptying
- promoting normal gastrointestinal motility
- softening and lubricating impacted food and hair
- alleviating pain
- providing nutrition
- treating any underlying disorders
Rabbits should receive fluids either intravenous, intraosseous, or subcutaneously, depending on the severity of dehydration. Stomach contents can also be rehydrated by assisted feeding with a syringe. Two commercial products available for this purpose include Oxbow Critical Care for Herbivores and Sherwood Forest SARx. If these formulas are not available, blended pellets soaked with water or an oral electrolyte solution can be used. Pureed vegetables or baby foods are also an option, but these foods are not sufficiently high in fiber. Force feeding these formulas can help prevent hepatic lipidosis, which can develop quickly in a rabbit with a negative energy balance.
Rabbits with GI stasis usually have mild to severe gut pain, especially if the intestines are distended with gas, and will not eat until the pain is alleviated. Appropriate drugs include buprenorphine and a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as meloxicam or carprofen.
GI prokinetics such as cisapride and metoclopramide are commonly used for GI stasis treatments. The use of intestinal prokinetic agents is somewhat controversial, but anecdotal evidence suggests that they may be beneficial.
- Cisapride is readily absorbed from the GI tract and promotes gastric emptying, increases gastrointestinal and colonic motility. It acts on both the foregut and hindgut and does not increase gastric acid secretion. The effects last for 4 to 10 hours and stimulates appetite, especially for fibrous foods such as grass or hay. Cisapride is contraindicated in patients with mechanical gastrointestinal obstruction, haemorrhage or perforation and can have fatal interactions in rabbits with antifungal drugs such as ketoconazole, itraconazole or miconazole by causing fatal cardiac arrhythmias.
- Metoclopramide promotes gastric emptying and increases gastrointestinal motility in rabbits, and it does not affect the hindgut or gastric, pancreatic or biliary secretion. Like cisapride, metoclopramide is contraindicated in rabbits with a GI obstruction.
Liquid paraffin can be used to soften and lubricate impacted stomach or cecal contents and should be administered with care (preferably mixed with food) as it is easily aspirated.:321
Care should be used when protein-digesting enzymes such as pineapple for bromelain and papain. They can be very irritating to the oral and gastric mucus. The risk of gastic ulceration is increased in anorexic rabbits, and use of these enzymes can make this a bigger problem. Additionally, the recommendation that these products can dissolve hair is false, and the success of pineapple juice as a remedy may be due to the introduction of liquid rather than the enzyme.
Petroleum laxatives such as Petromalt and Laxatone are of questionable value as well.
In the very rare case, a dehydrated mass of material in the stomach can form a solid immovable mass and surgical intervention may be necessary. Prognosis for a successful outcome is greatly reduced as anesthesia, pain, stress, and manipulation of the intestinal tract all exacerbate GI stasis, and complications of hepatic lipidosis are a common cause of death in these rabbits.
For at-home initial treatment when you first notice symptoms, you can do the following:
- For an acute gas attack, feed 1 to 2 cc of infant simethicone (20 mg/mL suspension) to your rabbit (all sizes) every hour for the first three hours, then every three to eight hours. This product is easily obtainable in the baby sections in a drugstore, pharmacy, or supermarket as a liquid suspension or 125 mg gel capsules. A bunny can safely receive the contents of half a capsule at the rate described above.
Simethicone has no known drug interactions and is not absorbed through the intestinal lining. It acts only on a mechanical principle: it changes the surface tension of the frothy gas bubbles in the gut, joining them into larger, easier-to-pass bubbles. While this treatment alone will not return function to the intestinal tract, it appears to have no ill effects.
- Try to keep your bunny hydrated to help break up any masses in the stomach. Offer up herbal teas and cold wet fresh vegetables nearby within easy access if your rabbit does not seem to want to move.
- Making sure that the stomach is not hard with an obstruction, reach under your rabbit's belly and gently massage your rabbit's abdomen to help stimulate the muscle and break up gas bubbles. Pocket vibrators and vibrating toothbrushes are also great for this purpose. Be sure to keep any massage gentle as an aggressive massage can cause torsion, internal bleeding, or rupture organs. Elevating the hindquarters a few inches can also help any gas pass more easily. Here is a sample video of the process demonstrated by The Residents of Fairy Castle Farm.
- Make a heat pad available to your rabbit to lay its stomach on. Heat can help prevent your rabbit from going into shock. A heating pad, a plastic bottle full of hot water, or a SnuggleSafe disc should be wrapped in a towel to prevent burns.
- Keep a quiet environment away from predators and barking dogs.
For the following tips, only feed without a veterinary visit if your rabbit is swallowing and not refusing the syringe:
- Metacam (Meloxicam) can be given for pain. 0.05ml (cc) should be given to rabbits up to 5 pounds and 0.1ml (cc) should be given to rabbits over 5 pounds. NOTE: Using a 0.05ml(cc) dose of the 1.5mg/ml concentration of Metacam for a 5 pound rabbit (2.27kg) equals a 0.03mg/kg dose. This is an extremely low does based on the current studies. The Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, 2nd edition, updated by Molly Varga, recommends 0.3-0.6 mg/kg once or twice a day, and up to 1.5mg/kg without accumulation.
- A gut motility drug such as cisapride (Propulsid) or metoclopramide (Reglan) can be given to get your rabbit's GI tract working again only if there is no blockage. The dosage is 0.1cc per pound of body weight.
- Kinenchen, Is my bunny sick?
- House Rabbit Society - MD, DC, & NoVA, Laurie Kuhn, Help Me Make It Through the Night
- Wisconsin House Rabbit News, Julie Smith, When Your Bunny Stops Eating
- Suite 101, Sarah Goodwin-Nguyen, Helping a Bunny With G.I. Stasis
- Equidane Vetline, The role of Probiotics in the management of rabbit gut stasis.
- Dana Krempels, Ph.D., GastroIntestinal Stasis, The Silent Killer
- Dana Krempels, Ph.D., Detecting Illness Before it's an Emergency
- House Rabbit Society, Susan Brown, DVM, Sluggish Motility in the Gastrointestinal Tract
- Medirabbit, Dana Krempels, Mary Cotter and Gil Stanzione, Ileus in domestic rabbits
- House Rabbit Society, Southeastern PA-Delaware Chapter, Gastro-Intestinal (GI) Problems: Gas and Stasis
- Hug-a-Bunny Rabbit Rescue, Rabbit Health: GI Stasis
- Friends of Rabbits, Dr. Scott J. Stahl, Anorexia and Gastrointestinal Stasis in Rabbits
- Long Beach Animal Hospital, GI Stasis (hairballs) in Rabbits
- Rabbits Online, GI Stasis: What Everyone Should Know
Here are some relevant Q&A's:
- AllExperts, Dana Krempels, Ph.D., Rabbit predisposed to stomach blockage?
- Acute gastrointestinal dilation
- Digestive system
- Hepatic lipidosis
- Rabbit poop
- Veterinary emergencies
- Varga, M. (2013). Textbook of rabbit medicine. (2nd ed.).
- Quesenberry, K & Carpenter, J. (2012). Ferrets, rabbits, and rodents: Clinical medicine and surgery. (3rd ed.).
- Krempels, D. (2005). GastroIntestinal Stasis, The Silent Killer. Retrieved 8 March, 2016, from http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/ileus.html
- Kuhn, L. (2012). Help Me Make It Through the Night. Retrieved March 8, 2016, from http://rabbitsinthehouse.org/newsletter/HRS-HelpMeMakeIt.pdf