GI statis which is also called gastrointestinal stasis is a digestive problem that occurs commonly in rabbits. This condition completely stops or slows down the rabbit’s digestive system and causes the growth and multiplication of harmful bacteria. These bacteria release gas into the digestive system, and the gas would cause bloating.
When bloated, a rabbit will be in pain and will have a reduced appetite which could lead to weight loss and dehydration. As the rabbit’s lack of appetite worsens, its digestive system would become slower and inactive. In this state, the multiplied bacteria can let toxins into the body, which will cause organs like the kidney or liver to fail and bring about sudden death.
GI stasis can bring on a host of other issues such as dental diseases because when rabbits lose their appetite, they stop eating or chewing food. Rabbit’s teeth grow fast and chewing helps them to file their teeth. Therefore, when they are no longer eating, their teeth could overgrow, and they could get dental disease.
GI stasis causes internal blockages, which could be life-threatening as food that cannot go through the intestine may clump with hair and block the GI tract. Liver damage is another problem that could result from GI stasis.
This is because when harmful bacteria like Clostridium  builds up in the intestines and cecum; the liver will work hard to expel them from the body since they are toxic. In cases where the microorganisms are too much, the liver would become overwhelmed, and this can lead to its damage.
Severe diarrhoea can also occur when the cecum is filled with undigested food or its flora changes. Dangerous bacteria would have the opportunity to multiply, causing severe pain to the rabbit and death if the animal is not immediately treated.
It may be difficult to detect GI stasis in your rabbit as rabbits tend to hide injuries because they are prey animals. There are signs that you can use to know if your pet is suffering from GI stasis, and if you suspect this, you should get the animal to the veterinarian immediately.
Symptoms Of GI Stasis In Rabbits
- Constipation: Your rabbit may no longer produce faecal pellets or may produce very few ones.
- Loss of appetite: A significant way of detecting GI stasis in your rabbit is when it stops eating or drinking.
- Lethargy: Your rabbit will be inactive and mostly none responsive.
- Abnormal body temperature: When a rabbit is having a body temperature lower than 101 or higher than 103, this could be a cause of worry.
- Huddled over position: If you notice that your rabbit is crouching or huddling over, it could be that it is suffering from abdominal pain.
- Excessive gurgling: Quiet gurgling is a regular thing in rabbits, but when it is loud and excessive, this could be a sign of gas that is trapped.
- Grinding of teeth: This could mean an underlying painful illness is causing the GI stasis.
- Production of watery cecotropes: GI stasis alters the cecum flora and causes your rabbit to produce watery or mushy cecotropes, so when you observe your rabbit’s stool is watery, it may be an indication of GI stasis.
Causes Of GI Stasis In Rabbits
GI stasis can be as a result of a series of symptoms, and there are some risk factors for it. They include:
- A diet that is high in starch and low in fibre: A rabbit may suffer from GI stasis when it is continually fed with a diet containing a very high amount of starch. A diet that is high in carbohydrate can cause GI stasis in rabbits because processed carbohydrates can under stimulate or over stimulate the movements of the peristaltic muscles leading to GI stasis, bloating or watery stools.
Rabbits are herbivorous animals, and as such, they require lots of fibre in their diet. Fibre aids digestion by bringing about the contraction of the peristaltic muscles, thereby helping food to pass through the gut. Therefore, when there is little fibre in a rabbit’s diet, its gut activity will become sluggish, and food may get stuck there.
- Dehydration: Dehydration can also lead to GI stasis or occur due to GI stasis. When a rabbit is dehydrated, the intestines may shut down and get blocked, and this is a situation that requires prompt medical attention.
- A stressful lifestyle: A stressful lifestyle such as living in unsanitary conditions or exposure to predators can cause a rabbit’s intestines to become slow and sluggish. This can cause its gut to shut down, thereby leading to GI stasis. When a rabbit is going through stress, it most likely would stop drinking and eating, and this can make the condition worse.
- Pain: A rabbit suffering from pains due to an underlying illness can experience GI stasis. This happens when the pains become very severe, and the gut is forced to shut down, hindering the passage of food. Some of these very painful illnesses are urinary tract disorders, dental diseases and mycoplasmas. This is the reason why treating your rabbit’s illness as quickly as possible is essential.
- Sudden change in diet: A rabbit’s diet should be changed gradually over a while, say 2-4 weeks, if and when there is a need for diet change. Changing its diet too quickly can bring on GI stasis or other digestive issues.
Treatment Of GI Stasis In Rabbits
If you think that your rabbit might be suffering from GI stasis, you should get a veterinarian to check the animal immediately. The first thing, to begin with, is to find out the underlying cause. X-rays may be carried out to determine how much gas is in the stomach and intestines.
Blood tests may also be done to show electrolyte values that are abnormal and the level of dehydration. Based on how mild or serious the condition of the rabbit is, the vet will recommend fluid therapy to rehydrate your rabbit, and this could be done subcutaneously if your rabbit refuses to drink water manually. Based on how early or late the GI stasis was detected, an enema may not or may be required to get rid of impacted poop from the intestines of the rabbit.
If the condition is not severe, massage may be all it takes to stimulate gut motility and relieve the gas in the rabbit’s stomach, but in severe cases, gut motility drugs like Metoclopramide and Cisapride may be used for one to two weeks to stimulate movement in the rabbit’s belly. They should be used carefully to prevent side effects which can occur sometimes.
During the recovery period, try encouraging your rabbit to go back to its regular eating pattern as quickly as possible, to help in stimulating muscle movements. You can force-feed the animal if it has no appetite or you can use appetite stimulants like B-complex vitamins to help prevent a deficiency and boost its appetite.
Giving your rabbit pain relief such as Simethicone during the treatment and recovery period is very important as the bloating that comes with GI stasis can be quite painful. Also, creating a calming environment for your rabbit during this period can aid the recovery process.
Prevention of GI stasis
To prevent GI stasis, make sure your rabbit’s diet is very healthy, hay-based and contains enough fibre. Do not feed your rabbit with processed carbohydrate. Also, you should provide enough water to keep your rabbit hydrated all the time. Ensure that the animal’s lifestyle isn’t stressful by keeping its cage clean and getting rid of anything the animal could consider a threat.
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