What is gut stasis?
Gut stasis is a common and potentially life-threatening condition that affects rabbits. It is also known as ileus and occurs when the wave-like movements of the guts slow down or stop entirely. Gas then accumulates within the bowl due to the bacteria that is present, which results in bloating and hence it is painful for the rabbit. This pain makes them even less inclined to eat and drink, further reducing the gut movements and making the condition worse. As the food sits within the guts it can start to dry out, which can make it more difficult to pass, eventually leading to impaction and obstruction.
What causes gut stasis in rabbits?
Gut stasis can occur for many different reasons, including anything that causes them to go off their food, such as pain from dental disease, a urinary tract infection or arthritis. Stress can also result in reduced food intake and can predisposed to gut stasis. Certain types of antibiotics can also cause the condition, as can an inappropriate diet that contains too much carbohydrate and fat with insufficient fibre (e.g. hay or grass).
What are the symptoms of gut stasis?
The symptoms can be subtle and difficult to spot, as rabbits are a prey species and so they tend to hide signs of illness and pain, as this would lead to them being killed by predators in the wild. It is therefore very important to keep a close eye on your pet rabbit, to identify any symptoms early. The symptoms of gut stasis typically include:
- Quiet and reduced activity
- Sitting with hunched posture
- Teeth grinding
- Reduced food/water intake
- Bloated abdomen
- Passing abnormal stools (they are often small and dry)
- Not passing any stools at all
- Reduced urine production (if the rabbit is dehydrated)
If left undiagnosed or untreated gut stasis can be rapidly fatal in rabbits, so if you have any concerns then please contact your vet straight away.
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How is it diagnosed?
The vet may be suspicious of gut stasis based on the clinical history and physical examination. They may suggest running further tests (e.g. blood and urine tests) to try and find an underlying cause of the gut stasis, although one may not always be found. Testing the blood sugar (glucose) level can help the vet determine the severity of the gut stasis (high blood sugar levels tend to be associated with severe gut stasis). They vet may also suggest taking an x-ray of the abdomen to help determine whether there is an obstruction of the gut.
How is it treated?
The treatment of gut stasis with depend on the underlying cause, but usually involves symptomatic and supportive care to get your rabbit eating again, as well as treatment of the underlying cause if one can be identified. Your rabbit may be able to be treated at home, if they are not too unwell, but hospitalisation is often needed, particularly if the rabbit is not eating at all and not passing any faeces. Treatment in these cases involves nutritional support e.g. syringe feeding with a recovery food, pain relief, medications to promote gut movement and fluids given into the vein or under the skin if the rabbit is dehydrated.
Occasionally, if the tests suggest that there is an obstruction of the bowl, then surgery is needed to identify and remove the obstruction.
What is the prognosis?
The majority of rabbits respond well to treatment for gut stasis when it is identified and treated early, but the outlook will depend on the severity of the symptoms and the underlying cause. Where there is an obstruction of the bowl the prognosis is unfortunately poor.