How to treat rabbit GI stasis at home

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It’s scary when rabbits go into GI stasis, but with a bit of forward planning, it can be treated at home. Seeing a vet is always a good idea, but it’s still a good idea to have a few home remedies in those times that vets can’t be reached.

Before we start, I do a little tip for avoiding GI stasis at inconvenient time :

Don’t give your rabbits new treats or foods when vets are at diminished capacity.

In the UK, vets are hard to get hold of around Christmas. Christmas is a time when rabbits often get treats. Do you see where I’m going here. If you want to spoil your rabbit around the holidays, maybe do it with foods they’re used to.

What is GI stasis?

GI stasis is when gas builds up in a rabbit’s digestive system and causes it to slow down or stop completely.

How do rabbits get GI stasis?

There are a few reasons that rabbits can get GI stasis, including stress, lack of exercise, an unbalanced diet, and pain.

Stress

What’s stressful to a rabbit may go unnoticed by you, so it’s important to keep a close eye on any changes in behaviour – look out for signs such as your rabbit hunching over, or looking generally a bit sad.

Stress can come from anything like a trip to the vets, loss of a mate, a frightening event, such as the introduction of another animal to the household, or a change in environment like moving house.

Some rabbits will take change in their stride – like humans, some are more averse to change than others.

Lack of exercise

Small amounts of gas can be dispersed by movement. Rabbit zoomies can be a very effective way of keeping the digestive system moving.

But not all rabbits like to move a lot – some are couch potatoes. See if you can encourage your bunny to take exercise, by seeing if they’ll chase you (trying holding a treat).

An unbalanced diet

A diet that high in starch and low in fibre can cause bad bacteria to multiply in the gut. GI stasis can cause blockages in the digestive system, and the rabbit’s lack of interest in eating/drinking exacerbates the issue and doesn’t allow the food to pass through the digestive system.

Eventually, toxins can build up in the digestive tract and put the liver under pressure.

This is one of the reasons why it’s so crucial that hay makes up 85% of your rabbit’s diet – it allows the digestive system to function effectively.

How dangerous is GI stasis?

It’s pretty dangerous. Not necessarily the stasis in itself, but because rabbits are prey animals. they hide the fact that they’re not feeling very well. Unless you’re observing your bunny closely, you may not realise there’s something amiss until it’s too late.

In extreme cases, GI stasis can kill rabbits, and quickly. As well as calling a vet, there are steps you can take to help get the digestive system working again.

How common is GI stasis?

I can’t find any figures on how common GI stasis is, but there are a lot of cases mentioned in the house rabbit society Facebook page, so let’s just say it’s common enough that you should be prepared in the event that it happens.

Please don’t panic about it though- the reason GI stasis can kill rabbits is that it isn’t picked up quickly enough.

Those of us that spend a lot of time with our rabbits in everyday life (like when you’re watching TV and your rabbit is just chilling with you) are likely to notice when our rabbits look uncomfortable, and act quickly

When are rabbit likely to suffer from GI stasis?

Since we can’t tell what stresses a rabbit out, it would happen at any time, but I play close attention for signs of GI stasis in my rabbit when:

  • They’ve had a vet visit or operation
  • They’ve had a significant change in their life
  • They’re trying a new food
  • They’re moulting – rabbits can’t cough up hairballs as cats can, and the excess hair can cause stasis.

It’s the reason one of my rabbits always looked a bit sad when moulting. We made sure to be extra gentle with her, massage her belly, and brush her to remove as much fur as possible. Luckily her stasis never progressed to needing medication.

What are the symptoms of GI stasis?

If you spend a lot of time around your rabbit, you may notice that they’re just a bit…off. Maybe they don’t run so quickly to the food bowl at dinner time.

A quick tummy rub in these instances can prevent GI stasis before it turns into something more serious.

Other signs to look out for are:

  • Small, dark poops, or fewer/no poops
  • No interest in food/water
  • Sitting quieting. Rabbits that feel uncomfortable often hunch over and won’t lie down. If they do lie down they still look uncomfortable.

What should I do when my rabbit has GI stasis?

You need to get in touch with a vet. There may be a blockage that requires IV fluids to soften. Vets may also prescribe antibiotics which can reduce the amount of harmful bacteria that’s causing the stasis.

There are some things you can try in the meantime though:

  • Massage your rabbit’s tummy. This can help to break up gas bubbles – take a look at this video for directions.
  • Try to encourage your rabbit to eat, but not foods that are high in sugar or starch. Coriander/cilantro is always popular.

If your rabbit won’t eat, syringe critical care (you can get it on Amazon – I recommend keeping some in at all times, just in case).

I personally find that syringing it onto their face (rather than directly into their mouth) is less invasive, and they’ll ingest in when they go to clean themselves.

If you can’t get hold of critical care, try offering them pellets that have been watered down into a paste.

  • A lot of people recommend giving their rabbit’s baby gas drops, as they’re rabbit safe and relieve built-up gas. I’ve never actually done this, but I think it’s worth having them in the house just in case. Here’s a link to a rescue that gives information on dosing.

Are there any medications I can give for GI stasis?

As I said, baby gas drops (simethicone) can be given. It can also help to give your bunny Metacam.

Metacam is a great general pain reliever, but you need to have a prescription. Ask your vet if you can have some for emergency pain relief.

It’s always advisable to get your rabbit to a vet. Go ahead and treat your rabbit to tide them over, but your rabbit needs to see a professional.

The House Rabbit Society have a great article on GI stasis.

Foods to avoid when your rabbit is in GI stasis

Anything sugary should be avoided, so no bananas or carrots. I find it best to keep offerings simple. Stick to pellets soaked in water if you’re unsure, though pumpkin baby food is a great option if you can get it.

Herbs such as mint and coriander can be great for tempting rabbits to eat. Dandelions are thought to be good at getting the digestive system going again.

If you pick them from your garden it’s important that you wash and dry them thoroughly before giving them to your rabbit.

Final thoughts on treating GI stasis at home

Please don’t panic about GI stasis – if you make sure your rabbit has plenty of room to exercise and has a great, well-balanced diet, then chances of getting stasis are slim. Prevention is always better than cure.

If your rabbit is due to be put under anaesthetic, make sure that your vet sends them home with critical care and pain medication, in the case of GI stasis.

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