Why Can’t Rabbit Throw Up?

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So, I used to work with a girl that went to medical school. When she came back to work the following summer, I asked her to tell me a cool fact that I might not know.

She did NOT disappoint.

DID YOU KNOW that humans are ALWAYS holding back the desire to throw up. When we vomit, our brain doesn’t tell our body to throw up, it tells it to stop stopping us from throwing up.

Apparently it’s because if you eat something poisonous and need to throw it up immediately, it’s quicker for our brain to tell us to stop doing something we’re doing all the time than it is to convince us to do something we might not like.

So there you go.

Anyway, rabbits ain’t like that.

Rabbits physically can’t throw up

They don’t have the correct sphincter (is that the worst word? I feel like it’s the worst word), or strong enough muscles to expel food out the front way.

You might think, yeah but what if a rabbit eats something poisonous?

And I’m sure it’s a concern for them. But their metabolism in general is faaaar faster than ours, so I suppose they hope they can metabolise it before it harms them.

Also, prey animals tend to breed like, er, rabbits, so if a rabbit gets poisoned, the others make a mental note not eat whatever it was that poisoned them, and then get on with their day.

Humans, however, tend to only have one child at a time, and it takes A LOT of energy to raise them. Having a reject button in the stomach is definitely worth it’s weight in gold.

Life in the wild is hard.

A rabbits digestive system is different from a humans

Rabbit’s digestive systems are set up to eat a lot plant matter as quickly as possible, and if a rabbit stops eating, the digestive system can shut down, sometimes fatally.

Human digestion systems will tolerate a wide variety of foods, and it doesn’t need to be stoked constantly. Humans can go weeks without food if required.

We’re opportunistic omnivores – the chances that we’re going to eat something poisonous is pretty high – rabbits are less likely to.

We also only get the one chance to digest our food. Rabbits produce cecotrophs, which are poops that they eat again, and extract more nutrition from food they’ve already eaten once.

Rabbits don’t have the strength the throw up

They just don’t have the correct arrangement of stomach muscles.

A rabbit’s digestive is not only designed to just go the one way (mouth to butt), but it goes in that direction quickly – much quicker than ours does, because it takes humans so long to digest food.

Around four hours, I think.

But if a rabbit’s digestive system is headed in one direction at speed, anything they ingest can’t simply turn round and go the other way. And if it did, their enormously strong oesophageal sphincter would block the food.

Rabbits don’t have a gag reflex

No gag reflex, no indicator to your stomach that you need to vomit.

If your rabbit looks like they’re trying to throw up, check that they’re not choking

There have been occasional instances where rabbits have thrown up, and it’s either been down to incorrectly functioning stomach muscles, or dislodging something that’s blocking their windpipe.

Signs that your rabbit is choking

  • One of the key signs that a rabbit is choking is when they lift their head and point their nose up
  • Also listen for any gagging or whistling noises, as well as panting or heavy, unusual breathing.
  • Blue lips

What to do if your rabbit is choking

You can pat your rabbit on the back, but this isn’t as effective as the bunny heimlich, which is demonstrated in this video.

Basically, the bunny heimlich involves picking up your rabbit with one hand/arm supporting the belly and head, and the other hand on top, securing the rabbit. Then swing the rabbit up and down.

The House Rabbit Society has a great resource on helping a choking rabbit.

Be aware of your rabbit eating poisonous things, as they can’t regurgitate toxins

I always keep my toxic house plants out of reach of my rabbits, just in case, and make sure that they can’t get into anything dangerous that they could swallow.

I have had rabbits take nibbles out of toxic plants like Monstera and be 100% fine, so don’t panic too much if this happens. Some plants are more toxic than others, but a lot of the time toxic plants will sting pet’s mouths and they’ll stop eating it.

I’m not saying to chance your pets with toxic plants, just that one nibble is unlikely to seriously harm them.

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