One of the most serious health issues for any rabbit is something called GI stasis. What that stands for is Gastrointestinal stasis and what it means is your bunny’s intestines have stopped working properly causing him to lose his appetite.
In many animals, while not eating for 12 hours or more can be serious, in a rabbit it is life-threatening. As soon as a rabbit stops eating, the muscles around his intestines begin to seize up and the food stops moving through them. When this happens to even a very healthy rabbit, death can occur in less than a day, which is why it is so important to take care of a rabbit suffering from GI stasis and get him eating properly again.
Recently, one of my rabbit’s began to suffer from GI stasis, a rabbit I had owned for seven years and who had never had a serious health issue before. Knowing what this could mean for his long-term survival, I immediately jumped into action and got started on getting him a cure.
Syringe feed water – Rabbits that have GI stasis can become dehydrated very quickly as, due to the pain they are feeling in their stomach, they often simply stop drinking water. Once this happens, it’s a vicious cycle downwards, often ending soon after in death. That is why it’s vital to get some liquid into his stomach, even if it means delaying going to the vet for 30 minutes while you do.
As I keep various plastic syringes on hand, the minute I realized my rabbit wasn’t eating or drinking I grabbed one of these and filled a bowl of water adding a few teaspoons of fresh pineapple juice to it for flavor. While some vets don’t think pineapple juice has any impact on helping break up a GI stasis blockage or getting the stomach moving again, other vets do and recommend you use it
I’ve had excellent luck with it in the past with other rabbits so I always add a few teaspoons to any water I’m about to feed my bunny, and it hasn’t let me down yet.
Then it’s just a case of either tipping him on his back to get easy access to his mouth and slowly dropping the water and pineapple mix into his mouth, or doing it while he’s standing. All my rabbits have long hair, so it’s a nightmare to syringe feed water or food when they’re standing as I can’t find their mouths through all that fur. Tip them on their backs, however, and I’ve syringe fed that water in three minutes flat with hardly a drop lost.
Just be sure you syringe feed your rabbit water (or food) slowly and do so from the side of his mouth and not the front as, if you’re not careful he could aspirate it and, once in his lungs, more problems could set in.
With any of my rabbits who are not eating or drinking, I syringe feed them this water and pineapple juice mix every two hours up until I go to bed. I then leave a bowl in their cage with more of the mix in it, so they can drink it during the night.
Go to the vet – If the water and pineapple juice doesn’t get your rabbit’s stomach moving again, it’s time to visit the vet. That’s because he needs to start eating food but you shouldn’t syringe feed him anything other than water until you know if there is an intestinal blockage or not, as force feeding him could make him much worse.
Get to your vet, tell her what’s wrong including when your bunny last pooped, what shape his poops were and if they were hard or soft. This will go a long way to help her figure out what’s wrong with him, along with an x-ray she should hopefully do next.
After an x-ray and an exam, your vet should be able to tell you what is wrong with your bunny and prescribe medications to make him start feeling better. Mine usually prescribes Cisapride to get his intestine working again, Simethicone to get rid of the pain my rabbit is feeling from the excess gas trapped in his intestines, and Meloxicam another pain killer.
She also always gives me a supply of Oxbow Critical Care, an emergency food replacement you just mix with water, put in a syringe and then syringe feed him just like you did with the water.
A vet familiar with rabbits is vital (exotic animal vet) – While a rabbit might not be classified as an ‘exotic animal’ in the west, they are in Thailand where I live, and a vet that specializes in their care is an exotic animal vet. Make sure you either find one of these in your town or a vet who is at least familiar with the treatment of rabbits, as so many vets really have no idea how a sick rabbit should be treated and often misdiagnose a GI stasis, which can be fatal.
The vet I go to in Bangkok is at a university veterinary teaching hospital, she specializes in exotic animals and she is excellent. She can tell immediately when something is wrong with one of my rabbits, orders an x-ray to confirm her diagnosis, and already has her list of medications written up ready to go before the results are back from the x-ray lab. She hasn’t been wrong yet.
Follow your vet’s instructions to the letter – One your vet has confirmed your rabbit is suffering from GI stasis, she should give you various medicines and detailed instructions of how often to use each medicine throughout the day. Follow these instructions to the letter as, if you don’t and your rabbit becomes even more dehydrated or doesn’t get enough food, he will die.
Tummy massage – Finally, after I have followed my vet’s instructions and given my rabbit all the liquids, medication and Critical Care he needs, I then flip him onto his back and massage his stomach for 15-30 minutes, depending on how long he will let me.
Massage acts along with the medications and gets the intestines moving again, resulting in the painful gas being expelled from it and, eventually, your rabbit being able to poop again. Three or four times a day, in fact, can work wonders.
Once you see his poop habits are just about back to normal, remember to keep an eye on him to make sure they stay that way, and you have just managed to pull your rabbit through a life-threatening GI stasis and back to health and normality. Good for you.