Rabbits are complex little creatures, and there is much more to them than meets the eye. Like any animal, they have their faults, and in this Pets4Homes article, we will be looking at one of them - Ileus. This condition can affect any rabbit and will stop the well-oiled machine of their digestive system.
We said rabbits are complex and this is the bit that makes them unique. The rabbit digestive system is finely tuned so once the food is eaten, just like us it enters the stomach and digestion starts with stomach acid, and then breaks down in the small intestine by enzymes.
This is where the magic comes in - with a fermentation chamber called the caecum.
All the digestible fibre is fermented in the caecum and has its nutrients unlocked. For the rabbit to make use of this nutrient-rich fibre it obviously needs to go through the system again. This is achieved by the rabbit coating the particles in mucus then they become caecotrophs. They are then passed out of the rabbit through the colon, and the rabbit eats them again – to be able to gain the goodness of the nutrients.
Once these nutrients have been extracted, they are passed out as normal faeces. So, in essence, the rabbit passes two lots of product from eating – caecotrophs and faeces.
When the system stops working properly and the small intestine fails to move the food along – known as peristalsis waves, – it becomes Ileus which is also known as gastrointestinal stasis, or gut stasis.
The knock-on effect from this is when food in the intestines and caecum mean bacteria goes into warp speed and produces a buildup of gas. This increase in gas pressure in the rabbit causes them a lot of pain, then they will stop eating which in turn causes lethargy and dehydration. If left untreated Ileus can prove fatal.
The four main contributing factors to rabbit Ileus are inappropriate diet, teeth problems, pain or stress, and lack of exercise.
If the rabbit has too much starch but not enough good quality grass or hay this can cause problems. Low water intake from drinking can cause dehydration and result in a dry gut. This makes the passing of food along the tract much more difficult, as it is dry.
Poorly chewed food from overgrown teeth can cause indigestion in the rabbit – this is why the vets should regularly check your rabbit’s teeth to ensure there overgrowing.
Dental pain, infections, or chronic pain, for example, arthritis can lead to gut stasis. Also, emotional stress such as loss of a friend, or even moving to a new house can put a rabbit into gut stasis.
If your rabbit is not active enough, it can lead to the gut also being inactive, so please make time to play with them, and ensure they get enough exercise to help keep everything moving.
If your rabbit does develop gut stasis, the symptoms are usually shown as:
If your rabbit has Ileus, then they need to see a vet urgently. Vets will be able to give supportive treatment to try and help the situation. These can include:
Some rabbits are predisposed to Ileus, and if they do have a flare up of it, they need adequate vet support to help them recover.
Ileus in rabbits can be fatal, take time to understand your rabbit, if they are feeling under the weather or there seems to be a problem with them eating – please contact your vet as a matter of urgency. The quicker gut stasis is started to be treated, the better the prognosis for the bunny.