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Distension of the stomach with gas and fluid, also known as gastric dilation, is often caused by a blockage in the intestines. Your rabbit’s gastrointestinal system should be in constant motion (peristalsis). If this movement slows or stops, gastric dilation will occur. Gastric dilation can occur gradually or all at once. Early diagnosis is key to achieving a successful outcome.
The distension of the stomach with gas and fluid in rabbits is also known as gastric dilation. This can cause discomfort for your rabbit and in severe acute cases, death.
Gastric dilation may seem to come upon your rabbit suddenly; perhaps not noticed until your rabbit is not eating. The following symptoms may mean that your rabbit is experiencing gastric dilation:
Gastric dilation may occur due to an obstruction or blockage in the intestines which slows down or stops the movement of your rabbit’s gastrointestinal system. In some cases, there is no blockage, or the blockage itself occurs due to the slowing down of the gastrointestinal system.
While an obstruction of your rabbit’s intestines can lead to gastric dilation, it is important to understand what led to the obstruction. A diet that is high in carbohydrates and sugar and lacking indigestible fiber will often cause the slowing or stopping of your rabbit’s gastrointestinal system.
Rabbits frequently groom themselves and therefore there will be hair among their stomach contents. When the gastrointestinal tract is working normally, the hair will pass through the tract and be excreted through a bowel movement. When a rabbit has a high fiber diet, his system will stop the contents of his gastrointestinal tract from becoming too thick, so that does not have difficulty passing through the upper gastrointestinal tract. In addition, hair chewing, which will add more hair to the stomach than from just grooming, will often occur due to a diet that is low in fiber.
First, your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination of your rabbit. You will want to be prepared to report what you have seen from your rabbit as far as when you last saw your rabbit eat or drink, the time of your rabbit’s last bowel movement, whether the bowel movement was normal and how long your rabbit has been acting differently than usual. You may also be asked about your rabbit’s diet. The veterinarian may want to perform radiography of both of the stomach and cecum, which will show whether there is a blockage, as well as blood work and a serum analysis to determine your rabbit’s general condition and rule out other causes of the rabbit’s symptoms. The sooner the problem is diagnosed, the better the chance your rabbit will have of recovery.
Treatment of your rabbit will depend upon the severity of his case and will focus on removing any obstruction, rehydrating your rabbit and restoring motility and microorganism balance to his gastrointestinal system. Depending on severity, your rabbit may need to be hospitalized while receiving treatment. While your veterinarian will attempt to confirm a blockage, this can be difficult to do, even with radiography. With the exception of when a blockage is confirmed, GI motility medication will usually be given, along with pain medication to help reduce your rabbit’s discomfort.
A key aspect of treatment will be to ensure that your rabbit receives a significant amount of fluids (twice what is considered the rate for general maintenance). Depending on the severity of your rabbit’s situation, fluids may be given orally, subcutaneously or in advanced cases, intravenously (10mL/kg/hr). Other treatment options include:
In severe cases where there is a blockage or other issue, surgery may be necessary. This should only be considered after your rabbit has had a full assessment, has been stabilized and has been receiving treatment for a minimum of 24 hours.
Your veterinarian will discuss the need for follow up appointments, which will depend on the severity of your rabbit’s illness. It is important to follow up with any efforts to identify and treat any underlying medical issues. While your rabbit is recovering, keep him in a warm and quiet environment. It is preferable that the rabbit be treated at home if possible, as this will often lead to a faster recovery. You will want to regularly brush your rabbit’s hair so the problem does not get worse.
Going forward your rabbit should have a diet that is high in fiber and low in carbohydrates and sugar. Increased fiber will increase gastric motility, which will keep hair from accumulating. Your rabbit’s diet should include leafy, green vegetables, good quality grass hay and plenty of water. You may also consider adding magnesium oxide. Your rabbit should also have the opportunity for plenty of exercise and a stimulating environment, so that it does not ingest hair out of boredom. When diagnosed early, with successful treatment, your rabbit has a good prognosis.
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