What is Loss of Appetite?
Anorexia in rabbits is a symptom of an underlying condition, the most common causes are dental disease and gastrointestinal disorders. As anorexia is often caused by pain you may notice your rabbit showing other signs such as hunching, refusing to move or increased respiration. Anorexia can lead to serious complications in as little as 24 hours so early treatment is key.
Loss of appetite in rabbits, or anorexia, is a common but serious symptom in rabbits. This condition is often brought on by pain or stress and can lead to ketosis and hepatic lipidosis.
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Symptoms of Loss of Appetite in Rabbits
The symptoms your pet experiences will vary depending on the underlying causes. They may include
- Tooth grinding due to pain
- Reduced fecal matter or profuse diarrhea
- Aggression during handling
- Firm abdomen
Pseudo-anorexia – If your pet is suffering from this form of anorexia he may still have an appetite, however, due to an underlying condition such as dental disease are unable to eat
True anorexia – If your rabbit is suffering from this form of anorexia, he will lose the desire to eat; this is often due to underlying factors that cause pain or stress
Causes of Loss of Appetite in Rabbits
There are many different factors causing anorexia in rabbits. These include:
- Change of environment, or outdoor predators may cause stress in your pet
- Your pet’s social environment may also contribute, as rabbits are social animals
- Lack of companionship has shown to cause anorexia, while unsuitable, aggressive cage mates may also cause stress and reluctance to eat
- Bacterial skin infections are a common underlying cause of anorexia due to discomfort
- These skin conditions can be caused by parasitic infection, introduction of bacteria, or fungal infections
- An insufficiently balanced diet or selective feeder may cause gastrointestinal stasis and other conditions that may cause anorexia
Other factors that may contribute are toxin ingestion or foreign object ingestion, and chronic health conditions (there are a range of health conditions that can cause your pet to lose their appetite such as arthritis and dental disease).
Diagnosis of Loss of Appetite in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will perform a full clinical examination on your rabbit and carefully examine him for signs of underlying conditions that may be causing anorexia. The following may indicate the cause:
- Excessive salivation or malocclusion may be noted which may suggest dental disease to be the cause
- There may be an abnormal amount of gas or abdominal masses on palpation
- Signs of respiratory infection on chest auscultation may be evident
- If your pet is female the vulva should be carefully examined for discharge which may suggest pyometra
- Your pet’s skin will be examined for signs of infection or dermatitis
Your veterinarian may choose to do following diagnostic tests:
- Radiographs to investigate masses, osteoarthritis or other skeletal disorders
- Blood chemistry which can rule out renal and hepatic disease and provide a health baseline when prescribing analgesia
- Urine tests to check for urinary tract infections
Treatment of Loss of Appetite in Rabbits
In order to prevent your pet from developing hepatic lipidosis and to maintain gut peristalsis, your veterinarian will initiate treatment for anorexia immediately. Your rabbit may need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment.
Fluid therapy may be given to prevent dehydration and rehydrate gastrointestinal contents. Your pet will be encouraged to have fluids orally but may also be given intravenous or subcutaneous fluid therapy.
As anorexia is often caused by pain it is vital that your pet is given analgesia to relieve discomfort. Your pet may be given NSAIDs or opioids for relief.
Your pet will be offered a selection of foods. If your pet has favorite foods your veterinarian will recommend you bring them to your pet. Fresh fruit and vegetables along with pellets will be offered. Appetite stimulants high in fiber such as parsley, kale, and carrot tops are ideal for your pet. It is likely your pet will require syringe feeding, this will often be performed by a veterinary assistant or nurse. Ideal foods for syringe feeding are pureed pellets with water, pumpkin or banana.
In some cases, nasogastric tube insertion is necessary to provide nutritional support. The tube is lubricated with anesthetic gel and inserted through the nose into the stomach. Your veterinarian will then check the position of the tube by performing a radiograph.
The tube can stay in place for several weeks if needed and will be taped in place. It will be flushed with water prior to each feed, providing an excellent source of water. The same mixtures of either ground pellets or pureed vegetables can be fed through this tube.
Recovery of Loss of Appetite in Rabbits
The prognosis for a pet suffering from loss of appetite can be good to guarded depending on how quickly treatment was sought and the underlying condition involved. If stress was the cause, it is important to adjust your pet’s environment to reduce or completely eliminate the stressor. If your rabbit is suffering from disease such as skin infections or abscess, your pet may need further medication and treatment. For chronic health conditions such as arthritis, it is important that you discuss a long-term pain management plan with your veterinarian to alleviate your pet’s discomfort. Support nutrition will also be beneficial.