What is Urinary Blockage?
This condition is most commonly seen in male rabbits due to their long urethra. Presenting signs may include self-trauma, enlarged bladder, firm abdomen, severe pain and permanent damage causing loss of bladder tone. Without treatment this condition can be fatal, therefore it is vital veterinary attention is sought.
Urinary blockage is a potentially fatal condition affecting the urinary tract in rabbits caused by the deposition of mineral sediment (also known as bladder or kidney stones). There are many causes, however, high calcium diets and inadequate water intake are often factors.
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Symptoms of Urinary Blockage in Rabbits
You may notice your pet showing the following signs:
- Self-trauma to the genital area
- Firm abdomen
- Enlarged bladder
- Signs of pain such as hunched posture
- Urine scalding
Causes of Urinary Blockage in Rabbits
Urinary tract blockages in rabbits are caused by the buildup of calcium salts (calcium oxalate and calcium carbonate). These can present as large singular crystals or be present in large quantities resembling sand, this presentation is often referred to as sludge. The presence of these crystals can cause irreversible trauma to the urinary tract and lead to kidney disease.
There are a number of factors that may predispose your pet to urinary blockages. These include:
- Insufficient diet such as inadequate water content, particularly in pets whose diet consists purely of pellets or high calcium foods such as alfalfa sprouts
- Obesity or poor exercise habits
- Urinary retention caused by inability to access litter tray or arthritis
- Inflammation secondary to urine sludge which may cause further obstruction
- Trauma from repeated catheterization
Diagnosis of Urinary Blockage in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will perform a full clinical examination of your pet and carefully palpate your pet’s abdomen and bladder. Your pet’s clinical symptoms, distended bladder and evidence of pain on abdominal palpation will likely cause your veterinarian to suspect pain relating to urination. Your veterinarian may be able to palpate the uroliths through the abdomen.
Radiographs of your pet’s urinary tract may be taken to visualise crystal build up that may be contributing to your pet’s pain, however, as mineral build up can be considered normal in rabbits the presence of uroliths alone can not provide a diagnosis. A urinalysis may also be performed to rule out the diagnosis of urinary tract infection, however, will not be able to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Urinary Blockage in Rabbits
Your rabbit will need to be hospitalised for treatment. To provide the best prognosis your pet’s urinary tract will need to be unblocked and the bladder will need to be emptied via catheterisation. If catheterisation is being performed, your pet may require sedation using benzodiazepines to relax the urinary tract. Although there are risks involved with sedation your pet will be monitored carefully throughout the procedure. In order to prevent repeated obstruction, the bladder will require repeated flushing with warm saline until no evidence of crystals are seen.
In some cases, flushing is not adequate to remove the stones and surgical removal may be necessary. Following this surgery activity should be reduced while the tissue heals.
Your rabbit will be given nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or opoids for analgesia if pain is suspected. As NSAIDs are metabolized by the hepatic and renal systems your veterinarian may take a blood test to check the function of these systems.
If the urinalysis performed during the diagnostic investigation indicated infection or hematuria, systemic antibiotic therapy will be needed
Your rabbit will be encouraged to eat during his hospital stay and will be offered a selection of fresh greens such as cilantro, carrot tops, and romaine lettuce. As rabbits will often refuse food due to stress or pain, syringe feeding may be necessary to prevent complications occurring from anorexia.
Recovery of Urinary Blockage in Rabbits
The prognosis for your pet is good with normal urination expected following surgery, although there is a fair chance of reoccurrence. In order to reduce this the following steps should be taken:
- Once your pet has recovered from the surgery encourage activity by changing the environment to allow him more exercise space and encouraging movement through energetic, engaging activities and play
- Provide your rabbit with a diet that is high in water content and low in calcium, avoiding food such as alfalfa sprouts which are high in calcium; if possible completely remove dried pellets from the diet and introduce good quality grass or timothy hay and rolled oats
- Fresh, clean water should be provided for your pet at all times along with high water content foods
- Ensure your pet’s litter area is easily accessed and is regularly cleaned
- In some cases, subcutaneous fluids to encourage flushing of the kidneys and bladder and citrate based products to change the PH of the urine may be indicated