A rabbit’s digestive system must have continual fluid and fiber as well as a proper balance of bacteria to prevent Gastro Intestinal Stasis - GI Stasis. This is a medical problem where a rabbit’s digestive system slows and eventually stops. Improper diet, dehydration, disruptions in the balance of bacteria and lack of exercise are the most important items that start the GI Stasis process.
Improper diet is the most common cause of digestive problems. Rabbits need to have an unlimited supply of hay to nibble on throughout the day and night. This hay will provide a continual flow of fiber through the system to help keep it moving. Lack of hay, chronic stress and pain are some of the factors that will prevent a rabbit from eating, thus disrupting the flow through the digestive system.
Fresh water is extremely important to keep the system flowing smoothly. Fluid keeps the material moist making it easier to flow through the digestive process. Decrease in water intake will start to slow the system down. Any material sitting too long at any point in the system due to a slowing of the digestion will continue have fluid extracted from it causing it to become dry. Dry material will move slower through the intestines and cecum. The slower the material moves, the more water is extracted, thus impacting the system and preventing any further digestion causing death within 24 to 48 hours.
Disruptions in the delicate balance of yeast, micro organisms and bacteria in the cecum will prevent the final stages of digestion from properly breaking down the food content in the system. Disruptions could include eating toxins or other foreign material, infections, antibiotics, inability to consume cecotropes and diseases such as liver and kidney disease. The cecum produces waste feces 4 hours after a good meal. If the feces are small, irregular shaped, or non-existent, your bunny is having digestive problems.
Exercise keeps the muscles moving and will help push food through the intestines. Lack of exercise prevents muscle movement which in turn slows the movement of food through the digestive track. Slow food movement will start the cycle of GI Stasis. Lack of exercise could also cause your bunny to become obese which can produce additional health problems with the heart, breathing, and functions of the other internal organs.
A happy healthy bunny needs a stress free environment, exercise, proper food, unlimited hay and fresh water. Identifying the symptoms of GI Stasis in its early stage can be the key to saving your bunny. Read “Health Problems in Rabbits” and “Recognizing pain in your rabbit” for more information to help you determine if your bunny is ill.