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"Bloat” is a serious health problem of rabbits. It is caused by an obstruction of the outflow from the stomach, causing the stomach to become very large and painful.
What causes bloat and obstruction?
In many cases, obstruction is caused by a mat of fur, therefore long-haired rabbits or rabbits housed with long-haired breeds are at an increased risk for this medical problem. Individuals fed a diet with inadequate dietary fiber are also less equipped to handle the hair normally found in the rabbit gut. Less commonly, ingested foreign materials like carpet, cloth fibers, rubber, or plastic can also block the gut. And we also believe that some rabbits are born with a tendency towards bloat because of slower gastrointestinal motility.
Why is bloat a serious condition?
Any blockage involving the gastrointestinal tract can quickly become critical in the rabbit because rabbits cannot vomit or even burp. When the stomach cannot empty, saliva and stomach secretions quickly expand the stomach and this painful.
As the walls of the stomach are stretched and then stretched even more, blood flow is cut off and the stomach wall can die. The dilated stomach can also prevent blood flow to vital organs like the kidneys.
Without treatment, death can occur rapidly. In fact, gastrointestinal obstruction is the most common cause of sudden, unexpected death in otherwise healthy rabbits. unless the condition is caught very early, the prognosis for rabbits with bloat and intestinal obstruction is guarded even with medical care.
What does bloat look like in the rabbit?
This condition generally comes on suddenly. A rabbit that seem completely healthy will suddenly stop eating, defecations will stop, and the rabbit will appear very tired or lethargic.
As the condition continues, signs of abdominal pain such as hunched posture, tooth grinding, and reluctance to move may be observed. The rabbit will also become progressively weaker, eventually lying down often in a stretched-out position.
This condition is considered a medical emergency and your veterinarian will want to perform laboratory testing and abdominal imaging like x-rays and sometimes ultrasound. In many instances, multiple x-rays are needed to see if the obstruction is moving. Your rabbit will also require aggressive supportive care including powerful pain medication, fluid therapy, promotility drugs, abdominal massage, laser therapy, GI lubricants, and sometimes gastric lavage. Although medical care occasionally encourages the obstruction to pass, some rabbits require exploratory surgery or gastric lavage while sedated.
Unfortunately the danger has not passed until your rabbit starts to eat again. Your veterinarian will monitor your rabbit very closely to make sure the gut begins to move. Veterinary staff will listen to your rabbit's intestinal tract with a stethoscope and gently palpate the belly. Your rabbit's appetite and fecal output will also be observed carefully. Patients recovering well after 3 days appear to have a good prognosis for complete recovery.
A diet with appropriate fiber level, that maximizes hay and fresh veggies will allow your rabbit to better handle hair normally present in the gut; feeding fresh veggies dripping wet can increase fiber and fluid intake. Regular grooming, by the owner, can also reduce the risk of obstruction and some clinicians recommend regular clipping of long-haired rabbits to minimize their risk. Giving laxatone daily when shedding and giving a digestive enzyme called prozyme can also be helpful.
Remember that rabbits hide their symptoms of illness and that many illnesses have similar symptoms. It is so important to observe your rabbits behavior carefully. If he is she is not eating normally or not as active, make the appointment right away. The sooner we start treatment, there is usually a faster and better recovery.