If you’ve ever gone out to your rabbit hutch only to find your sweet bunny’s food dish full and hutch tray empty? It’s a good chance that your rabbit’s not pooping, and it’s time to keep a watchful eye on her to evaluate whether or not she is suffering from GI stasis.
Keeping our rabbits GI system in tip-top shape is dependent on us feeding proper food, in the right amounts. In addition to the pellets you add to her feeder, you can give her fresh fruits and veggies. I have a free downloadable list of safe foods and instructions for feeding them at the bottom of this post.
However, if you are reading this because your rabbit has stopped pooping, I’ve got some good advice for you.
If you have raised animals long enough, you will become a “poop watcher” like me. It’s not the most glamorous part of raising animals, I admit. But it sure does help you in assessing the health of our animals. Our little furry friends are really great at hiding when they are not well. Poop watching is really the only way I know that there is a real problem.
I know that when there are issues with elimination, Alice is probably not been feeling well for quite a while. Time is of the essence. There are stories of people noticing that their rabbit isn’t eliminating one evening and by the next morning, their precious bunny is dead.
So What’s Wrong?
There a few reasons that a rabbit might stop eliminating, but most of them are linked to an imbalance in the rabbit’s intestinal flora. An imbalance can happen from antibiotics, dehydration, a diet too low in fiber, or stress. It could also be caused from pain from gas or another underlying medical issue, like a urinary tract infection. All of these things can slow the movement of fecal matter through the intestinal tract and bring it to a halt, putting your bunny in danger.
When the intestinal tract stops moving fecal matter through itself (called peristalsis), it is called gastrointestinal (GI) stasis. (Note: If your rabbit’s not pooping and you don’t have any experience in helping your bunny through an GI stasis/blockage, please take her to a rabbit-savvy vet.)
New to raising rabbits and not sure if you have everything you need to care for her? Here’s a post with my top 10 recommendations for things to have in your rabbit kit. Make sure to get the free printable checklist (link in the post) to bring shopping so you don’t forget anything!
My Experiences: What I’ve Used in the Past for Rabbit GI Stasis
Alice is a Jersey Wooly, which is a cross between a French Angora and a Netherland Dwarf. Her wool is not quite as long as a French Angora, but it is longer than the average rabbit’s fur. Because of this, she is more at risk for wool blockages than other shorter-haired varieties.
Alice also has a history of periodically suffering periodic GI issues, which I’ve nursed her through successfully. It is for this reason that I keep a very close eye on her behavior, and her hutch tray. I also feed her proper amounts of the foods on my “Safe Foods for Your Rabbit” cheat sheet. It’s in my resource library, and you can get the password for that at the end of this post.
My Experiences with GI Stasis
One Saturday morning, I noticed that she wasn’t her happy little self. Usually, she looks for nose scritches and breakfast. Most of her greens from the night before were also uneaten. I filled her bowl and cleaned the hutch tray and decided to keep an eye on her.
That evening, I noticed that her food bowl was still full and the hutch tray was still clean. Rabbits are usually pooping machines, so I knew there was a problem. We have dealt with this particular issue before in a few different ways.
The first time Alice has a GI “episode”, I used canned pineapple. In my research, I had found that because she is a long-haired rabbit, she could likely have a wool blockage. Research showed that pineapple helps break up such blockages. I made a “mush” from canned pineapple and syringe fed it to her. It worked well, which was a huge relief.
Pineapple is often suggested for GI stasis/wool blockages because it was believed at one point that the bromelain in pineapple would break up the wool blockage. The GI tract would then be free to move its contents through and out of the rabbit. It does work beautifully, but not for the these reasons.
After researching, I learned that the bromelain in the pineapple doesn’t break down the fibers that might be causing the blockage. More likely, the liquid in the pineapple mush rehydrated the contents in her GI system. This enabled its contents to pass more easily through her system. Still a win in my book, but I probably won’t use it again due to the sugar content of canned pineapple. Sugar can actually make a small problem bigger for your furry friend.
I have also used probiotic gel to help aid Alice’s GI system in moving “stuck” contents through, and this has worked fine. The idea is that this gel adds probiotics to your rabbit’s gut to rebalance intestinal flora.
Some rabbit owners have complained that when using these gels as a daily supplement, that their rabbit’s pellets worsen in condition. So while the gel is safe for daily use, and can work in a pinch to help your rabbit through a tough GI issue, I do not recommend using this daily.
How I Handled GI Stasis This Time
This time around, I used these three items to treat Alice. I was able to syringe feed her the water/probiotic powder mixture. This rehydrated the gut contents and encouraged growth of good bacteria in the GI system. I did this on the Saturday evening that I discovered her empty hutch tray.
The Next Day
The next morning, she had shown some signs of successful elimination, but it was such a small amount that I tried to administer the water/probiotic powder mixture again. She wasn’t at all interested in cooperating with the force feeding. Since it looked like she might be on the mend, I added the water/probiotic powder mixture to her free-choice in her hutch.
The green leafy vegetables also add water to the gut contents, as well as provide roughage to help get things moving again. I used romaine lettuce because I know this is something she likes. She isn’t readily eager to try new foods, and I knew romaine lettuce didn’t cause digestive upset for her.
(If you are wondering how much green leafy veggies to give a sick rabbit, my “Safe Foods for Your Rabbit” cheat sheet will help you keep your rabbits diet on point, without harm to her health. It’s in my resource library, and you can get the password for that at the bottom of this post.)
Over the Weekend
I offered the romaine lettuce to Alice on Saturday night, as well as Sunday morning in place of her pellets. Throughout treatment, I left free choice timothy grass in her hay feeder. By Sunday afternoon and evening, she was eliminating a little more with each time I checked on her.
Monday – the Last Day!
By Monday morning, she had a nice large pile of rabbit pellets in her hutch tray, and she was back to her sweet little self. I added the alfalfa pellets back to her diet that morning, which were a welcome treat for her. She has been fine since.
This is probably the method I will use in the future. It wasn’t as tasty as the pineapple, but I didn’t add any sugar to her GI system, which can encourage the growth of bad bacteria in the cecal tract.
Steps to Correcting GI Stasis
When you notice that your rabbit’s not pooping or eating,, begin keeping a close eye on her. If she doesn’t eliminate or eat within 6-12 hours, there is likely a problem. Remove feed pellets from the hutch. Leave timothy grass available in hay feeder.
Prepare lukewarm water/probiotic powder mixture and force feed rabbit with a plastic syringe. Use about ¼ tsp powder to a couple of ounces of water. Get as much of this mixture as possible into the rabbit.
Leave free-choice green leafy vegetables in the hutch.
Check hutch tray every few hours. If there is no change in elimination, try rehydrating with plain water (do not use more than the recommended amount of probiotic powder per day). Also, at this point, make sure to check your bunny’s bum to make sure there is no obstruction from fecal matter, which would also make it painful and difficult for her to eliminate.
If there is an obstruction, make a warm water compress with a washrag and hold it on the area for a few seconds. Use a fine comb to remove fecal matter from the hair around the anal area. If there is fecal matter stuck in the anus, use tweezers to gently pull it out. Please be careful not to force a separation, which can tear her anal skin. Use the warm compress over and over until you are able to dislodge the fecal matter easily.
Repeat hutch tray check and rehydration, as well as offering free choice green leafy vegetables until your bunny is eliminating normally, and her appetite has picked up.
Return her feed pellets to her hutch.
Gastrointestinal Stasis: The Silent Killer – Dana M. Krempels, PhD, University of Miami