Tummy problems

A rabbit's digestive system is a delicate area that can easily go wrong!  If your bunny is not eating, drinking or going to the toilet for longer than 12 hours, please take your bunny to the vet as soon as you can.

Rabbits are little eating machines and if you notice that your pet has changed his eating habits or is looking uncomfortable, or hasn't been to the toilet for quite some time, there is cause for concern.

The most common reason a rabbit stops eating is in response to pain. Loss of appetite accompanied by obvious lethargy or depression and if your bunny has not been to the toilet for quite some time should be considered an emergency and should be investigated immediately.

To stay healthy, a rabbit needs to keep their digestive system moving at all times, meaning that a rabbit should never be without food (hay at all times and water to drink). 

The digestive system of the rabbit has evolved to eat large amounts of grass with a high fibre content that helps keep things moving at all times through their system, however, things can go wrong:

Gastro Intestinal Stasis
This is a term for when a rabbit's digestive system shuts down.  This is very serious for a rabbit and requires urgent veterinary treatment.  You can see when a rabbit is feeling unwell when they sit hunched in a corner, not wanting to eat or drink and has not been to the toilet for many hours. 

Rabbits will always have fur in their digestive system due to constant grooming.  However, if a rabbit is not eating a high fibre diet or is supplied with fresh water to drink at all times, the fur that is ingested can become dry and block the intestinal tract.  A blockage can also be caused by food such as seeds from rabbit mix (why we recommend not feeding rabbits the mix).  Blockages require urgent medical attention.  Sometimes surgery is required.  By catching the problem early, your bunny may survive.

Cecal impaction
Sometimes when a rabbit is on a high nutrient diet, too many cecals are produced.  This may be seen externally by lots of sticky cecals left on the floor, or stuck to the bunny's bottom.  A serious problem occurs if the cecals are not being expelled and can result in an impaction.  This problem requires urgent medical attention.

The rabbit's fascinating digestive system

What is most interesting about a rabbit's digestive system is how they reuse their food to provide extra vitamins and nutrients in a world where they would naturally exist on a low nutrient, high fibre diet. 

Rabbits have very sharp teeth to grind up hard and fibrous foods which reaches the stomach quite quickly.

The digested food moves into the small intestine but then something really interesting happens.

Along the way, there is a area called a caecum (pictured left) where half the digested food is directed into.

The other half rolls around and pops out the end as dried round poos.

The caecum is filled with enzymes and bacteria which alters the digested material into a little soft package coated in mucus as it re-enters the colon & passed back out (usually at night).

The cecals that are emitted look differently to normal poo.  They are sticky, darker, smellier and look like little bunches of grapes.  A bunny usually emits these at night and re-eats them as a giant vitamin pill.

I'm sure some people think it's icky, but it's really interesting and it's not poo.  It's just a really cool way to exist in an environment for a bunny that wants to survive.

If a rabbit does not eat their cecals, they can become quite ill.

You may need to syringe feed your bunny with Critical Care.  The best one for rabbits is the apple/banana.

The Melbourne Rabbit Clinic sells Critical Care or you can buy it online from Oxbow Australia.