Before we do a deep dive into GI Stasis it is important to note that this is an illness that requires emergency care. Any suggestions made below or by volunteers is not a replacement for medical care and should never be treated as such.
What is it?
Most bunnies are always interested in eating, especially their favorite treats! GI Stasis, short for gastrointestinal stasis, is a condition in which the digestive system slows down or halts completely. The normally hungry bunny is suddenly eating less or, worse, nothing at all. This causes a build-up of harmful bacteria and gas within the digestive system that can cause painful bloating and will further the rabbit’s reluctance to eat or drink. The excess bacteria can also release toxins into the body which puts excess stress on the liver. As if all of this wasn’t scary enough, it is also important to note that a rabbit’s digestive system produces much of their body heat. A rabbit with untreated GI stasis can slip into hypothermia within hours. Due to the seriousness of this condition, every bunny parent should know how to recognize the symptoms and know what to do when it occurs.
What causes it?
GI Stasis can be caused different things:
A diet high in starches or low in fiber. Refer to our handout or article on proper diet.
Too many treats or the introduction of new foods. Refer to our handout or article on proper diet.
Stressors such as a change in environment (moving homes, big rearrangements, new pets, etc.)
The loss of a bonded mate
Pain from underlying issues (dental issues, injury, disease, etc.)
Lack of exercise or movement (can be due to illness or injury, small living area, age, etc.)
What to watch for!
For any of the following symptoms bring your rabbit to a rabbit-savvy veterinarian as soon as possible! With other animals such as cats or dogs we may notice digestive issues and decide to wait and watch them but doing so with a rabbit can result in their death. It is important to note that symptoms can happen gradually or suddenly.
Small, irregular or otherwise malformed feces
Complete lack of feces
Loss of appetite or severe decline in interest of foods or treats they normally love (especially if refusing a favorite treat)
Lethargy or low energy during times they are normally active
Hunched posture or what appears to be an attempt at pressing the abdomen to the ground
Inability to get comfortable, may appear as restlessness
Withdrawn/hiding behavior in a rabbit that is normally more outgoing or social
A low rectal temperature (below 101.5F) (It is important to not attempt to take a rectal temperature unless you have been taught to do so properly as it is possible to injure the rabbit’s rectum while doing so)
Grinding of the teeth
Sunken eyes or whiskers that are flattened to the face
What to do!
Remain calm! Yes, GI Stasis is a serious condition that requires immediate care, but with prompt treatment it is often easily treated. GI Stasis becomes deadly when treatment is not given quickly and supplemental heat is not provided. It is always a good decision to have a small stasis kit set up ahead of time so that when you are faced with this situation you do not have to scramble to help your rabbit.
Place your rabbit in a carrier that has been outfitted with towels or blankets as well as a heat source such as a reusable heat pack or heat disc. Cover the carrier with an additional towel or blanket to keep the heat from escaping. If the rabbit is bonded, allow the bonded partner access to the carrier. Separating a bonded pair is always stressful and this illness doesn’t need any additional stressors. Additionally, the healthy partner will share their body heat. However, we don’t want the healthy rabbit to overheat, so check them frequently and allow open access for the healthy rabbit so they may leave it if they become too hot. Remove the healthy rabbit immediately if s/he shows any signs of overheating.
Contact your designated rabbit savvy daily/emergency facility. Any facility worth their salt should understand the severity of GI Stasis but in the off chance you get a newer/training team member do not take no as an answer, if they try to schedule you for tomorrow or the next day ask to speak to another team member. You are your rabbit’s greatest advocate, do not be afraid to be pushy!
If for whatever reason you are unable to get into your designated facilities right away, you may contact the RMHRR 24-Hour Healthline (https://www.rmhrr.org/rabbit-emergency-information) and we will offer advice until you can get your bunny to an emergency vet appointment.
*We are not licensed veterinarians, and cannot offer medical treatment*
When transporting bunnies to your vehicle, prewarm your vehicle & ensure they are placed securely, with the carrier placed horizontally in the back seat. A slow, calm, and steady trip to the veterinarian is much less stressful than a speedy, chaotic trip. The last thing a bunny in stasis needs is to sit in the car while you deal with a speeding ticket or fender bender.
Once your rabbit is examined by the veterinarian, they will be treated with many of the following (these are subject to change due to the nature/severity/cause of GI Stasis)
Motility drugs to help stimulate the digestive system to return to its original rhythm
IV or subcutaneous (sub-q) fluids to help soften any materials within the digestive system
Pain medication to provide relief from painful build up of materials or bacteria
Syringe feeding of Critical Care or other supplemental substances
In some cases, a veterinarian may also prescribe antibiotics, although this is not always the case
With these treatments, along with time and patience, rabbits will often make a full recovery. It is critical to remain in contact with your veterinarian to ensure recovery is as smooth as possible. Do not hesitate to ask questions or for demonstrations, this is what your veterinary facility is for!