Not only can rabbits suffer from tummy aches, but it's a serious situation when it happens. That's because bunnies can't throw up -- anything bothering their gastrointestinal systems can only pass out the rear end.
One common cause of bunny tummy aches is gastrointestinal stasis, which means the rabbit's gastrointestinal system slows down considerably. Causes include hairballs impacting the intestines, consuming a foreign object resulting in blockage or lack of enough crude fiber in the diet to keep his system moving. If untreated, gastrointestinal stasis can proceed to bloat, a buildup of gas in the intestines that causes his abdomen to balloon. Gastrointestinal stasis and bloat are both veterinary emergencies, as your rabbit could die a painful death without treatment.
Because they're prey animals, rabbits don't draw a lot of attention to themselves when they feel bad. In the wild, showing signs of illness means you're dinner in no time. If your bunny's not eating and you don't see any poop in his cage, that's an emergency and he needs to see the vet. Bunnies in pain might appear hunched over. If your rabbit's chattering or grinding his teeth, that's another reaction to internal pain.
If your rabbit's experiencing gastrointestinal stasis, your vet will massage the abdomen to stimulate the intestines. She'll also give your bunny medications to get his intestines moving and break down any gas, along with drugs for pain. Your rabbit might receive IV fluids to rehydrate him and get his gut moving. Once he begins recovering, your vet will give him an appetite stimulant, as his intestines need food to keep moving.
If your rabbit's condition has proceeded to bloat, his prognosis isn't good. Many bunnies must be euthanized, as their distended stomachs can't revert to normal and they are in excruciating pain. Some rabbits might pull through if the vet inserts a catheter into the stomach and empties the contents, but most don't make it after this procedure.
Making sure your bunny always has access to timothy or grass hay is the best way to keep his gut in good condition and avoid tummy aches and gastrointestinal problems. Not only does the fiber in the hay help keep his gut moving, but it also wears down a rabbit's continuously-growing teeth. If your bunny's teeth don't wear properly, he can develop a misalignment called a malocclusion. Not only does this cause mouth pain, but he can literally starve to death even if there's food available because he can't chew it. For hairball prevention, brush your pet regularly. You can also purchase a hairball preventive designed for rabbits, which you can feed him as a treat or wipe on his paws for him to lick off.
- Pet MD: Matted Hair and Hairballs in the Stomach in Rabbits
- Pet Care Veterinary Hospital: Gastrointestinal Stasis in Rabbits
- House Rabbit Society: What is Pain?
- Friend of Rabbits: GastroIntestinal Stasis, The Silent Killer
- Medirabbit: Ratbag, A Rabbit Suffering From Acute Oonset Of Bloat
- SmallAnimalChannel.com: Rabbit Vet FAQ
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.