Ileus/Gut Stasis

< Back to Pet Health Library

What is it?

Ileus is a life-threatening condition where the normal movement (peristalsis) of the guts stops, also known as ‘gut stasis’. It is a fairly common emergency condition in rabbits and all owners should be aware of the clinical signs of the disease in order to act quickly and for a positive outcome.

Why is it important?

It is a fairly common and life-threatening reason for rabbits to be presented to the vets as an emergency. It is a symptom, not a condition itself - there will always be an underlying cause. Generally it is secondary to pain - this may be gastrointestinal (gut), dental or other and it is also frequently associated with stress.

What’s the risk?

Some rabbits are more prone to episodes of gut stasis than others. Rabbits have an unusual gastrointestinal system, with a large caecum and high fibre requirements. If this becomes unbalanced then gut stasis may be seen. Many underlying causes can play a factor:

  • Stress and/or pain.
  • Dental disease.
  • Blockages such as hairballs (higher risk for long-haired breeds or during moulting. Remember that they will groom each other as well as themselves), eating foreign materials (ripping up cardboard/bedding), tumours or other blockages.
  • Trapped gas also known as bloat.
  • Inappropriate diet.
  • Infections.
  • Parasite burden.

  • What happens to the rabbit?

    It can be life threatening - rabbits are stoic creatures and often won’t let you know anything is wrong until it’s fairly severe. If the underlying cause is untreatable, has progressed too far, or they simply do not respond to treatment this can result in death or require euthanasia.

    However, if prompt and aggressive treatment is administered then treatment can be successful and the outcome can be a positive one.

    How do you know what’s going on?

    Often the first sign a rabbit has stasis is a reduction in appetite or refusing to take food. This is often associated with a reduced number of faecal pellets (poo) or failing to produce any at all. They may also show signs of pain/discomfort such as tooth grinding, hunching up or stretching-out postures.

    Your rabbit must be taken to a vet as an emergency - as part of the examination your vet will listen to your rabbit’s abdomen and in the case of ileus/stasis the gut sounds are likely to be reduced or completely absent. In a normal healthy rabbit there should be soft gurgling noises when the abdomen is listened to with a stethoscope - this is the peristalsis (movement) of the guts.

    What can be done?

    Gut stasis is a true emergency and the rabbit must be seen by a vet immediately. Your vet will assess the rabbit and look for a cause of the issue. Often the exact underlying cause may not be found but treatment must start as soon as possible. Your vet will administer some or all of the following medications/treatments:

  • Pain relief
  • Gut motility enhancer (medications to encourage the guts so start moving again)
  • Syringe feed (to stimulate the guts and provide essential fibre).
  • Fluids - either subcutaneously (under the skin) or intravenously (into the vein).
  • Hospitalisation
  • Never try and medicate your rabbit without seeing a vet first as incorrect treatment can be fatal - e.g. giving motility enhancers without a vet assessing for a blockage first can result in rupture of the guts and death.

    What can I do to protect my pet?

    If you notice any change in your rabbit’s appetite, activity or toileting habits, contact your vet as soon as possible - don’t wait until the next day as this may be too late. You can try to reduce the risk for your rabbit by:

  • Keeping stress to a minimum
  • Ensuring your housing enables you to assess for daily faecal output, and familiarise yourself with what is ‘normal’ for your rabbit (in terms of size and number of faecal pellets).
  • Always ensure fresh water is available (to reduce the chance of impactions).
  • Ensure ad lib access to good quality hay/grass as a source of fibre.
  • Never make sudden changes to diet, introduce new foods gradually.
  • Act quickly on any concerns and seek advice from your vet.