One of the most common health conditions seen in rabbits (and guinea pigs) is “Lazy Gut” or hairball impaction. Lazy gut can lead to dramatic health complications. Contrary to common beliefs, the ingestion of the rabbits’ hair while grooming is not the cause of this condition but rather the result. A healthy rabbit (and guinea pig) should be able to digest its hair without any impaction. A combination of the following contributing factors can create the perfect condition for a “Lazy gut” – which can then be challenged with a hairball that will not pass through the Gastrointestinal tract, causing impaction which, if left untreated, can lead to gut stasis, a life threatening situation.
What are the contributing factors that can lead to hairball impaction?
- Diets low in insoluble fibres or alfalfa-based diets for the mature non-breeding rabbit
- Rabbits that don’t have access to hay at all times
- Lack of exercise
- High caloric diets
- Dehydration (inadequate amounts of water drank or diarrhea leading to dehydration)
- Rabbits that are not groomed regularly
- Stress-induced barbering of the coat and over-licking (stress decreases GI function)
What are the signs and symptoms of Gastrointestinal Stasis?
- Anorexia (decreased or loss of appetite)
- No passing of feces (or a reduced amount of feces in the litter pan)
- Irritable, nippy, nervous
- Weak & lethargic
Bladder and kidney disease can cause discomfort, pain and can be life-threatening. Bladder and kidney disease is often caused by an excess of calcium in the diet that deposits in the bladder – commonly referred to as “sludge or sand”. Litter training your rabbit may help you recognize the symptoms associated with urinary illnesses such a bacterial infections (sludge or sand) of the urinary tract in time to seek medical advice. The inconsistent use of the litter box could indicate a problem. If your bunny is not litter trained, then pay attention to the soiling in its cage. If it’s in small quantities randomly throughout the enclosure, then this could also be of concern.
What are some of the more common symptoms of urinary illnesses?
- Unusual urine color (red pigment that could be the result of blood due to the irritation of the bladder)
- Cloudy urine with a thicker texture
- Nervousness and irritability
- Pain or discomfort when handled
- Area around the genitals and urinary tract is not clean, appears to have hair loss, redness, irritation, scabs or dried feces or urine stains
- Increased water consumption which is easily monitored with a water bottle (provided your rabbit is trained to drink from a bottle)
- Reduced appetite, activity and interest in foraging due to pain
What are the contributing factors leading to bacterial infections of the urinary tract?
- Dehydration (not drinking enough water)
- Unhygienic water dishes or bottles and lack of fresh water
- A diet high in calcium
- An alfalfa-based diet
- Excess calcium offered in supplements, enrichment foods & alfalfa hay for the non-breeding adult
- Sugar in the base diet, enrichments foods rich in sugar (Living World Green foods do not contain sugar nor molasses)
- Unhygienic litter box or bedding in the cage
- A sedentary lifestyle that does not encourage exercise or time out of the cage
- Urinary tract & bladder tumors, sludge, sand and stones
How can you help prevent gastrointestinal and urinary illnesses in your rabbit?
- Offering timothy based extruded diet containing high quality crude insoluble fibre such as Living World Green guarantees the availability of cellulose, which is more digestible and improves gut mobility for small animals.
- Offering a sugar-free based diet (and limit the sugars offered in enrichment foods)
- Offering unlimited amounts of quality foraging hays
- Provide ample amounts of fresh drinking water (using a water bottle will help you keep track of how much water is consumed daily)
- Weight management
- Providing a stress-free environment
- Provide enrichment
- Promote a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular exercise (min 1 hour a day out of cage exercise is recommended)
- Regular grooming and monitoring of the coat
- Litter training your rabbit to ensure you can monitor daily GI function (quick easy visual count of the feces produced)
- Regular veterinarian visits to evaluate health