Constipation in rabbits can quickly turn into a life-threatening situation. What starts as an occasional problem with a rabbit can lead to other complications. When the initial cause of constipation is not treated, the rabbit's health can decline. More importantly, untreated problems associated with irregular bowel movements can lead to gastrointestinal (GI) stasis, a deadly killer in rabbits. This disorder is basically the failure of stomach matter to transfer through the intestines correctly. When left untreated, a rabbit can die within a matter of hours.
Causes of Constipation
A variety of factors can contribute to constipation in rabbits. The most common sources are an improper diet and/or hairballs. An abrupt change in a rabbit's diet and the lack of adequate amounts of water can also lead to constipation. Pregnant does often have their feeding amounts and diets changed just before and after kindling. Bathroom habits should be closely monitored during this process. Other underlying ailments can lead to constipation such as illness and disease.
The symptoms of constipation in a rabbit are fairly obvious. Owners will notice little to no fecal droppings in or under the rabbit's cage. The rabbit may appear lethargic and may not eat or drink. The stomach area on the rabbit may be bloated and feel hard to the touch. Individuals who are keen on their rabbit's behaviors will notice changes in their pet.
For occasional bouts of constipation, offering extra amounts of fiber and room-temperature water can aid in relieving constipation. Carrots, carrot tops, endive, parsley, and unlimited supplies of Timothy hay should all be offered to help get the system moving properly. Some owners have had success with fresh diluted pineapple juice and baby foods that are high in fiber. Allow the rabbit to have space to move about and get plenty of exercise. There are other home remedy options available such as mineral oil and other over-the-counter medicines but these should only be used under the advice and supervision of a qualified rabbit veterinarian.
Constipation is preventable when a rabbit is given a proper diet and their other needs are met such as regular grooming. A rabbit should be given an unlimited supply of Timothy hay and fresh water daily. Additionally, they should be given proper amounts of rabbit pellets that have at least 18 to 23 percent fiber content. Do not fully change a rabbit's diet all at once. Diet changes should be made gradually over a period of time. Rabbits also need plenty of room to exercise and move around. Moving helps keep the digestive system working properly so allow time for your rabbit to move about freely.
Regular grooming can help limit the amount of hair that a rabbit ingests. Angora rabbits and other long-haired breeds are susceptible to hairballs. A high-fiber diet can also aid with the passing of hair through a rabbit's system. Rabbits are unable to vomit and cough up hairballs so there is only one other alternative to pass these bits of hair. When the hair builds up in the intestines, it can block the intestines leading to "wool block". If treatments do not help the hairball pass through the system, a veterinarian may need to remove the blockage surgically. Surgical procedures in rabbits are dangerous and can also lead to the death of the rabbit.
Most importantly, owners should watch for any changes in their rabbit's eating and bathroom habits. Start home treatments promptly at the first signs of constipation. If the rabbit has not had a bowel movement within 24 hours or is showing any signs of stress, seek care from a qualified rabbit veterinarian immediately.