Rabbits have a stuffed stomach and therefore a very special digestion, which you as an owner should know and understand.
One problem that can arise from this is stomach overload.
What is meant by this, why this can quickly become a life-threatening situation for your rabbit and how you should behave in the event that this actually occurs, you will learn in this article.
What is Gastric Overload in rabbits?
Stomach overload in rabbits is a life-threatening and very painful condition that can rapidly worsen.
Immediate treatment by a veterinarian is therefore essential.
Stomach overload occurs when too much food remains in the stomach.
Rabbits are at increased risk for this because they have stuffed stomachs. This means that the gastrointestinal tract has only very weak muscles. Absorbed food is therefore not properly transported further until it is replenished by more.
Therefore, rabbits eat many small meals throughout the day.
A lack of food can therefore become life-threatening after only a short time. The same applies to an overload of the stomach, when the food mush can no longer reach the intestine and be excreted.
Possible causes of stomach overload
Your rabbit’s stomach can be overloaded for numerous reasons. The following list will help you get an initial idea:
Age and weakness
Ingestion of wrong substances
Blockage at the stomach outlet or in the intestine
diseases or tumors
lack of fluid intake
side effects of medication
strongly swelling food
too large pieces of food
age, weakness and diseases
Since the musculature in the digestive tract is very weak, additional weakening can lead to problems in transporting the food pulp.
Age, malnutrition or disease may be responsible.
Prolonged stress and harmful environmental stimuli also lead to weakening, which increases the risk of stomach overload.
Because of the delicate digestive system, you must be very careful when feeding your rabbits.
They need plenty of green food, hay and water. In addition, vegetables and little fruit can be given. Bark and twigs are also suitable.
Grains or pellets, on the other hand, can create problems in several ways. On the one hand, they are unfavorable for the intestinal flora. They swell up partly strongly and can cause thereby blockades.
In addition, they can cause a strong perception when they begin to ferment.
Especially feed in the form of pellets made of hay, straw or cereal components initially deprives the body of a lot of liquid and swells strongly.
In addition, the feeling of satiety is delayed.
As a result, the animals often eat too much too quickly. The passage from the stomach to the intestine can thus be more difficult. A blockage can also occur as a result.
Foreign substances in the rabbit’s digestive tract
Textile fibers, such as those from carpets, upholstered furniture, or curtains, as well as cellulose, can cause blockage in the stomach or intestines because they become compressed or knotted.
Similarly, if rabbits eat very hastily and thus do not chew properly.
The pieces of food are then not small enough to be easily transported from the stomach to the intestine. If this is the case with your animals, you should therefore take urgent remedial action.
In addition, there is the coat.
Particularly in long-haired or very hairy rabbit breeds, large amounts of loose hair accumulate during the coat change.
Since the animals usually groom themselves extensively, they pick these up. Unlike cats, however, they cannot vomit the resulting hairballs or hair bulges.
In addition to constipation or intestinal obstruction, stomach overload is also possible.
Lack of fluids
If your rabbit doesn’t drink enough and doesn’t take in enough liquid through food, the food mush can become too solid in the stomach. It will then not drain appropriately.
This is often the case with a pure dry diet of hay, pellets and grain. Insufficient drinking, for example due to contaminated water, a defective drinking bottle or dental problems, is another risk factor.
Side effects of medications
Some medications can weaken the muscles of the digestive tract as undesirable but possible side effects, (dis)disrupt the intestinal flora and thus lead to constipation and increased gas formation.
A potential consequence is an overload of the stomach.
However, even without this, problems exist, such as painful bloating and cramps or decreased appetite.
Tumors can develop throughout the rabbit’s body.
If they are located in the stomach or intestines, they present obstructions or even complete blockages.
Depending on their location and size, they can also cause further discomfort. Unfortunately, they are difficult to detect before they reach a restrictive size.
This makes diagnosis and treatment more difficult.
If your rabbit has teeth that are too long, tooth pain, inflammation or abscesses, his fluid and food intake may be limited.
It may not be able to bite or chew food properly.
As a result, the rabbit absorbs less food or water. However, larger pieces will slow digestion and increase the risk for stomach overload.
Additionally, if water is lacking, the food mush becomes very solid or a piece of food may become stuck, hindering passage.
Risks due to stomach overload
You may know the feeling of having eaten a meal that is too big and too heavy.
Your stomach presses and hurts. You may suffer from heartburn, cramps, bloating and flatulence.
In rabbits, the restrictions and pain are greater!
Due to the weakly developed musculature, the stomach cannot compress the food appropriately by counterpressure. This means that it itself exerts considerable pressure on the surrounding organs and blood vessels and is tense.
Lungs, heart and intestines can be affected by this, as well as veins and arteries.
For these reasons, there is a risk that parts of the stomach will no longer be supplied, your rabbit will become short of breath, the heart will be affected, or the intestines will no longer be able to do their job.
These processes are further intensified by the fact that the food ferments in the stomach and intestines. Gases are formed in the process. These overload the stomach even more and stretch the organs further.
Recognizing stomach overload in rabbits
The symptoms of a stomach overload often show up very late.
Loss of appetite
bloated, hard stomach
shortness of breath
sideways position with outstretched hind legs
palpable stomach under the ribs
Changes in the feces
It is possible, for example, that the rabbit moves significantly less and allows itself to be touched despite previously being shy.
In addition, the fur may stick out and look shaggy.
With regard to the feces, several changes are possible. Among them for example:
significantly smaller amount despite feeding the same amount of food
Feces are unformed or connected to each other like a string of pearls.
Also mucus layers, blood admixtures and intestinal noises can be indications.
However, these are not one-and-done symptoms.
A hard abdomen, as well as decreased movement, may indicate injury, parasites, or stress. Therefore, prompt and comprehensive examination and treatment by a veterinarian are unavoidable and essential.
Without the appropriate diagnosis, no coordinated therapy is possible. This can be very different even with a stomach overload.
Holistic examination in case of stomach overload
During the diagnosis – if still possible – you as the owner will be asked questions first. These include the duration of the symptoms, feeding and any stress.
Only then will your rabbit be examined.
The rabbit will be palpated, its temperature checked and its heartbeat checked. Breathing and other signs of health problems, such as swelling, are also taken into account.
Palpation and imaging techniques are the primary means of obtaining information.
X-rays with contrast medium are recommended.
The images can be taken quickly and easily. They allow at least a rough impression and can provide important information through shading and displacement of the organs.
Subsequently, a drug treatment can be given first or it can be weighed up whether a surgical intervention is necessary.
Treatment for gastric overload
The treatment for gastric distention depends on the cause and the condition of your rabbit.
If you notice the problem early and act immediately, there is usually little or no distention. Other symptoms and damage will also be less severe.
A veterinarian experienced in this area can therefore act faster, more targeted and therefore more efficient. This increases the chances of successful elimination and healing.
In addition, surgery can still be avoided if necessary.
Important in almost every case:
Defoamers for flatulence
Medicines to stimulate stomach and intestinal activity
Oils for purging or laxatives
Fluids via infusions
In addition, the rabbit must be kept warm. A supply of oxygen may be necessary if the lungs and heart are compromised.
If the blockage is not yet complete, oil and fluid supplementation can provide easier evacuation. Fluids soften food mush and feces, nourish the mucous membranes in the digestive tract, and are therefore beneficial. Oils act as lubricants.
However, in the case of complete intestinal obstruction, adhesions and very severe constipation, this is not enough.
Therefore, you should not understand the mentioned means as first aid or wait after their administration until the next free appointment in the veterinary clinic.
It is already an urgent and life-threatening emergency at the suspicion of a stomach overload or a similar problem.
Therefore, don’t let time go by testing experiments instead of going to the vet.
Proper prevention is key
Proper husbandry and feeding are the most important factors as the basis of prevention. The diet must be adapted. Stress must be avoided at all costs.
In addition, when keeping several rabbits, make sure that they do not defend or have to defend their resources.
Each animal should have enough space and rest to eat.
Also, check the teeth regularly and check your rabbit daily. This will not only help you avoid a stomach overload.
Aftercare after a diagnosed gastric overload
If your rabbit has suffered from a stomach overload and has survived it, the digestive tract should be spared for the time being.
Make sure your pet eats regularly and sufficiently at rest. A remedy to build up the intestinal flora can be helpful.
In addition, you should check the attitude to avoid future risk factors.
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