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Diarrhea in Rabbits

By: Dr. Lani Steinohrt

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There are many causes of diarrhea in rabbits. Diarrhea may be caused by diseases directly affecting the gastrointestinal tract, or by metabolic disturbances in other organs such as the liver or kidney. Be prepared to provide in-depth information to your veterinarian including all types of food offered, contact with other animals, and possible stresses in the environment.

Causes

  • Diet. Inadequate amounts of roughage in the diet (in the form of grass or timothy hay) is among the most frequent cause of cecal diarrhea in rabbits. The lack of roughage also predisposes the rabbit to other problems such as Gastrointestinal Stasis Syndrome (GI Stasis), abnormal bacterial colonization of the gastrointestinal tract (clostridial enteritis and gram negative enteritis), inadequate tooth wear, and hypercalciuria (too much calcium excreted in the urine), to name a few. Adding new types of greens, or adding new greens, fruits or other vegetables too quickly can also cause cecal diarrhea.

  • Stress factors. New pets in the house, changes in the environment or diet, heat and humidity, crowding, breeding, poor hygiene, inadequate roughage, and lack of visual security (places to hide) may alter the normal pH or motility of the gastrointestinal tract and cause diarrhea.

  • Infectious agents. Overgrowth of bacteria such as E. Coli, pseudomonas, campylobacter–like species, and some clostridium species may cause diarrhea. Examples of viral causes of diarrhea include a corona virus, rotavirus, and possibly a calicivirus, but these are usually only problems in breeding facilities or shelters.

  • Parasites. Many species of coccidia are a cause of illness and diarrhea in young rabbits. Other gastrointestinal parasites rarely cause symptoms in rabbits.

  • Toxins. Heavy metal toxicity, plant toxins, fungal toxins and bacterial toxins from contaminated food may cause diarrhea by directly affecting the gastrointestinal tract or by affecting other organ systems.

  • Drugs (especially antibiotics). Many antibiotics that are commonly used in other species can cause a fatal gastroenteritis in rabbits. If diarrhea ever begins with the administration of any drug, the drug should be discontinued and your veterinarian immediately notified.

  • Dietary indiscretion. Eating inappropriate food or material irritates the lining of the intestines or contains toxins which may cause diarrhea.

  • Metabolic diseases. Kidney, liver and pancreatic disease may all cause diarrhea.

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