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Gastric Bloat in Rabbits

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Gastric bloat is a life-threatening emergency. In this condition, the stomach fills up with gas and fluids that causes a cascade of local and systemic problems that can quickly lead to death. Bloat can begin with symptoms of gastrointestinal hypomotility and gastric stasis and progress to "bloat". This is a common condition in rabbits.

The problem is more common in rabbits than many other species because rabbits cannot vomit. They have a very well developed valve proximal to the stomach that prevents vomiting. So any accumulation of fluid or saliva that can't leave the stomach causes dilatation. These fluids sit in the stomach and are fermented producing gas and further dilation.

Bloating is caused by an "outflow obstruction". This "outflow obstruction" is something that prevents the food and fluids from leaving the stomach (hence flowing "out"). This can be caused by a foreign object being caught in the stomach such as from eating an inappropriate item (for example plastic or carpet), obstruction caused by impacted hair, or from a tumor, abscess, or hernia. In some cases – the underlying cause cannot be determined.

As the stomach enlarges, it becomes painful. The enlargement reduces the blood supply to the stomach (gastric ischemia) and this can lead to shock. This is an EMERGENCY.

Gastric bloat can occur in any age, sex, or breed rabbit.

What To Watch For

Typically, clinical signs of bloat include loss of appetite or not eating. Symptoms often start with rabbits that stop eating pellets but will continue to eat treats followed by total lack of appetite.

  • Distended abdomen
  • Decreased appetite quickly leading to total anorexia (no appetite)
  • Decreased fecal production (small or very few fecal pellets)
  • Pain (rabbits often show hunched posture, grinding of teeth)
  • Decreased activity (often a sign of pain)
  • As the disease progresses, rabbits may become lethargic, weak, lay on their side, become nonresponsive, dehydrated, and shocky.

    Rabbits that are bloated will die in 4 to 24 hours if untreated.

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