Gastrointestinal stasis is a very common condition in guinea pigs. In fact, it is one of the most common reasons guinea pigs go to veterinarian and veterinary emergency clinics.
Gastrointestinal “stasis” is the common terminology for any disorder that causing a decrease in the contractions (motility) in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (the “gut”). Although “stasis” is the accepted common terminology, the word stasis really means that there is little to no movement in the GI tract. In guinea pigs, any decrease in intestinal motility can lead to severe life-threatening complications.
Gastrointestinal stasis in rabbits is most common in middle aged to older animals but can be seen in any age or sex..
This condition is most often associated with inappropriate diets and feeding regimens, specifically overfeeding of pelleted foods and/or treats and a lack of roughages. Guinea pigs that develop GI stasis commonly are fed diets that lack roughage such as hay, and are being fed primarily commercial pellet diets, too many sweet foods, too many grains such as bread, crackers, breakfast cereals. All these diets can cause a slow down in GI motility.
GI stasis will occur anytime a guinea pig stops eating, for any reason. Anything that causes your pet to not eat, such a dental disease, stress or pain, will cause GI stasis. Stress, lack of exercise or diseases that cause lack of appetite such as liver or kidney malfunction, cancer or toxins all may cause GI stasis.
GI stasis should be suspected in any Guinea pig with a decrease in food consumption. Symptoms to watch for include:
Decreased appetite (may only accept treats)
Anorexia (no appetite)
Decreased fecal production (small and dry, or very few fecal pellets)
Pain (often show hunched posture, grinding of teeth, hiding or anti-social behavior)
Decreased activity (often a sign of pain)
As the disease progresses, may become lethargic, weak, and unable to walk.
Guinea pigs that don’t eat or produce feces for 24-hour are considered an emergency.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The tests may include the following:
Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination including feeling the abdomen and an oral exam.
Radiographs (x-rays) of the abdomen are recommended. It is critical to differentiate gastrointestinal stasis from gastric “bloat” which is life-threatening.
Blood tests may be recommended to determine if underlying organ malfunction is causing the hypomotility and stasis.
Treatment is symptomatic and aimed at rehydration, medications that stimulate the GI motility pain medication, and dietary therapy.
Fluids are an important component of the treatment. Guinea pigs with GI stasis quickly become dehydrated. When not eating or drinking, fluid is pulled from the intestines and will cause the food contents within the stomach and intestines to dry out, making GI stasis worse.. Fluid replacement an be given subcutaneously (under the skin) and by an oral route. Some patients are too debilitated to absorb the fluids quickly enough to be helpful. For these patients, fluids are administered via an intravenous (in the blood vessel) or intraosseous (in the bone) catheter.
Dietary therapy is key. It is important to get your pet eating as soon as possible. Generally a large selection of fresh greens (romaine lettuce, parsley, spinach, collard greens and/or cilantro) are offered as well as a good quality grass hay (such as timothy hay). For patients that refuse to eat, a gruel is offered and gently syringe fed. A common gruel is Critical Care for Herbivores (Oxbow Pet Products) or Emeraid Herbivore (Lafeber). Another option is to grind pellets and mix with fresh greens to form a gruel.
Oral water intake is encouraged by offering fresh water, or wetting the fresh greens.
Drugs to stimulate the gastrointestinal motility are often initially given by injection, until intestinal motility begins to return. These drugs may include cisapride, metocloparmide or ranitidine.
Analgesics (pain medications) help alleviate abdominal discomfort. Stasis will cause gas production and intestinal bloating which can be extremely painful. Pain causes guinea pigs to become even more anorexic and lethargic. A commonly used drug to treat gastrointestinal pain is meloxicam, which is a non-steroidal anti-inflamatory drug (NSAID). Opiods (butorphanol, buprenorphine) are also used.
Antibiotics are occasionally recommended, but only if a bacterial overgrowth is suspected. Several drugs may be used including enrofloxacin (Baytril®), trimethoprim sulfa, marbofloxin or metronidazole.
Exercise is encouraged when possible as activity helps encourage gastric motility.
It is also important to minimize stress in a quiet environment.
Once your pet is out of the hospital and back at home, it is important to maintain the treatment protocol regimented by your veterinarian. Give all medications for the full treatment period prescribed, even if your pet seems to have improved. Dietary therapy is critical, and you may be taught how to assist feed gruel at home. Provide the diet as recommended by your veterinarian, which emphasizes a large amount of fresh greens and hay.