Decreased Movement of the Gastric Muscles in Rabbits

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Gastrointestinal Hypomotility and Gastrointestinal Stasis in Rabbits


Gastrointestinal hypomotility (where "hypo" means deficient) is a syndrome in which the muscles of the digestive system show poor contraction, resulting in abnormally slow movement of ingested food through the digestive tract. Gastrointestinal stasis, on the otherhand, is a condition in which there is no movement of food through the digestive tract.


Gastrointestinal hypomotility is more commonly seen in middle-aged to older rabbits on inappropriate diets, but can occur in rabbits of any age.


Symptoms and Types


Rabbits are extremely sensitive to changes in diet. Motility problems, for example, can occur when a rabbit it not being fed adequate amounts of long-stemmed, coarse fiber -- such as when a rabbit's diet is made up of primarily commercial pelleted food, without hay or grasses. As motility slows, the accumulation of food, fur, and other materials in the stomach leads to dehydration, constipation, and further hypomotility.


Other symptoms associated with gastrointestinal hypomotility and stasis include:


  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shabby coat
  • Lethargy and depression (when there is acute obstruction)
  • Chronic, intermittent diarrhea with soft, sticky stools
  • Fecal pellets often become scant and small in size, then when there is complete gastrointestinal stasis, no stool production
  • Signs of pain, such as teeth grinding, hunched posture, and unwillingness to move




Loss of appetite due to infectious or metabolic disease, pain, or starvation may also cause low motility of the intestines. Sometimes the intestinal environment (with respect to the bacteria and other fluids) also changes, leading to an imbalance in the acidity of the intestinal environment and contributing to this syndrome. Other common underlying causes to gastrointestinal motility and stasis include:


  • Loss of appetite
  • Adverse drug reaction
  • Lack of exercise due to cage confinement, obesity, illness, or injury
  • Stress due to fighting or new animal addition in the household




There are several possible causes for this condition, so your veterinarian will most likely use differential diagnosis, a process that is guided by deeper inspection of the apparent outward symptoms, ruling out each of the more common causes until the correct disorder is settled upon and can be treated appropriately. Your veterinarian will first perform a thorough physical exam on your rabbit, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that could have led to this condition. He or she will then conduct a complete blood profile, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel; often the results of these tests are normal.


To make a precise diagnosis, however, your veterinarian will need to view the abdominal area internally. If there is a mass that is obstructing the intestinal tract, the doctor will be able to locate its exact location using visual diagnostics such as X-ray imaging and endoscopy. The latter method uses a small camera that is attached to a flexible tube, which can be inserted by way of the mouth into the actual space to be examined. In this way, your veterinarian can get a more precise image of the intestinal tract and will be able to identify the underlying cause of the gastrointestinal hypomotility or anorexia.