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

Causes

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

Diagnosis

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.

Treatment

If not treated appropriately, hypomotility and stasis of the gastrointestinal tract are both capable of becoming immediately life-threatening situations, especially if your rabbit has not eaten in one to three days. First, intravenous fluid therapy will be given to replenish electrolytes and nutrients. Typically, intestinal and stomach motility modifiers is then prescribed. But if non- or low-invasive techniques cannot be reliably used to move the contents of the intestines out of the body, surgery will need to be performed to remove them.

Meanwhile, if the hypomotility or stasis is due to the presence of a foreign object, injury to the intestinal tract can occur due to the presence or movement of the object, surgery may be necessary to remove the foreign body and relieve pressure. Antibiotics may also be prescribed as a preventative measure against opportunistic infection, and analgesics and sedative agents may be prescribed if your rabbit is in pain.

Living and Management

Preventing obesity is vital, as it is a known risk factor in intestinal disorders. However, it is important that your rabbit continue to eat during and following treatment. Encourage oral fluid intake by offering fresh water, wetting leafy vegetables, or flavoring water with vegetable juice, and offer a large selection of fresh, moistened greens such as cilantro, romaine lettuce, parsley, carrot tops, dandelion greens, spinach, collard greens, and good-quality grass hay. Also, offer your rabbit its usual pelleted diet, but do not feed your rabbit high-carbohydrate, high-fat nutritional supplements unless your veterinarian has specifically advised it.

If your rabbit refuses these foods, you will need to syringe feed a gruel mixture until it can eat again on its own. And unless the rabbit is still debilitated from the surgery, encourage it to exercise (i.e., hopping) for at least 10 to 15 minutes every 6 to 8 hours.

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