Urinary Tract Obstruction in Rabbits
Urinary tract obstructions, which restricts the flow of urine from the kidneys, is a common condition in rabbits. It can be due to a variety of reasons, including urinary tract infections (UTIs) or deeper bladder infections.
Symptoms and Types
Some rabbits will not have any signs or symptoms of problems if they have a urinary tract obstruction, but most will. Depending on the severity of the condition, most rabbit owners will report the following signs and symptoms:
- Frequent urination
- Painful or difficult urination
- Thick, beige or brown-colored urine
- Cloudy-looking urine, or urine that appears thicker than normal
- Hunched-over posture while urinating
- Difficulty moving about, or getting up
- Retention of urine, difficulty emptying bladder fully, or lack of urine flow during movements
- Lethargy, weight loss, tooth grinding, or signs of pain on urination or movement
Many rabbits will also have abnormally large kidneys. Unless you are skilled at detecting the kidneys from the rest of the anatomy , your veterinarian will be able to assist with this part of the examination or diagnosis.
Lesions can develop in the rabbit's urinary pathway, which can increase the pressure in the ureters -- the tubes that release the urine -- causing concomitant kidney failure. One of the most common reasons for problems of the urinary tract is the excretion of too much calcium, which can lead to kidney stones, or what many refer to as calcium “sand” or “sludge” in the urine. This material can block the urethra and the tubes that carry and excrete urine, causing little clots that can prove very problematic for the rabbit.
Other causes can include inflammation or injury to the ureters, which can block the flow or urine from the kidney; trauma to the area; or an overgrowth of tissue (hyperplasia), which may be associated with cancer, although this is very rare diagnosis in rabbits.
To diagnose a kidney infection, your veterinarian will first observe whether your rabbit is exhibiting unproductive squatting that does not lead to effective urination. The doctor may note that urination is incomplete, or leads to the passing of cloudy or dark-colored urine. Urinary obstruction may be noted by the rabbit passing incomplete, or very small amounts of urine.
An evaluation of urine sediment can reveal calcium carbonate crystals in the urine, but this does not always occur. One of the most common diagnostic tools used for this condition, a catheter, will be inserted into the rabbit's bladder to locate any kidney stones or other materials that are blocking the ureter. This may also be used to help guide the material through and out of the urethra.
If the bladder or urethra is completely blocked then immediate medical attention is essential, as this can represent a life-threatening emergency. A partial obstruction also requires prompt treatment. Most of the time inpatient care is necessary until the rabbit can urinate freely on its own. The long-term prognosis will depend on the ability of your health provider to restore proper urinary flow.
Treatment includes removal of urinary obstructions and restoring proper fluid balance and proper urine outflow. Surgery is sometimes necessary to remove the obstruction. Follow-up treatment will address the causes for the initial urine retention. Because recurrence is possible, it is important to minimize the odds of developing additional kidney stones (if they were present) or future urinary obstructions.
Living and Management
Reducing or eliminating risk factors for urinary tract obstructions will include making dietary changes, like discontinuing alfalfa pellets from meals. A diet high in fiber and water can helpful for combating and avoiding this condition. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are also believed to be responsible for urinary tract obstruction. When possible, ensure that your rabbit receives a healthy diet and is able to maintain an active lifestyle in order to help minimize the chance of recurrence.