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Characteristics of GI Tract Dysfunction in Rabbits

Adolf K. Maas, III, DVM, DABVP (Reptile & Amphibian), CertAqV, ZooVet Consulting, Bothell, Washington

Small Mammals

|April 2020

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In the Literature

Oparil KM, Gladden JN, Babyak JM, Lambert C, Graham JE. Clinical characteristics and short-term outcomes for rabbits with signs of gastrointestinal tract dysfunction: 117 cases (2014–2016). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2019;255(7):837-845.

From the Page…

One of the most common presentations in exotic animal medicine is rabbit GI stasis (RGIS), which may be primary or secondary. Despite its frequency, this syndrome is not well-identified, and etiologies range widely and can include toxicosis, infections, dental disease, neoplasia (GI or nonGI), diet, and environmental conditions. 

This study retrospectively examined commonalities in history, clinical, and laboratory findings in an effort to correlate them with etiologies and outcomes. Approximately 24% (n = 117) of the total rabbit caseload seen over a 2-year period was included in the study. 

Ultimately, 43 rabbits were diagnosed with RGIS without mechanical obstruction; only 1 was confirmed to have a physical obstruction (impaction of the distal descending colon). Radiographs identified medical issues that were not related to the GI tract in 23 (46%) patients.

Hematologic and serum chemistry values had no statistically relevant associations with short-term outcomes. However, 4 of 7 rabbits with moderate to severe serum creatinine levels, 2 of 3 rabbits with abnormal elevations of serum ALT activity, and 4 of 6 rabbits with marked serum lactate elevations died or were euthanized, suggesting a prognostic association with outcomes despite small sample sizes.

The most significant correlation to short-term outcomes was hypothermia. Thirty-four rabbits (29%) were hypothermic on presentation, with rectal temperatures <97.9o F (<36.6o C). These patients experienced an ≈4.6 times greater likelihood to die or be euthanized than were rabbits that were not hypothermic on presentation. 

Overall, outcomes and short-term prognoses for rabbits presented and treated for RGIS are good; in this study, 72% (84/117) of rabbits survived to hospital discharge, with 15 euthanized and 18 dying prior to discharge.


Key pearls to put into practice:


GI dysfunction is common in rabbits but has a good short-term outcome. 



Radiography is valuable but not necessary for determining GI obstruction. Mechanical obstruction causing RGIS appears to be uncommon, based on data from this study, and diagnosis is often challenging; for 18 of 50 rabbits for which abdominal radiography was performed, a boarded radiologist could not differentiate whether radiographic abnormalities noted were caused by functional ileus or mechanical obstruction.  


Clinical pathology findings have little correlation to outcome except in cases of significant abnormalities.



Hypothermia at presentation is a negative prognosticator.


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