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The nurses' role in managing gut stasis in rabbits

02 June 2014
13 mins read
Volume 5 · Issue 5


Gut stasis is a gastrointestinal disease in rabbits and is identified by a low appetite and lack of faecal production. It is a very common disease in the rabbit that requires intense and specialised nursing care.

Hospitalising the gut stasis patient creates a challenge with reagrds to how to limit the many stress factors in hospital that could aggravate the condition. Kennel enrichment is therefore important to try to meet the rabbit environmental and behavioural needs. If the rabbit is less stressed in practice an accurate pain assessment could also be easier to perform.

Treatment of gut stasis has traditionally been force feeding, analgesics and pro-kinetic agents, but new protocols including appetite stimulants, blood glucose measuring, nasogastric feeding and abdominal massage have been introduced into practice.

Having a nursing team that has knowledge about rabbits and critical care needs will greatly improve patient care and case success.

Rabbits have become more frequent patients in small animal practice and are now the most popular small mammal exotic pet in the UK (Pet Food Manufacturers Association, 2013). With this increase in domestic rabbits seen in practice there will also be an increase in demand for high quality veterinary care. However this is a relatively new speciality area within veterinary medicine (Huynh and Pignon, 2013).

Rabbits typically suffer from unique conditions that might seem daunting for common small animal practices which mostly treat dogs and cats. These patients also have to be approached from a different angle appreciating their different anatomy and physiology. Rabbits are hind-gut fermenters, have an unusual calcium metabolism, high metabolic rates and are catecholamine driven prey animals that stress easily (Fisher, 2010). Their calcium metabolism is considered unusual as they absorb all the calcium they can from their diet, and excrete the excess through their urine (Girling, 2013). Catecholamines, such as norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine, are hormones responsible for the flight-or-flight reflex (Colville and Bassert, 2008). Most diagnoses in these animals are gastrointestinal, possibly due to their sensitive gastrointestinal system and specific dietary requirements, such as a high fibre diet. The most common gastrointestinal condition diagnosed is gut stasis, which is one of the most challenging problems in practice when dealing with rabbits due to the non-specific clinical presentation associated with the condition and the fact that there are several factors that can trigger it: environmental factors such as stress and an inappropriate diet, but also other underlying conditions that cause pain and stress. This creates challenges for the veterinary team when trying to find and treat the primary cause of the condition (Fisher, 2010).

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