Understanding ileus in the rabbit

Ileus is a symptom of another underlying problem, so understanding the condition and looking for the primary cause is vital

Posted: 17 May 2017

Understanding ileus in the rabbit


Gastro intestinal stasis is often known as ‘the silent killer’ in rabbits. If left untreated, the animal can rapidly become very depressed and critical, and can die in as little as 12 hours.

The stasis (ileus) is a symptom of another underlying problem, so understanding the condition and looking for the primary cause is vital.

Ileus can be either obstructive or non-obstructive. It’s important to identify the clinical signs and differentiate between the two presentations of ileus.

Obstructive ileus

Obstructive ileus happens rapidly, with the animal becoming dehydrated and critical within hours. On xray you may find fluid and gas cranial to the obstruction.

Treatment of obstructive ileus - some key points

  • This is a true surgical emergency
  • Stabilise the patient first
  • Good surgical technique is essential
  • Use appropriate suture materials
  • Handle the gut as little as possible to avoid adhesions
  • Post-surgical adhesions can be reduced by using verapamil

Non-obstructive ileus

Non-obstructive ileus starts and progresses slowly over a few days. There is a slow reduction in faecal size and output. As symptoms progress, the entire gastrointestinal tract fills with gas, which is clearly visible on xray.

Treatment of non-obstructive ileus

A typical treatment plan would include;

  • Minimise stress - if possible hospitalise the rabbit away from cats and dogs as predator sounds may contribute to the problem
  • Fluid therapy – aim to restore and then maintain the fluid balance with intravenous fluids. A typical fluid rate would be 100mls/kg/day.
  • Analgesia – buprenorphine, butorphanol and meloxicam are frequently used.
  • Motility regulators – drugs such as metoclopramide, cisapride and cimetidine are often used. Always follow the cascade.
  • Supportive nutrition - intensive care feeding to provide calories and fibre – commercially available high fibre herbivore recovery diets.
  • Fibre first - always offer fresh feeding hay.
  • Exercise - this will stimulate GI motility, so always encourage the nursing team to allow the rabbit some free time to move about

Watch the Gut Stasis webinar again>

Excel Dualcare – a complete diet that can be mixed with water and syringe fed to sick rabbits.