Gastrointestinal stasis – what you need to know. By Laurie Hess, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian) and Pauline Scherer, LVT

What is perhaps one of the most important medical conditions you should know about if you own a rabbit or a guinea pig? It is gastrointestinal (GI) stasis! What is GI stasis? GI stasis is a potentially deadly condition that occurs when a rabbit (or less often, a guinea pig) stops eating, and the normal movement of the digestive system slows down or halts completely. When this happens, the normal bacteria inhabiting the GI tract gets thrown off balance, often allowing gas producing bacteria to take over and produce gas. The gas build up causes painful bloating which makes matters even worse, since the now bloated pet wants less and less to eat or drink, leading to further slowdown of the GI tract, further bacterial upset, and gas build up. If left untreated for even a day or two, regardless of the primary reason your pet stopped eating, he or she could die of this potentially life threatening condition.

Bunnies and guinea pigs – both herbivores, or vegetable eaters – can develop GI stasis for a variety of reasons. These pets need fiber as the mainstay of their diets. Fiber is essential to maintaining a healthy population of GI bacteria that digest food properly. The main source of fiber in a rabbit’s or guinea pig’s diet is hay. Too many carbohydrate-laden pellets and not enough hay can alter the GI bacteria and lead to GI tract slow down. Dental discomfort for any reason, lack of adequate exercise or enough fresh water, or any change in the pet’s environment that can lead to stress may cause the pet to not eat. Whatever the cause, it is essential to be aware of your rabbit or guinea pig’s eating habits and make note of any changes. Most importantly, if your rabbit or guinea pig stops eating for even a day, you must bring him or her to the vet ASAP to lessen the chances of developing secondary deadly GI stasis. When treated early and aggressively with fluids (either subcutaneously or sometimes intravenously), syringe feeding liquid formulas meant for herbivores, painkillers, anti-gas medications, and exercise to stimulate GI tract movement, GI stasis can be reversed, and pets can make full recoveries, as long as the primary reason they stopped eating is also treated. So, if you suspect your pet may be developing this serious condition, don’t delay. Call your vet, and have your precious animal treated immediately.

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If you have been looking for specialized care for your bird or exotic pet, look no further! We have you covered. At our unique animal hospital, we provide care to birds and exotics ONLY—no cats and dogs! We are the only bird and exotic veterinary hospital with a full-time, board certified bird specialist, Dr. Laurie Hess. Dr. Hess, who, with her two associates, Dr. Amanda Marino and Dr. Amanda Dewey, are the only full-time veterinarians in Westchester County who are residency-trained in bird and exotic medicine and surgery. Call to schedule an appointment for your pet!