It’s summer, and the warm weather has hit Melbourne with its usual enthusiasm. Both the extreme heat and the hot-cold-hot-cold weather patterns are hard on our little furry friends, and unfortunately at Melbourne Rabbit Clinic we have been seeing a lot of dehydrated bunnies with gut stasis.
Rabbits originated in cooler areas of Europe, and in the wild hide from the heat in cool burrows underground. This means that our buns are not the best at dealing with hot days if they can’t burrow under our floors, and even houses which are a comfortable temperature for us may be too warm for them. Rabbits cannot sweat, and unlike dogs and cats they also cannot pant, so their only way of losing heat from their bodies is through their ears. They also are built to get most of their moisture from the grass their ancestors grazed on, so most bunnies are not very good at staying hydrated.
Dehydration in rabbits is a contributing factor to gut stasis, as the body attempts to rehydrate itself by drawing water out of the rabbit’s gut contents. This results in pain, causing further gut stasis as sore bunnies become reluctant to eat. Food material and hair in the digestive system start to solidify into pellets which may block the stomach and intestine, resulting in life-threatening gastrointestinal obstruction.
Rabbits often show minimal signs that they are not coping with the hot weather, and as such we might not notice until they are under significant stress. Watch out for bunnies who are quiet, lethargic, refusing food, or hunched in the corner. These rabbits need veterinary attention as soon as possible to prevent deterioration! The longer an episode of gut stasis goes, the more dangerous it is for your bunny.
We have unfortunately had bunnies die this summer as their condition was too progressed for us to resolve by the time we saw them. We have therefore made this flowchart to advise on responding to signs of gut stasis and dehydration in bunnies.