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Rabbits/bacterial infection of the colon, why?


QUESTION: Hi Dr. Krempels,  I lost a bunny within 12 hours from the first signs of distress. Initially it presented itself as GI Stasis so I treated with metacam, metoclopramide and SQ fluids. Instead of improving, his pain level mounted. When I saw a few mushy poops, I thought things might turn around but again the pain level had me on alert. Also his temperature was dropping fast. Within hours of the first symptoms, he received emergency care but we were unable to save him. Any theories on why such an infection would happen? He had been on oral baytril for an upper respiratory infection 6 weeks prior. He received probios (equine one oral gel) with the antibiotics.My vet, a well known SF Bay Area vet, does not see a correlation with the antibiotics and his death. She says sometimes there is a stressful situation that causes this. Other times no apparent cause. Any additional insight would be greatly appreciated.

It's always difficult to lose a bunny, but this is particularly unnerving to lose him so suddenly. He was only 1 1/2 yrs old. He was a long term foster because of complications from neuter surgery. The respiratory infection was from out of the blue.

Any insight would be greatly appreciated. His loss is hard to accept.

Thank you,
Joan Wegner
East Bay Rabbit Rescue

ANSWER: Dear Joan,

I am sorry about the loss of your bunny.

Sadly, there is absolutely no way to confidently ascertain a cause of death without a post-mortem exam, preferably including histopathology of major organ tissues.  The signs you describe are very vague, and could have been due to any of dozens of different things.

If he stopped producing poops and then started having severe pain, despite treatment, I think he must have been having serious abdominal pain.  This could be due to a blockage, a torsion of the liver or intestine, or any number of other things that would show up only on necropsy.

The hypothermia is a common, physiological reaction to severe stress and pain.  Once that starts, if you cannot reverse it, death is certain.  

If a body has been kept very cold (not frozen), and it has been less than 24 hours since death, a necropsy is one option possible, as it can sometimes give closure and peace of mind.   You can find an experienced rabbit vet here who may be able to help with this:

to call and find out what your options might be.  But if you already have been seeing a rabbit-savvy vet (and there are many in the SF area), then that might not be where you need to go.  I agree with the vet that the antibiotic is not likely to be connected to the bunny's passing.

I am very sorry for your loss.



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QUESTION: Hi Dr Krempels,I'm hesitant to follow up, but I'd appreciate if you could clarify your response. Do you believe that a bacterial infection of the colon is always a secondary illness? I did not get a necropsy because I thought it was the sole cause of death. Attached is the X ray from which the diagnosis was made. In your opinion, does this x ray confirm this diagnosis?

If a bacterial infection of the colon is not a secondary illness, do you have a theory as to why it occurs? My vet said sometimes there appears to be a link to stress but other times there is no apparent cause.

Thank you again,

Dear Joan,

What I *can* see from the radiograph is that the poor bunny's stomach is hugely distended.  This is what you'd expect to see in an acute blockage, when the stomach is unable to pass its contents to the lower intestine. I can't say for sure this is the case without seeing the bunny, but it could be part of the problem.

The intestines and cecum look enlarged and gassy, with not much food matter inside.  This can also be due to a blockage, but other things can cause this sign, as well, including bacterial overgrowth.

Who was the veterinarian who made the diagnosis?  Was s/he on the House Rabbit Society list of recommended veterinarians?  I don't see anything obvious that would go against what the vet said.



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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.


I've lived with companion rabbits for more than 35 years, and consider them members of my family. I can answer any questions about the biology and health of rabbits, from the commonplace to the unusual. But please note:

RULE #1:

Find a rabbit vet at for immediate help, and don't risk your bunny's life by spending time asking questions online! If you can't get in touch with your vet, read these Emergency Sick Bunny Instructions.

If you have found a wild baby rabbit, please read these EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS FOR WILD BABY RABBITS and then use this link to FIND A LOCAL WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR who can give you the right advice.

RULE #2:
Help me help you! Please make your subject line informative if you have an urgent question. then LET ME KNOW IN THE SUBJECT LINE so I can give your question highest priority over non-urgent questions. If you don't do this, then I can't guarantee timely assistance!

For all the best, most accurate rabbit health, care and behavior information, visit The House Rabbit Society.


I have been rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild rabbits for about 30 years. I have written articles for many rabbit rescue publications, as well as for the veterinary journal, Exotic DVM. I own EtherBun, the internet's largest listserve dedicated to health, care, and behavior of domestic rabbits.

Houserabbit Adoption, Rescue, and Education, Inc. (H.A.R.E., Inc.) president National House Rabbit Society (Board member)

Exotic DVM
Warren Peace (Journal of the House Rabbit Society of Miami)
Various newsletters of the House Rabbit Society, nationwide

Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

Awards and Honors
Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology

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