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Rabbits/digestion problems?

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Question
Dear Dana,
I am so happy you are back...
Details:
BB, 18 month old, agouti English X-breed (not lop), female, neutered
Adopted August 2012.
At the rescue centre we were told she eats very little hay and no veg but that she had never had any health problems. I got her onto what I thought is the recommended diet – minimal pellets, as much hay as she will eat (I give a large variety to try and get her to eat more), 2 bowls of veg (mainly herbs), tiny amount of fruit.
Problem:
Repeated episodes (sometimes 4+ hours) of what looks like gas pain, increasing in frequency, to at least once a week over the last few weeks. She does bounce back so far but it’s unbearably heart breaking to see her in pain.
Noticed, especially since the end of December, that she has very loud gut sounds. 99% of the time she seemed perfectly happy even with the gurgling belly. Loud gut was particularly noticeable as soon as she started eating veg in evening.
Already tried:
Several vet visits, x-ray (bit of gas near caecum but vet thought that was normal), blood test (only abnormality was high potassium but no clinical signs), dental checks (teeth were fine).
After the last vet visit, about 2 weeks ago, we decided to put her on a hay and pellet diet, giving prebiotics and probiotics every day (Fibreplex).
She has been on this diet for about 10 days. The gut sounds decreased, she ate more hay, droppings were very good. Thought we were on the right track.
BUT last night she had another episode! We were up until 4am, chasing her (she is free roaming and very hard to catch, extremely stressful for all of us), gave her Metacam, gave her Infacol (simethicone) three times. Can’t do massages because when she gets an episode she doesn’t want me near her. Finally she started to perk up. Gave more Infacol this morning.
Questions:
1)   If the problem is caused by veg, is it possible that it would take two weeks for a change of diet to work? She certainly seemed to be getting better until last night...
2)   Should I give simethicone preventatively? How long for? How often? How much?
3)   I have read that Readigrass (freeze dried grass) can cause these symptoms. Is that right? I will take her off that too...
4)   ‘Foreign object’ in GI tract? But would she be able to produce a normal amount of perfect droppings then? Is surgery the only option? (Please say no...)
5)   Any other possible causes?
6)   I am terrified it might be e.cuniculi. One of the rabbit specialists my vet consulted suggested this as a possibility. I lost my previous bunny to this dreadful disease. We did clean the flat before we got BB and gave her a 4-5 week preventative treatment of Panacur after she had been here 2 weeks. Should I give another treatment of Panacur?
7)   Vet wants me to continue with current diet for a bit to see if she will get better. If not, abdominal scan. Do you agree? Any other advice?
Thank you so much!

Warm regards,
Diane

Answer
Dear Diane,

Sorry for the delay.  I guess I shouldn't have put myself back on duty, since we're now in the thick of advising at UM, and I hardly have a spare second.  :(  But if you have an emergency, you can always email me at dana@miami.edu.

To address your questions:

1) If the problem is caused by veg, is it possible that it would take two weeks for a change of diet to work? She certainly seemed to be getting better until last night...

No one really knows the answer to this.  Some rabbits seem to have very sensitive guts, despite being otherwise healthy.  Does she have a partner?  I sometimes wonder if her GI flora might not be as "balanced" as that of a healthy rabbit, and she might benefit from exposure to another rabbit.  Mutual grooming can help inoculate each bunny, and who knows?

Humans are now experimenting with fecal transplant (ew!) to help humans with various GI disorders, and it can sometimes work seemingly miraculous cures.  Who knows?  Healthy cecotropes might give her a boost?

2) Should I give simethicone preventatively? How long for? How often? How much?

Not sure that would help with this kind of colic, and I'm told that constant simethicone dosing can interfere with proper absorption of nutrients.  So it shouldn't be given long term.  Maybe once every 2-3 days would be fine when she's well.

But not sure it would help.

3) I have read that Readigrass (freeze dried grass) can cause these symptoms. Is that right? I will take her off that too...

I've not used this, nor even heard of it.  But I'd take her off it if there's any doubt.

4) ‘Foreign object’ in GI tract? But would she be able to produce a normal amount of perfect droppings then? Is surgery the only option? (Please say no...)

A barium radiograph might reveal a problem in this regard.  But I doubt this would cause this type of long-interval problem.  I'd think it would be more constant.

5) Any other possible causes?

It's often teeth in a case like this, but if her teeth are healthy and everything else checks out, it could be something in the diet, or maybe just an idiosyncracy of her GI tract.

6) I am terrified it might be e.cuniculi. One of the rabbit specialists my vet consulted suggested this as a possibility. I lost my previous bunny to this dreadful disease. We did clean the flat before we got BB and gave her a 4-5 week preventative treatment of Panacur after she had been here 2 weeks. Should I give another treatment of Panacur?

I've never heard of E. cuniculi causing chronic GI pain, and can't think of a reason why it would.

7) Vet wants me to continue with current diet for a bit to see if she will get better. If not, abdominal scan. Do you agree? Any other advice?

Yes, I think an abdominal scan would be good to check the very unlikely possibility of a tumor or other physical problem causing occasional obstruction.

When she has these episodes, does she have normal gut sounds?  Are her poops normal and round, or are they somewhat abnormally large and kind of rubbery?  (What color is she?)  I wonder because of the possibility of a mild manifestation of what's sometimes called "Cow Poop Syndrome" that's most common in white rabbits with dark eyes.

I hope some of this helps with some ideas.

Dana  

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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

Expertise

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:
THE INTERNET IS NOT THE PLACE TO SEEK HELP IN AN EMERGENCY.

...it is an EMERGENCY.

Find a rabbit vet at www.rabbit.org/vet 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.

Experience

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.

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

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

Education/Credentials
Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

Awards and Honors
Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology
(http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare)

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