QUESTION: Dear Cat,
I apologise for the length of this email but felt I should give as much info as possible. Thank you very much for your time.
My house bunny (BB, female, neutered, 22 months old, free roaming) has been getting gas pain about twice a week for 6 months now - extremely stressful.
When I adopted BB last August, the rescue told me she doesn't eat veg and not much hay. I got her to eat a variety of veg (mainly herbs), some hay and cut down the pellets to a minimum (as I thought that was the recommended diet). After a couple of months on this diet BB started having very loud gut sounds. I didn't realise this was serious as she seemed happy enough. But then the gas episodes started, almost always in the evening although she gets pellets in the morning, a bit during the day and last thing at night. We have been to the vet numerous times (had x-ray, blood work, fecal float, dental checks) but apparently nothing alarming was found. BB lost weight in the first couple of months here but since then her weight has been stable. In March I put her on a hay and pellet diet and the loud gut sounds virtually disappeared but we are still getting the gas episodes. When they start (and after a big struggle, she hates being picked up), I give her Infacol and Metacam, I try to massage her tummy and so far she will start eating a bit after about 4 hours. She gets 1/3 cup pellets now and a little scoop of Protexin Profibre pellets. She also gets a bit of dried herbs (coneflower, plantain...) and a little bit of alfalfa hay. There is always lots of hay around but I'm not sure she eats enough of it. I have been giving her a variety of hay to encourage her to eat more but I have now stopped giving her oat hay and freeze or barn dried grass as I thought these might be giving her problems. I am scared to reduce the pellets because BB is thin, she is very bony at the end of her back and her hips.
Her droppings are normal, she has never had loose stool. There are some excess caecals occasionally but not much. There is some white powder in the litter tray sometimes but I guess that is just excess calcium?
Do you have any idea what could be causing the gas? Do you think I should give her Infacol every day for a while to see whether that prevents the attacks? I know it's not good to give Infacol so frequently (interferes with nutrient absorption) but what can I do... Should I put her on Fibreplex permanently? Try Benebac? I would be really grateful if you had any suggestions, I'm feeling quite desperate and emotionally exhausted.
ANSWER: Hi Diane
Your poor bun! Have you had a second opinion from an exotic specialist on rabbits? There are some more obscure illnesses that can effect rabbit guts i.e. Megacolon Disease (although this causes mushy poop and is usually only found in English spotted rabbits). If you can get her into a vet immediately when she having gut problems that would be best too, although I imagine this is something you already have done.
If you are finding the excess calcium deposits, cut out alfalfa hay, that one is particularly high in calcium. I also recommend encouraging as much exercise as you can - movement is as important for gut health as all the medications. A bit like when a horse colics you have to keep them moving.
Some rabbits will just have very delicate gut systems, a bit like some people! And she may well need tiptoeing round in terms of feeding. I would cut out all fresh greens, which it sounds as though you already have anyway.
With regard to keeping her on things like fibreplex, I would chat with your vet about that. I don't imagine there are too many long term problems with it but I'm not a vet so am not sure.
I am wary to recommend you do any one thing as every bunny is different when it comes to gut problems, and I'm not a vet. I would recommend keeping a food and exercise diary and try and spot a pattern with things she has done/eaten when gut problems trigger. With her being so young you can always cross fingers and hope she will grow out of it!
Sorry I haven't give you any one answer, sadly there isn't a magic one fix when bunnies have gut problems and are ultra sensitive, they are all different when it comes to these things! For instance I know eating grass (especially if its damp) right after eating pellets with my two triggers gut pain, so once they're in for their evening pellets they're not allowed out on the lawn afterwards!
I recommend further chats with a few different vets, also have a chat on Rabbits United forum on Rabbit Rehome, there are a few other users on there who have rabbits with gut issues.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Dear Cat,
Many thanks for your fast response.
Yes, poor bun!
My vet has spoken to several specialists and they mainly thought it was diet related or stress or e.cuniculi (!).
BB is an English crossbreed. She is agouti but her mother and siblings are all white with spots. Not sure whether that means it is at all likely she could have megacolon.
I have taken BB to the vet several times during an episode but she didn't get treatment as she eventually started eating. Once I took her to the emergency vet and they just gave her some metoclopramide which seemed to make things worse, she ended up not eating for over 16 hours then.
I have kept a diary but now she is only getting hay and pellets...
Sorry about the follow-up questions but how do I get her to exercise? She is not caged and can run around as much as she wants. Unfortunately that's not a lot, she is lying down a lot and sleeps all afternoon these days. There does seem to be a correlation between being inactive and having gas pain but I thought she was inactive because she was already feeling off.
Is it possible that her gut pain is still caused by a gut flora imbalance from the initial diet change? Can it really take over 3 months on hay and pellets to improve?
Also, do you think I should try Panacur? I gave her a 4-5 week treatment in September. I lost my previous bunny to e.cuniculi and we did clean before BB arrived but I am still extremely anxious. The vet doesn't think she could have e.cuniculi since she hasn't been in contact with other rabbits. But perhaps I could give the Panacur in case she has worms? But then that probably would have shown up in the fecal test? And worms is not consistent with recurrent gas, is it?
I know it's a very difficult problem and you may not be able to help. Thanks very much for trying though.
Thank you for your follow up!
I would say MegaColon is rare, but we have two rabbits suffering from it at the rescue I volunteer it. However both of them are English rabbits (they almost look like twins but I don't believe they are actually related). It may be worth asking your vet to do some research on lesser-known gut problems like MegaColon.
With regard to Panacur, this may be something worth looking into although I would have expected the fecal samples to throw up a positive result for worms in that respect. Before treating her discuss this with your vet as you want to make sure she's feeling healthy before you begin treatment. But seeing as you have already done one course in September and the symptoms of gut problems still continue this may well not be the answer.
For the gut imbalance, I don't have a lot of experience here and would say in a normal rabbit rebalancing would NOT take 3 months, more like one month maximum. But who is to say here if you're are talking about a bun with a particularly delicate system.
And as for stress and anxiety, just like in people, stress can cause health problems! Is she spayed? Have you considered bonding her with a husbun? The security of another rabbit can work wonders in sickly bunnies. In turn it would also encourage her to be more active, if the other one finds something interesting to investigate it would encourage her to move around and be curious too. If you have some good rabbit rescues in your area you can discuss bonding with them. The bonding process is stressful for rabbits in itself so you would need to consider her gut problems during the process.
On the subject of exercise, simple things like cardboard boxes and toilet roll tubes stuffed with hay, regularly changed around so nothing becomes just part of the furniture. My pair LOVE willow balls and they enjoy chucking those around and chewing them to pieces - they go absolutely nuts for the willow ball that comes stuffed with hay, that thing doesn't last a day before they've completely obliterated it! Also encouraging her to move from one room to another to get food is good - my pair are outdoors but every morning I swing open the gate in their run and they have to go galloping across the patio, up the steps and into the kitchen where their breakfast awaits them all laid out on a fleece blanket on the floor! It's a race every morning to see who gets there first, it's usually the boy and my little girl stomps her feet in annoyance when she spots he got there first. Sore loser.
I hope I've helped a bit more?