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Rabbits/Young rabbit's irregular poops


I'm stumped. My new French lop girl had horrible tummy trouble about a week after she came to us. From the day she came, I noticed that her poops were quite irregular in size and very oval-shaped, but I put it down to the stress of moving. Her breeder had kept her in a communal enclosure with other lops (her female littermates, her mother, another doe and the doe pups from her latest litter) and given all the rabbits as much pellets as they could eat, so she told me to continue her diet of all-you-can-eat pellets to keep her diet steady. I did, and around a week after she came to us the baby's poops were really smelly, smeared all over the place and she had a horrid case of poopy butt. I assumed that the baby hadn't been eating quite as much when she'd been in the pen with other rabbits and her sudden dietary change was what mixed her tummy up so terribly. I cut her pellets down to a teaspoon a day and stopped feeding her fresh greens (the breeder told me she'd already been introduced to greens when I bought her).

Within a few days, the baby's poops were better. No longer smelly and mushy, but still quite irregular. I resolved that, if her poops didn't normalize in a week, I'd take her to a vet. We have a wonderful rabbit-savvy vet, and after a week I had to book an appointment because her poops just weren't normalizing. The vet checked her over, and everything was fine. Her teeth, her fur, her eyes, her ears, everything checked out. She decided to give us treatment for a possible coccidia infection for both our rabbits (I also have a 9-month-old New Zealand Red male, who hasn't been introduced to the new baby yet except through a fence - he has never exhibited any symptoms at all). The vet said to continue the hay-water diet with our lop for at least as long as she was on the ten-day prescription for coccidia, and hope her poops start normalizing. She said she suspected that the bunny's digestive flora were just upset due to her dietary changes, and that the hay-water treatment was likely to be the cure.

We went through with the prescription with no issues whatsoever, both rabbits actually quite enjoyed the taste of the medicine and neither had any ill effects. However, it has now been over a week since the medicine ended, and our lop girl's poops are still irregular. The consistency of the feces is, at this point, quite normal, but there is still a variation in size and shape that has never happened with my other rabbit. Some of the poops are completely normal, but some of them are oval-shaped or very large.

Thoughout this entire time, the baby has been eating well (extremely well, she's the hungriest rabbit I've ever come across!) and seems quite happy and healthy in general, and has grown a bunch since she came to us (1,5kg the day she arrived, 2,6kg at the vet!). She's friendly and active, though a little lazier and calmer than our other rabbit - I've chalked that up to her personality, and our vet said that seemed to be the case as well, as opposed to lethargy. It has now been over a month that the baby has been on a strict hay-water diet, and I've read somewhere that it could take as long as a month for the digestive flora to return to normal.

Is there something else this could be, since her poops have still not normalized? There is another thing: she is a charlie, though she has a lot of black coloring to her. Her ears are entirely black, her face has more black than white, and instead of a black stripe on her back she has a black "blanket". I've bandied around with the thought of megacolon being the culprit behind this, but based on what I've read she shouldn't be exhibiting symptoms at this age yet - she's only three months old - and it tends to strike lighter charlies instead of darker ones. It's also very unlikely that she's a double-gened charlie (which I read is the suspected cause of megacolon?), as neither of her parents have another charlie-colored rabbit in three generations of her pedigree. In fact, both I and her breeder are shocked that she even exhibits this coloring, and are wondering if she is indeed a true charlie, or if she is just blanket-patterned with a color deficiency that's "lucky" enough to form a charlie figure on her. All her siblings are blanket-colored. Based on what I've read on the genes, it's much more likely that she's a false charlie.

I'm sorry for the long and rambling mail! I've given up hope of discovering what could be the cause of this symptom via just internet research by myself, and if this still persists I'll definitely take her back to the vet. I would very much appreciate your feedback on the situation.

Do you think this could be a case of megacolon? Could she still be carrying the coccidia bacteria, and be in need of another set of medicine?

Thank you so much in advance for your time!

ANSWER: Dear Lisa,

Unfortunately, the poops in your picture are really typical of a rabbit with "megacolon".  Is your bunny white with pigmented eyes and spots?  This color is the most prone to this disorder, as the pigment indicates a failure of proper migration of the embryonic cells that innervate the intestine.  Rabbits with this disorder do not have normal intestinal physiology, and the misshapen poops result.

We have an English Lop with suspected "megacolon", but--I suspect--because she is so big, and her intestines probably likewise, she has not had the usual problems with intermittent obstruction from the big poops.  Our necropsies on bunnies with this condition have revealed scarring along the length of the intestine that result in stenosis (narrowing) of the intestinal lumen in some spots.  As the bunny gets older and more scarring occurs (from transient blockages?), this problem gets worse, and chronic blockages occur.

It also seems that the innervation and intestinal movement of these bunhies deteriorates with age.  

I hope that because your bunny is a big girl, she will be like our Emma, and not suffer the problems we see with this congenital syndrome.  If your bun is suffering intermittent blockage signs, then ask the vet about adding lactulose (an osmotic laxative) to her weekly meds (the vet can determine how often, but you don't want to use it every day, lest you mess with her electrolytes).  This can help keep the large poops relatively soft, and less rubbery, so less likely to get stuck in the intestine.

I hope some of this helps.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Sukka lying down
Sukka lying down  

Sukka\'s little face
Sukka's little face  
QUESTION: Hello, and thank you so much for your reply, though the answer is the one I was most afraid of. I've attached an image of my bunny just in case, though I'm pretty sure she is indeed the color you're describing.

Is there anything I can do to help my rabbit stay as healthy as possible as long as possible? I've heard that usually a megacolon rabbit's health starts deteriorating at four years of age or so, and given that the predicted life span of a French lop is 5-6 years anyway, problems will hopefully not start arising until she's quite elderly for her breed anyway. It just seems hard that I would have to wait for her to become ill and not be able to do anything in the meanwhile to try to stave off the onset of the symptoms!

It is heartening to hear that her large size may help her with her condition. Let's hope it is so! I'll still continue to explore other options with the vet, just in case we're able to find something other than megacolon that is causing her symptoms.

Do you feel that the coccidia could be the cause of this still? She was treated for it, but I've heard it's always possible for the coccidia bacteria to survive one course of treatment.

Thank you so much for your time!

Dear Liisa

Yes, Sukka's coloration is typical of those who have "megacolon".  But the good news is that there is some evidence that the more pigmentation the animal has, the less severe the condition.  So let's hope Sukka's large size and lots of black pigment are a good sign for her future.

(Don't believe that stuff about French Lops living only 5-6 years.  They can live longer, though it's true that smaller bunnies tend to have longer lifespans, especially if they are not purebreds.)

Coccidia might contribute to GI problems, but I've never heard of them causing the misshapen poops like Sukka's.  I'd just be sure she gets LOTS of wet greens and plenty of water, as this can keep those big, rubbery poops softer and less likely to cause the scarring that eventually exacerbates the problem.  Ask your vet about using lactulose (an osmotic laxative) occasionally, to keep things well hydrated.  But maybe not until she's an adult, as you don't want to mess with nutrient absorption in a baby (which osmotic laxatives do, a bit).

Here's to Sukka's long, healthy life!



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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:

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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
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Various newsletters of the House Rabbit Society, nationwide

Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
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