Rabbit and Rodent – Gut Stasis

Huh?  Gut Stasis?Guinea Pig
If you’re new to rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas you may not be familiar with a common problem – gut stasis.  This is a condition, from mild to severe, where normal gut movements start to slow down or stop entirely.  Without intervention your pet can die from this problem.

Let’s Back Up to Some Anatomy
rabbit giRabbits and some rodents (like guinea pigs and chinchillas) are hind gut fermenters.  Anyone familiar with horses knows what this means – they have a ton of large intestines and do most of their food processing there.  They do this through a large number of bacteria, hence fermentation.

Since it’s really difficult to digest grass or hay, these guys have a cecum and colon that actually separates large indigestible fibers from small fermentable particles and fluids.  The gut actually has two phases and switches from production of normal “hard feces” to cecotrophs of “soft feces” periodically throughout the day.  The cecotrophs are small, dark, soft feces that are packaged in a protective mucus coating.  You shouldn’t really see these as they get eaten as they are produced.  The mucus helps protect the cecotroph as it passes through the stomach in order to be re-digested.

What Causes the Gut to Slow Down?
Oh boy…here you go:

  • Pain
  • Diet (changes, not enough fiber, too many carbohydrates or proteins)
  • Stress (fright, fear, pain, poor home care, thunderstorms, the construction down the street…)
  • Husbandry Errors (overcrowding, lack of cleanliness…)
  • Other Illness (causing pain or stress)
  • Dental Disease
  • Diseases that Interfere with Eating
  • Medications that Disrupt the Gut
  • Certain Antibiotics (that disrupt the normal gut bacteria)

The Downward Spiral
So, once it starts it gets worse.  Slowed gut motility can lead to the build up of material in the stomach (trichobeozars), gas build up in the GI tract (resulting in pain), stomach ulcers, disruption of normal gut bacteria resulting in overgrowth, fatty liver disease … all things that contribute to making the problem worse.  As the food stays within the intestines, the body continues to remove fluids from the digesta.  Sometimes this can create a wad that is hard to get moving again or actually results in a fecal impaction.

What About Obstructions?
We used to think the trichobeozar in the stomach was the cause of their problems and needed to be removed – not anymore!  Experiments in the early ’80s proved the trichobeozar was the result of gut stasis and not the cause.  We don’t need to remove it unless there is a true foreign body present.  But they can get true obstructions – these are emergencies.  Your rabbit will be very sick and getting more sick very quickly.  Low body temperature is serious for both obstructions and more standard gut stasis.

What Can I Do?
Hind gut fermenters should never have an empty stomach – if there is any change in appetite or droppings start giving Critical Care until you can get to a vet.  The more abnormal your pet, the quicker you should get help.

What Does the Vet Do?
We may want to run some tests to better Guinea pig critical care feedingidentify your pet’s disease – radiographs and blood work can tell us a lot.  High blood glucose levels are actually more common in cases of obstruction.  The good news is that most of these animals can be managed with medical treatment such as Critical Care and fluids.  We will also consider if anti-gas medications, antibiotics or even medicines that promote motility should be used.

Can I Prevent Gut Stasis?
Yes…and no.  You can reduce the risks by feeding your pet a good quality grass hay with some leafy greens and a small amount of pellets.  Alfalfa hay has too much protein for regular bunnies, guinea pigs or chinchillas.  Lots of pellets means fewer long fibers that are so important to maintain normal gut movements.  A good healthy home environment can reduce stress as well.  Annual checkups with your vet are the best way to detect problems early and make sure problems you might not see (like dental disease) are identified as soon as possible.  Always brush your pet when they are shedding – if you have a long haired variety you’ll already be brushing very, very frequently just to keep the hair clean and prevent matts from forming.

Doing everything right…

…but still getting an imperfect result

Pet ownership is immensely rewarding but can be difficult at times. Most of us (yup, myself included) aren’t too keen on the constant upkeep for our exotic pets. I do generally recommend that if you want a reptile, measuring, logging and keeping track of details should be tasks you enjoy.

Regardless you can do everything right but still have a problem develop. I saw a young bearded dragon recently. Her owners notice a small bump on the top of her head, near her neck. They saw that is was increasing in size and brought her right in.

Missy 1

Based on her age and the size of the mass, it seemed most likely to be an abscess. However we couldn’t tell from the outside so the owners allowed me to get a surgical biopsy. At the time I removed as much of the mass as I could.

missy 2

Sadly the biopsy came back with a diagnosis of spindle cell sarcoma – a tumor and she wasn’t even 2 years old!

Next Steps

Based on her age and the fact that the mass returned during the healing process, the owners wanted to give surgical removal a go. This type of tumor is hard to remove completely because it has little finger-like tendrils that extend out into the surrounding tissues. Nevertheless, determined to give xxx the best possible chance, we went back in to hopefully remove it all.

Here are some before, during and after surgical shots – she looks great!

Missy 3 Missy 4Missy 5 missy 6

Again we got bad news from the pathologist. Some of the sarcoma was present on the edge of the removed tissue. This means there was still sarcoma present in the muscle tissue on her back.

At this point we always have a decision – continue treatments or call it quits. Since this type of sarcoma is traditionally slow growing (in dogs and cats), she may have several years before it becomes a problem. If it grows up through the skin she may be fine for a very long time. However, if it continues to extend down through the muscles, it could cause problems with the trachea or esophagus or even some of the pretty big vessels in the neck.

 Treatment options

Discussions with specialists revealed the possibility of 2 different chemotherapy treatments. We could try radiation treatment – but that only gets through a few layers. If the remaining tumor is more than a few millimeters thick the treatment won’t get to the bottom. The other option was to wait until the tumor came back and try to inject the growth with chemotheraputic agents.

Both options work in other species and other tumors…but we don’t have enough data on either treatment in bearded dragons with spindle cell sarcomas to know which would work better. Or if either one will work at all!

At this stage, the owners are monitoring their bearded dragon. They want the best quality of life for her and may have to make some hard decisions when the growth returns. Until then, this is one lucky dragon to have found such a wonderful home.


Easter – Why is Everybody So Worried?

What is Going On?

If you like animals, specifically rabbits and chickens, you’ve probably had a few (or constant!) posts come through your facebook feed talking about live animals and Easter.

“Make Mine Chocolate”
“Rabbits are not Easter toys”
“Bun Lives Matter”

These are all headlines that are usually accompanied by cute rabbit photos and some serious comments about what happens after Easter. Unwanted pets.

Rabbits – Baby Buns are the Cutest!

baby bunbaby bun 2

Yup. All of us here agree that baby bunnies are incredibly cute. Soft and fluffy. Just a little handful . But as the rescue groups point – they grow up. Into adorable adults (so most of us think) that require love, care, cleaning and enrichment.

Sometimes it’s more than you’re expecting. These guys can live more than 10 years. They need a lot of cleaning, a specific diet and veterinary care from veterinarians who focus on rabbit care. We even have board certified specialists in exotic companion mammals (that’s ferrets, rabbits, rodents and the like in case you were wondering!).

More Issues

Aside from their needs as a pet (think of a rabbit as needing the same amount of care/time investment as a dog), some rabbits can get quite large. Up to 8-10 pounds (4-5 kg). That’s a big hutch, more food cost, more cleaning effort and often higher costs in medications.

So what ends up happening?  A lot of rabbits get rehomed before their first birthday.  Or, when not properly cared for, they don’t even make it that far.
sad bun


Why don’t we seem to have the same issues as chickens these days? I’m sure people do still get a cute little yellow ball of fluff…but thankfully it’s just less of a problem.

I have my own theory as to that change – it’s due to the banning of dyed chicks.

 I have a photo to show you.
I warn you
…it is adorable.

Super cute!


I totally get why people grab these little guys and take them home. But you all know what an adult chicken looks like. Not a little ball of pink or purple fluff!

This photo was taken in Java (Indonesia). If it was here in the SF Bay Area, I would wonder what people were thinking. You’re going to end up with chickens (or roosters)…in a big city…that can live for more than 4 years after they stop laying eggs.  And that’s ignoring the fact that this is not a way to treat a living animal.

 To Sum Up

Please enjoy your Easter – with candy, chocolate, stuffed animals and religious observations. But not with live animals unless you are ready for the commitment.