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.

Turtle Ear Infections – Yes, Turtles Have Ears

Look at this happy Red Eared Slider.

This is one of the most common species of turtle pet we see out here in the San Francisco Bay Area.  They are hardy, happy little guys.  But they can still develop problems.

Red Eared Slider

The Aural Abscess

Aural = ear (oral = mouth, yes they are pronounced the same…)

A very common problem we see is the turtle ear infection or abscess.  Turtles get infections just like us but unlike mammals, they produce a very thick pus that prevents antibiotics from clearing up some infections.  In this case, the ears.

In the picture below, there is a slightly blurry (sorry!) swelling or protrusion visible just under the human thumb.  Turtle ears should be flat – they aren’t meant to be “outies”.  Some turtles don’t show any signs, but many will feel ill, not want to eat or be in pain from this infection.

Red Eared Slider ear swelling

So what causes this?

Unfortunately that’s not always clear or may be due to a number of different issues.  Inappropriate temperatures, inadequate diets and improper care can set a reptile up to be more susceptible to opportunistic bacteria.  Cages that are not cleaned well enough or often enough and water that does not have a strong filtration system or just isn’t cleaned enough allow bacteria to flourish.  Exposure to that bacteria or even long term ingestion of it can lead to bacterial infections.

The most common dietary problem is not enough Vitamin A (hypovitaminosis A).  This changes how the cells lining the ears, mouth and other areas (from non-squamous cells to squamous cells) are shaped.  With this change, it is easier for bacteria to get a foothold.

So Basically..?

Something causes immunosuppression or changes to the cells shapes, then bacteria takes up lodging and finally the body responds and a thick caseous (or cottage cheese-like) plug starts to form.

Now What?

It’s time for surgical removal.  The surgery itself is not complicated but it would be horribly painful to perform on an awake turtle so we need to sedate or anesthetize them and provide pain control.  Here is an image of the “pus ball” being removed on a sedated turtle.

Red Eared Slider Ear Pus

The End Result

Changes in care (husbandry), temperatures and diet must be made, or the infection would be expected to return.  Antibiotics can be given – ideally they are based off of an aerobic (oxygen-loving) and anaerobic (oxygen-hating) bacterial culture.

Seeds vs. Pellets

The Diet
What to feed your feathered friend seems like a simple topic but the reality is that there are over 300 species of parrots (Psittaciformes) and over 5000 different Passeriformes (the family that canaries and finches belong to). Our diet recommendations change in response to improved understanding of what these guys need.

In The Wild
Many parrots eat seeds in the wild. They may also consume fruits, nuts, larvae, shoots, dead animals, barks, leaves and grubs. Nectivores/omnivores such as lories and lorikeets eat nectar and pollen in addition to fruits, larvae and seeds. But not all species eat all those foods. Hyacinth Macaws eat palm nuts which are about 50% fat – that would make a cockatiel quite obese!

bird feeding   nuts

So At Home…
So why not feed your bird on an all seed diet – that’s what they’d eat in the wild, right? In part they would. There are 2 very significant differences between the wild and our homes.

The first is availability. In the wild, birds spend several hours each day looking for food. Different food items are available in differing amounts throughout the year. Birds have adapted to survive on these variations. At home, we give them a plentiful (usually too plentiful) supply of all sorts of seeds. Your bird is no dummy! He or she will sort through the offering to eat whatever they’d prefer. You might be feeding an all sunflower seed or all safflower seed diet without realizing it.

seeds

The other important difference is that seeds in the wild are variable in protein and energy content. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids (these do not store well) and have moderate amounts of vitamins and minerals. Domesticated seeds (what you get from the stores) are high in energy from starches and omega-6 fatty acids. They are low in proteins, vitamins and minerals. They basically have candy-like nutrient levels.

Nutrient imbalances can affect any and every organ system in the body. Signs that you may see include changes in the feathers such as incomplete or frequent molts, retained feather shealths, abnormal coloration and irritability due to feather discomfort. Skin may be dry or flaky and itchy. Beaks and nails may split, be too long or have exaggerated curvature. There are other reasons your bird may show these signs, but if he or she eats an all seed diet they probably won’t resolve until the diet is improved.

To Sum Up
Getting your bird onto a pellet-based diet is the single most important change you can make to improve their long term health. We also recommend teaching them to eat dark leafy greans – take a look at our diet handout online here.

 ***Because your bird may have other health problems, we do not recommend working to convert the diet until after a veterinarian has examined your bird***

Chickens foraging