Our little bunnies are more than just cute and cuddly. Inside those little tummies of theirs, there’s a lot going on. As herbivores, the rabbit’s digestive system is much faster than ours, which is why their diet needs to consist of lots and lots of fiber. Timothy hay is the basis for most rabbit’s diets because it provides them with the fiber they need to keep everything running smoothly. But when this digestive system gets blocked up, whether due to an increase in bacteria, hair, or other factors, GI stasis can occur. Stasis refers to an intestinal slowdown and while it can be treated if caught early, it can also be fatal to your little bun. That’s why it’s super important to understand this condition and what you can do to help prevent it. And so we ask the question: can Timothy hay help prevent GI stasis?
Before we dive into the details of GI stasis, let’s look at the intricacies of a bunny’s digestive system so you can get an understanding of just how important every moving part is.
What’s So Important About Your Bunny’s Digestive System?
Bunnies are true herbivores, meaning they should only be eating hay, hay-based pellets, veggies, and the occasional healthy treat. The reason why buns need so much fiber, which is found in Timothy hay and leafy green veggies, is because their digestive tract is much quicker than other animals. Everything is always moving and buns have to constantly eat to keep their digestive systems running smoothly (literally).
Another important part of your bun’s digestive system is the cecum, which is a type of “pouch” that comes off the intersection of the small and large intestine. The cecum is responsible for fermenting and breaking down food for nutrients and energy and it’s actually the largest organ in a rabbit’s tummy. When functioning properly, the cecum helps turn unusable fiber into digestible proteins and vitamins.
But what happens when this process isn’t going as planned? Enter: GI stasis.
What is GI Stasis?
As mentioned earlier, GI stasis is when a rabbit’s digestive system is slow-moving or blocked, so they aren’t able to go to the bathroom when needed. This condition is often known as the “silent killer” of rabbits because it will start with a bunny not eating and if not addressed as soon as possible, can lead to liver failure and be fatal.
Symptoms of GI Stasis
Quick action can be the difference between life and death in a case of GI stasis, so it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms to look out for.
The first symptom you might notice with stasis is that your bun seems lethargic, has a decreased appetite, and isn’t producing as much poo. If you notice that your rabbit is in pain and refuses to eat, this could be a sign that the stasis is progressing and you should take them to the vet immediately. Because bunnies are a prey animal in the wild, they're programmed to hide all signs of weakness and pain, even if they’re suffering. Just because your bun is acting strong doesn’t mean everything is fine.
Another important sign of stasis is your bunny’s cecotropes. Cecotropes are the waste product of a functioning cecum and in a healthy bun, they may look a little like poo. Most bunnies will eat their own cecotropes because they’re full of nutrients. But in a bunny suffering from stasis, these cecotropes may be runny or look like pudding. Don’t be fooled by thinking this waste product is diarrhea - it's actually a serious sign of GI stasis progressing in your bun.
In addition to these, other symptoms of stasis include:
- A swollen abdomen
- Very loud stomach gurgling, or none at all
- Poo encased in a yellow mucus
- A bun grinding its teeth in pain
Another important note about stasis is that it can be misdiagnosed as your bun having a “hairball.” This is actually a myth. In fact, your bunny having a hairball is likely another symptom of stasis. Their digestive tract isn’t able to digest the hair, so it presents itself as a hairball. Don’t let someone tell you that this is a simple matter that can be fixed with a remedy like pineapple. In fact, sugary treats like pineapple can actually make stasis worse.
What Causes GI Stasis?
There are many causes of GI stasis, including stress, dehydration, illness, gas, or a urinary tract disorder, but the most common cause of GI stasis is the lack of high-quality fiber. Diets high in carbohydrates and sugar don’t give a bun as much fiber as they need and not enough of this important ingredient can cause an intestinal slowdown. This is why it’s essential to feed your bun lots of Timothy hay or other high-quality hay.
What to do if Your Bunny is Suffering From GI Stasis
Although this condition is scary, if caught early enough, it is treatable. The first thing you should do is rush your animal to the vet, where they can take X-rays and feel your bun’s abdomen to analyze the problem. You should not try to treat GI stasis at home.
Then, depending on the severity, they may start oral, subcutaneous, or intravenous fluid therapy. Hydration is one of the key steps to get everything flowing again. In addition, your vet may prescribe a GI motility drug, which can help the GI system get back on track.
Once you get your bunny back home, make sure to put them in a comfortable, safe space and give them plenty of fluids. Stress and dehydration make stasis worse, so help prevent this by giving your little friend a cozy space and encourage them to drink water. And of course, provide them with lots of hay to munch on. In fact, Timothy hay actually helped this little bun fix his stasis (along with other issues due to a poor diet). You can also feed your bunny leafy greens, carrots, or hay-based pellets to get them eating again.
Can Timothy Hay Help Prevent GI Stasis? Yes!
As you know by now, good quality grass hay, like Timothy hay, are essential for stasis recovery and can also help prevent it in the future. A diet high in fiber and low in carbs and sugar is your bun’s BFF and will keep them feeling healthy and munching away. If your bunny turns their nose up at Timothy hay, try another type of hay such as orchard or oat. Hay is incredibly important and if you buy the good stuff, even the pickiest of buns won’t be able to resist.
As a responsible pet parent, it’s up to you to monitor your bun’s behavior and health. If you notice something is wrong, like if they’re not eating or pooping as much, continue to monitor them and get them to the vet right away if you suspect GI stasis. When caught early, this scary condition doesn’t have to be life-threatening. And always, always stock up on plenty of delicious Timothy hay... Because Timothy hay CAN help prevent GI stasis. Everyone wins!