Diarrhea can be a symptom of several underlying problems including stress, disease, genetics, diet mismanagement or the use of certain antibiotics. Regardless of its cause, it remains one of the most common causes of death in rabbits, which makes it a serious concern that should not be taken lightly.
Technically, diarrhea is the result of an inflammation of the intestines called Enteritis and is characterized by soft or runny, foul smelling feces.
The rabbit digestive system is unique and depends in part on beneficial bacteria and microorganisms to break down food. This process, called fermentation, takes place in part of the rabbit’s digestive tract called the cecum. The cecum of the rabbit is much larger and more developed than any other domestic animal. The nutrients from cecal fermentation are packaged into soft (or “night”) feces that are consumed by the rabbit in a process called coprophagy.
To keep the digestive system working properly, rabbits require a high fiber diet. Fiber helps to keep the correct balance of nutrients going to the cecum for fermentation and maintains the normal population of “good” bacteria.
A diet low in fiber can throw the fermentation process out of balance resulting in an increase in harmful toxin producing bacteria. These toxins can lead to diarrhea, dehydration and eventually, death.
Newborn and weaning rabbits are at a greater risk of developing diarrhea due to their immature digestive systems and the inability to fight off harmful bacteria.
Rabbits under a great deal of stress are more susceptible to diarrhea. So what could cause your bunnies to become tense, irritable and susceptible to diarrhea? Temperature extremes, either hot or cold, can cause a sudden change in feed intake which upsets the population of bacteria in the cecum. Stressful environmental conditions such as wind, rain, drafts and sun can also throw rabbits off of their feed. And, of course, the presence of other animals such as dogs, cats and other predators can give a rabbit cause for concern.
Did you know that diarrhea can sometimes be brought on by the use of certain antibiotics that alter the population of microorganisms in the cecum? Certain antibiotics destroy beneficial bacteria which allows an increase in the number of harmful toxin producing bacteria. Consult veterinarian for the proper use of antbiotics. Purina rabbit diets DO NOT contain any antibiotics.
Diarrhea is a common sign of disease that can be caused by internal parasites such as Coccidiosis. If you suspect this may be the problem with your rabbit, isolate it immediately to prevent transmission of the disease to other animals, and call your veterinarian.
If your rabbit develops diarrhea, take away its feed for 2-3 days and provide only water and small amounts of hay. After the diarrhea has ended, gradually begin feeding small amounts of feed each day until full feed is resumed within 2-3 days. If the situation doesn’t get better right away, call your veterinarian.
The best way to solve a problem is to make sure it never occurs. Limit feed intake in all of your rabbits, except lactating does and newly weaned bunnies which should be feed free choice.
Always increase the amount of food slowly to prevent diarrhea. Sudden changes in a rabbit diet can upset the digestive tract and lead to diarrhea. Any changes in feed should be made over a 7-10 day period to give your rabbit’s digestive system time to adapt.
During this period, mix the new feed with the old feed, and gradually increase the amount of new feed. Feed your rabbit at the same time each day, ideally in the evening, due to your rabbit’s nocturnal nature.
The importance of fiber in the diet should never be overlooked. Purina Rabbit Feeds provide 100% of the daily requirements for fiber. Purina Show Formula, Rabbit Chow Complete Plus and Rabbit Chow Gourmet all contain Lactobacillus Acidophilus and specific yeast cultures. Research has shown that under certain circumstances, this may improve digestive function and helps to reduce the occurrence of diarrhea.
If antibiotics are necessary due to illness, only use those recommended for rabbits by your veterinarian. Do not use antibiotics continuously as a preventative.
Good sanitation and management practices can also help prevent diarrhea from developing. Be sure your rabbit has proper housing and protection from the elements and predators to keep them healthy and happy.