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Bunny Rabbit Digestive Stomach Health

Version française : Santé du système digestif des lapins

We’ve had three very special bunny rabbits, over the past twenty years, all Netherland Dwarfs and all indoors House Rabbits, and the most important bunny health care tip that we’ve learnt over these two decades relates to rabbits’ stomach health ... rabbits have the longest and most complex stomach of any mammal (relative to their size), including a duodenum (“double stomach”), where their food is digested twice, when they practice caecotrophy, also called coprophagy. Because of this complexity, rabbits are really prone to digestive upsets and blockages, and especially when they're moulting, are susceptible to both constipation and to diarrhoea. In fact, lettuce is extremely bad for bunnies, because it ferments in their stomach and causes upsets - much better is crunchy carrot, as well as fresh parsley and mint - if your bunny’s not used to fresh vegetables, begin gradually with a very few small slices of carrot. In our experience, lucerne pellets are good as part of the everyday diet but not exclusively. And be sure to avoid the sticky molasses mixes completely - this is what first made our bunny Dasher ill. All bunnies should always have easy access to unlimited fresh hay and water, of course. Our Netherland Dwarf bunny rabbit Barney Pookah, who is featured on most pages here, is also highly susceptible to furballs during moulting season because of his fine, dense chinchilla coat, and this causes both constipation and diarrhoea as well. Thus:
Our Essential Bunny Health Care Tip:
Both constipation and diarrhoea can be treated with unsweetened 100% pure pineapple juice … reputedly because of the enzyme, bromeline, in pineapple, which breaks down blockages, though there might also be additional properties which contribute to its fantastic success in treating bunny digestive problems. There is much argument over whether this enzyme survives canning, however, some maintain that this enzyme is still present after five minutes of boiling. Alternately, there are suggestions that it is in fact the alkalinity/acidity of the stomach that’s treated by the introduction of pineapple juice that is so effective. All we know is that, in our experience, pineapple juice really works incredibly effectively, for both constipation and diarrhoea. For details and more ...
For Constipation:
Symptoms of constipation include not passing droppings at all; or sometimes droppings appear very dry and half their usual size; or if it’s due to a furball blockage during moult, there might be stringy fur in the droppings and intermittent diarrhoea. Another symptom is obvious discomfort, which you’ll soon notice if you spend time with your bunny, or if he gets to run around your room for a couple of hours or so a day as ours does! You’ll very soon notice if he’s not himself, behaves very differently than usual, sits in the one place rather than moving around, changes position frequently as if he’s uncomfortable. If such different behaviour from usual is combined with symptoms as described above, or worse a complete lack of droppings, he’s probably got a stomach blockage problem, either from furballs or “gastric stasis”, a slowing or fermenting in his digestive system. If his stomach is swollen or bloated, treating him with humans’ anti-gas medicine for human babies, which you can buy from any chemist, and containing "simethicone", "Infacol" Wind Drops in Australia, "Smecta" in Europe, every two hours, could well save his life. In fact, if you find a vet that knows enough about rabbits to be aware of the value of simethicone, and pineapple juice, as bunny stomach treatments, you’ve found a fantastic vet who you should consult and learn from! We don’t want to alarm anyone - your bunny rabbit might never even have any stomach problems at all, particularly if you feed him enough fibre - hay, crunchy vegetables like carrot, fresh parsley and mint. Also, any stomach blockage might successfully pass through by itself, too. But if it does not pass, and is not treated, it can be fatal. It is important to keep a good eye out and be ready with the pineapple juice, because any rabbit who’s showing these symptoms, is obviously in discomfort, and is not passing droppings at all, is in a grave state.

To treat these problems, furballs, constipation we have used approximately five millilitres of unsweetened pure pineapple juice once every hour. We use tinned unsweetened 100% pineapple juice (“Golden Circle” in the green tin if you’re in Australia; many people from various countries have also reported back the brands they used successfully for their rabbits: in England, Delmonte 100% pure in a carton; in France - either Joker or Pago; in Switzerland - "Gold" in a carton; in Quebec and the U.S. - "Dôle"; whichever brand you choose, it MUST be 100% pure and unsweetened of course), and we indeed find it incredibly effective. We feed bit-by-bit, bunny-sized mouthful-by-mouthful (ie, small amounts, takes quite a few minutes), via 5 or 10 sized plastic syringe (no needle of course) into the side of bunny’s mouth just behind his large front teeth. Where we humans have canine teeth, rabbits and all lagomorphs have a diastema, a large gap - which is very useful for bunny-humans, because we can fit the tip of a plastic syringe into this gap at the corner of his mouth, even if your bunn has his teeth tightly closed. When you fit the syringe tip into this gap, be sure to aim the syringe across his mouth, toward the other side of his mouth or his other cheek, and never down his throat, as this could cause choking. Just go slowly and gently, bunny-sized mouthful-by-mouthful.

And offer him all the types of vegies and fruit he’s accustomed to - if he doesn’t eat it, you’ll know he’s still feeling ill and you need to continue the treatment - but no dry food until he’s really over it - when Barney’s been like this, we offer him parsley, mint, basil, slices of banana, pieces of moist apple and pear, and crunchy carrot and hay, which helps his digestive system continue to work - of course fresh hay and water should always be available to all bunnies. With the hourly pineapple juice treatment, you should see improvement in his comfort level over a few hours. But he might still need intensive nursing and this pineapple juice treatment for perhaps three days - judge by his behaviour and his droppings.

Further, during moulting (after this type of upset) we have continued to feed our Barney approximately seven to ten millilitres of unsweetened pure pineapple juice in this way twice a day, over one or two or even three weeks, then lessening to once a day for approximately another week or two … over the last summer, Barney had such a bad moult, that we continued this pineapple juice treatment, once or twice a day, on and off for several months - so don’t be worried about needing to continue it for some time - just go by your bunny’s behaviour and droppings.

Also keep in mind that the more your bunn moves around, the more this will help her digestive system’s movement too - so have her out in your room, or wherever she likes to run and exercise, with you as usual - see if she’s willing to move around - if she is, that’s a very good sign, and will help her digestive movements.

You should also massage and rub her stomach for her, to help her digestive movement. Have her sit somewhere she’ll remain placid, either on your lap, or on your couch, or wherever she will sit calmly, even on the floor, and tuck your hand/s underneath her and rub her stomach in a circular motion, gently and slowly, just as you would with your own tumm if you had a stomach ache. If she’s got a tummy ache and doesn’t welcome your massages, you must go really gently, but that's okay. Gentle stomach massaging will help her digestion very greatly.

And another tip - you can help reduce the amount of fur she swallows, by grooming her particularly with your hands being damp - when your hands are moistened with water, and you rub your hands up and down your bunn, you’ll see that you collect a lot of her fur, and thus greatly reduce the amount of fur she ingests.

For Diarrhoea:
And when his stomach has “scours”, intermittent diarrhoea during moulting, the same treatment has also brought him back to health: in this case, if his droppings are very watery (not just moist, which is normal), we have used approximately five millilitres of unsweetened pure pineapple juice every two or three hours and easing off after two or three doses, but continuing until his droppings cease being watery. Give him plenty of fresh hay and water, because his body needs several hours to start developing faeces again. This also rehydrates an animal losing liquid through diarrhoea, which is very important for bunnies ... dehydration through diarrhoea can also be fatal.

With the doses of pineapple juice detailed above, we have succeeded in curing both constipation and diarrhoea in our precious bunnies … and be aware that ours are Dwarf Rabbits, so your bunnies might be larger and thus have larger stomachs! Regarding dosages, Brown and Richardson, in their excellent Rabbitlopaedia: A Complete GuideTo Rabbit Care (see below for details of this book), suggest 10 millilitres of pineapple juice three times a day, for both “gastric stasis” and “hairballs”. Personally, we’ve found that, for severe constipation, five or six mls every hour works well, but their strategy/recipe is well worth considering too. They’re not specifying Dwarf breeds, but rabbits in general. I worried that my suggestions might suit a Netherland Dwarf’s digestive system size, but might not be enough for a bigger breed? The margin of error on the amount of pineapple juice is probably pretty large, so it is possible that it does not matter what size the rabbit is. It’s not dangerous to up the dosage, so maybe the more the better, within reason, especially if it’s for an intensive period when the bunny is suffering constipation or diarrhoea. It’s the introduction of pineapple juice, in any quantity, which is the important, helpful, and good thing. We certainly don’t claim veterinary knowledge: we are simply pet owners who want to share our experiences of the value of pineapple juice as a successful treatment for rabbits’ stomach problems. Because we would never have imagined that pineapple juice could help bunnies, were it not for learning this from rabbit hobby breeders, especially the great NNDRC - the Australian National Netherland Dwarf Rabbit Club, and the Australian Lop Circle, and the RBAV - the Rabbit Breeders’ Association of Victoria. As mentioned, this info on treating bunny stomach upsets with pineapple juice is also available in a fantastic rabbit health book titled “Rabbitlopaedia: A Complete Guide To Rabbit Care”, written by Meg Brown and Virginia Richardson, and published by Ringpress, Gloucestershire, 2000 - this is one of the most educational book on bunny rabbit health that we have ever read, most especially the chapter entitled A to Z of Rabbit Health, and we highly recommend it.

     Dasher resting.
This article is in honour of and memory of our precious Dasher, our beautiful bunny and family member, whose friendship and love we had the privilege of for almost six years. We nursed him through three months of digestive illness, to which we then lost him. Then, when we adopted our Pookah, nine years ago this year, the breeders we met taught us the value of pineapple juice to treat - and whenever we explain Dashie’s story, they always go quiet, and then tell us that pineapple juice may very well have saved him. So we now share this information with as many bunny people as possible, in honour of Dasher, and to save other bunns from going through what Dasher went through. Dashie Darly, we will never forget you ... we love you always.

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Version française : Santé du système digestif des lapins
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