Lapis ISSN 2398-2969

Gastric dilation and stasis

Contributor(s): Vetstream Ltd, John Chitty, Virginia Garner-Richardson, Hannah Orr


  • One of the most common problems in rabbits.
  • The gastrointestinal system of the rabbit is designed to be in a state of constant movement (peristalsis). Any factor that slows or stops this movement will result in gastric stasis and subsequent gastric dilation.
  • Cause: factors that slow peristalsis are low-fiber diet, stress (via the release of adrenaline), lack of exercise, pain, over-heating, eating chilled/frozen food.
  • Signs: anorexia, pain, abdominal distension, dehydration: fluids are drawn away from the ingesta in the stomach which compacts into a hard mass.
  • Diagnosis: history, signs, radiography.
  • Treatment: fluids, drugs to increase gut motility, correct predisposing conditions and analgesics for pain relief.
  • Prognosis: generally good if diagnosed early enough and treatment and management changes are successful. A rabbit with reduced peristalsis has a high risk of developing cecal dysbiosis and enterotoxemia   Enterotoxemia (Clostridiosis)  .

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Presenting signs

  • Non-specific pain.
  • Inactivity.
  • Non-responsive.
  • Tense abdomen.
  • Absence/altered number/size of fecal pellets.

Acute presentation

  • As above.
  • Collapsed.
  • Cyanosed.
  • Dyspneic.

Geographic incidence.

  • None, although may be especially seen in hot climates/after a hot snap.

Special risks

  • Very toxic.
  • Pressure of viscera on respiratory system.
  • Increased anesthetic risks.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Huynh M, Vilmouth S, Gonzalez M S et al (2014) Retrospective cohort study of gastrointestinal stasis in pet rabbits. Vet Rec 175 (9), 225 PubMed.
  • Johansen K (2014) The nurses' role in managing gut stasis in rabbits. The Vet Nurse (5), 252-257 VetMedResource.
  • Schuhmann B, Cope I (2014) Medical treatment of 145 cases of gastric dilatation in rabbits. Vet Rec 175 (19), 484 PubMed.
  • Lord B (2012) Companion animal practice: gastrointestinal disease in rabbits 1. Gastric diseases. In Practice 34 (2), 90-6 VetMedResource.
  • Harcourt-Brown F M (2007) Gastric dilation and intestinal obstruction in 76 rabbits. Vet Rec 161 (12), 409-414 PubMed.
  • Hillyer E V (1994) Pet rabbits. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 24 (1), 25-65 PubMed.
  • Jackson G (1991) Intestinal stasis and rupture in rabbits. Vet Rec 129 (13), 287-289 PubMed.
  • Gillett N A, Brooks D L & Tillman P C (1983) Medical and surgical management of gastric obstruction from a hairball in the rabbit. JAVMA 183 (11), 1176-1178 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Lichtenberger M (2008) Gastrointestinal Emergencies in Rabbits. In: Proc 51st Annual BSAVA Congress. pp 157-159.
  • Richardson V C (2000) Rabbits, Health, Husbandry and diseases. Blackwell Science Ltd.
  • Brown S A (1998) Rabbit Gastrointestinal Physiology and Disease. In:  Proc 41st Annual BSAVA Congress.