Lapis ISSN 2398-2969

Gastrointestinal: ileus

Synonym(s): gastrointestinal stasis

Contributor(s): Anna Meredith, Livia Benato, Sarah Pellett


  • Cause: functional obstruction of the intestine or failure of peristalsis due to a mechanical obstruction (obstructive ileus) or disturbances in neural stimulation of the gastrointestinal tract (non-obstructive ileus).
  • Signs: decreased appetite, abnormal fecal output/gastric sounds/pain/distension, weight loss.
  • Diagnosis: history, physical examination/palpation, radiography/ultrasonography, blood sampling, urinalysis, explorative laparotomy.
  • Treatment: supportive treatment, analgesia, prokinetics, assisted feeding, antibiotics, probiotics.
  • Prognosis: depends on chronicity.

Presenting signs

  • Decreased appetite.
  • Abnormal fecal output, fecal pellets reduced in size and amount.
  • Increased or decreased gastric sounds.
  • Palpable gas in abdomen, cecum or colon.
  • Doughy or compacted gastrointestinal contents.
  • Enlarged stomach and/or enlarged cecum.
  • Weight loss Weight loss.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Behavioral changes: hiding away, pressing stomach to the ground.
  • Abdominal distension.
  • No palpable fecal pellets in the distal colon.

Acute presentation

  • Anorexia Anorexia.
  • Depression.
  • Dyspnea Dyspnea.
  • Grinding teeth.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Abdominal distension.
  • Death.

Age predisposition

  • In one retrospective cohort study of gastrointestinal stasis, it showed to affect mainly young adult rabbits.
  • The mean age of onset for gastrointestinal stasis in the studied population was 3.1 +/- 1.9 years.
  • The age range was 6 months to 9 years old.
  • In another publication, it reported middle-aged to older rabbits on a poor diet were predisposed.

Breed predisposition

Cost considerations

  • Aggressive supportive care and radiographic examination. 
  • Surgical intervention if necessary.

Special risks, eg anesthetic

  • Increased sedative or anesthetic risk due to:
    • Dehydration or hypovolemia.
    • Metabolic disturbances.
    • Increased pressure on diaphragm from enlarged/gas filled abdominal contents.
  • Metabolic acidosis due to anorexia Anorexia.
  • Overgrowth of Clostridium bacteria Clostridium difficile.
  • Hepatic lipidosis Liver: hepatic lipidosis due to anorexia Anorexia.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Summa N M & Brandao J (2017) Evidence based advances in rabbit medicine. Vet Clin Exot Anim 20 (3), 749-771 PubMed.
  • Benato L, Hastie P, O'Shaughnessy P et al (2014) Effects of probiotic Enterococcus faecium and Saccharomyces cerevisiae on the faecal microflora of pet rabbits. J Small Anim Pract 55 (9), 442-446 PubMed.
  • 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.
  • Ritzman T K (2014) Diagnosis and clinical management of gastrointestinal conditions in exotic companion mammals (rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas). Vet Clin Exot Anim 17 (2), 179-194 PubMed
  • Harcourt-Brown F M & Harcourt-Brown S F (2012) Clinical value of blood glucose measurement in pet rabbits. Vet Rec 170 (26), 674 PubMed.
  • Lord B (2012) Gastrointestinal disease in rabbits 2. Intestinal diseases. In Practice 34 (3), 156-162 VetMedResource.
  • Lord B (2012) Companion animal practice: Gastrointestinal disease in rabbits 1. Gastric diseases. In Practice 34 (2), 90-96 VetMedResource.
  • Lichtenberger M & Lennox A (2010) Updates and advanced therapies for gastrointestinal stasis in rabbits. Vet Clin North Am Exot Pet Pract 13 (3), 525-541 PubMed.
  • Harcourt-Brown F M (2007) Gastric dilation and intestinal obstruction in 76 rabbits. Vet Rec 161 (12), 409-414 PubMed.
  • Melillo A (2007) Rabbit clinical pathology. J Exotic Pet Med 16 (3), 135-145 VetMedResource.
  • Harcourt-Brown F M (2007) Management of acute gastric dilation in rabbits. J Exot Pet Med 16 (3), 168-174 VetMedResource.
  • Rees Davies R & Rees Davies J A E (2003) Rabbit gastrointestinal physiology. Vet Clin Exot Anim 6, 139-153 PubMed.
  • Jackson G (1991) Intestinal stasis and rapture in rabbits. Vet Rec 129 (13), 287-289 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Delaney M A, Treutling P M & Rothenburger J L (2018) Lagomorpha. Pathology of Wildlife and Zoo Animals. Eds: Terio K A, McAloose D & St Leger J. Elsevier, UK. pp 481-497.
  • Harcourt-Brown F (2014) Digestive System Disease. BSAVA Manual of Rabbit Medicine. Eds: Meredith A & Lord B. BSAVA, UK. pp 168-190.
  • Varga M (2014) Digestive Disorders. In: Textbook of Rabbit Medicine. 2nd edn. Ed: Varga M. Butterworth-Heinemann. pp 303-349.
  • Harcourt-Brown F (2013) Gastric Dilation and Intestinal Obstruction. BSAVA Manual of Rabbit Surgery, Dentistry and Imaging. Eds: Harcourt-Brown F & Chitty J. BSAVA, UK. pp 172-189
  • Benato L, Hastie P, Shaw D, Murray J & Meredith A (2012) The Semi-quantitative Effect of Probiotic Enterococcus Faecium NCIMB 30183 and Saccharomyces Cerevisiae NCYC Sc47 on the Faecal Microflora of Healthy Adult Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) Using Real Time PCR. In: BSAVA Congress 2012 Scientific Proc: Veterinary Programme. pp 460. 
  • Oglesbee B (2011) Gastrointestinal Hypomotility and Gastrointestinal Stasis. In: Blackwell’s five-minute veterinary consult: small mammal. 2nd edn. Ed: Oglesbee B L. Wiley-Blackwell, UK. pp 425-428.
  • Jenkins J R (2002) Gastrointestinal Diseases. In: Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents Clinical Medicine & Surgery. 2nd edn. Eds: Quesenberry K & Carpenter J. pp 161.