Lapis ISSN 2398-2969

Trichobezoars (hairballs)

Synonym(s): Hairballs

Contributor(s): Hannah Orr, Glen Cousquer, Virginia Garner-Richardson


  • Historically, rabbits were thought to suffer from a hair impaction of the stomach.
  • 'Hairballs' are no longer thought to be a primary condition, but rather the result of gastric hypomotility and gastric stasis   Gastric dilation and stasis  . As such, the terms "hairball" and "trichobezoars" should be viewed as alternative names for gastric stasis in the rabbit.
  • Factors that predispose the rabbit to gastric stasis will increase the risk of secondary 'hairball' formation. These include low-fiber diets, lack of exercise, reduced water intake, anorexia and concurrent disease. Rabbits that are molting or that groom a companion that is molting may demonstrate a seasonal increase in the amount of hair ingested.
  • It is normal for a rabbit to ingest some hair. As long as the rabbit is on a high fiber diet and has normal gastrointestinal motility, the hair will pass through the digestive system with the ingesta without causing any problems   Feces: compressed fecal hair pellets 01  .
  • If peristalsis is reduced, or stops, then fluid is drawn out of the gastrointestinal tract and the ingesta and hair pack together to form a 'hairball'   Trichobezoar  .
  • If a rabbit is fed a high-fiber diet there is no greater incidence of 'hairballs' in long-coated breeds.
  • Rabbits of <7 months of age are unlikely to suffer from 'hairballs', as they do not develop a full hair coat until this time.
  • House rabbits can ingest other fibers such as wool and carpet which can lead to similar impactions.

Print-off the Owner Factsheet onHairballs  Hairballs  to give to your clients.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Lord B (2012) Companion animal practice: gastrointestinal disease in rabbits 1. Gastric disease. In Pract 34 (2), 90-96 VetMedResource.
  • Hillyer E V (1994) Pet rabbits. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 24 (1), 25-65 PubMed.
  • Fekete S (1989) Recent findings and future perspectives of digestive physiology in rabbits - a review. Acta Vet Hung 37 (3), 265-279 PubMed.
  • Leary S L, Manning P J, Anderson L C (1984) Experimental and naturally occurring gastric foreign bodies in laboratory rabbits. Lab Anim Sci 34 (1), 58-61 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.
  • Rambow V J, Fox J G (1981) What's your diagnosis? Trichobezoar. JAVMA 179 (6), 600, 602 PubMed.
  • Lee K J, Johnson W D, Lang C M (1978) Acute peritonitis in the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) resulting from a gastric trichobezoar. Lab Anim Sci 28 (2), 202-204 PubMed.
  • Sebesteny A (1977) Acute obstruction of the duodenum of a rabbit following the apparently successful treatment of a hairball. Lab Anim 11 (2), 135 PubMed.
  • Wagner J L, Hackel D B, Samsell A G (1974) Spontaneous deaths in rabbits resulting from gastric trichobezoars. Lab Anim Sci 24 (5), 826-830 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Richardson V C (2000) Rabbits, Health, Husbandry and diseases. Blackwell Science Ltd.
  • Brown S A (1998) Rabbit Gastrointestinal Physiology and Disease. Proceedings for BSAVA Conference 3rd April 1998.
  • Letter (1988) Hairball problem in rabbits. Can Vet J 29 (7), 553-554.
  • Williams C S (1975) Letter. Outbreak of gastric trichobezoars in New Zealand white rabbits. Lab Anim Sci 25 (1), 114.