Rabbits

Hairballs in Rabbits Causes and Treatments

Hairballs can be stressing to your rabbit
Written by Editorial

What causes hairballs in rabbits, what signs do you expect and how can this condition be managed effectively.

What are hairballs?

Hairball, wool block or trichobezoars in rabbits refer to the inspissated solid mass of ingested hair trapped in the gastrointestinal tract which is often mixed with undigested or thick foods, and it commonly occurs in the stomach, intestines or both the two.

Hairballs can be stressing to your rabbit
Hairballs can be stressing to your rabbit

It is a prevalent problem in breeds that have dense coats such as the Angora rabbit breeds. [1] However, any other breed can suffer from this condition including those that have a gastrointestinal tract problem.

While grooming, some pets including rabbits, dogs, and cats do ingest some hair. However, unlike dogs and cats, rabbits cannot regurgitate (vomit) due to the way their cardia and stomach are anatomically arranged.

Under normal circumstances, “ingested hair is passed when a rabbit defecates” [2]. However, in some cases, including in you give this pet diets that are low in fiber, they can accumulate over time to form a large mass that may wholly or partially block the intestinal tract. This condition is fatal.

This condition should not be confused with GI stasis as a hairball is only one of the results and not a cause.

Signs and symptoms

The signs to expect will be dependent on the underlying cause and how severe the condition is. Some of the most common ones include the following:

  • Decreased appetite or anorexia and reluctance to eat as the pet feels full. This can cause rabbit starvation and even death.
  • Small, and reduced or no droppings (common if there is a total blockage).
  • Hair clumped stool or presence of large amounts of visible hair. A little hair may be normal.
  • A distended or hardened abdomen and gut motility issues – reduced stomach movements
  • Delayed stomach emptying
  • Pain on touching the belly (palpation causes discomfort)

Other possible symptoms include shock symptoms, weakness, lethargy, diarrhea, weight loss, stress, illnesses, and your rabbit may collapse.

Causes

From the description of what hairballs are, you already know the reasons. However, some factors may contribute to the formation of trichobezoars, and they include:

  • Poor nutrition such as low fiber foods which do not promote gut motility. Too little hay or too many coarse fibers. [3] Also, some sources state that rabbits that do not get enough fiber will tend to chew their or another bunny’s fur. [2]
  • Some stressors, pain and metabolic disease can be a triggering factor
  • Anorexia, where your furry friend goes for a long time without eating any food, can also trigger this problem.
  • Dehydration caused by taking too little water. Water aids in gut motility.
  • Boredom is another possible cause of fur chewing or barbering. Provide your rabbits with chew toys as well as other toys including tunnels and logic toys to keep them busy and reduce boredom.
  • Not groom this pet which includes things such as brushing their fur with a slicker brush can worsen this condition. Grooming will remove any loose hairs that would otherwise be ingested.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis may involve an X-ray and physical examination. Sometimes, they are not easy to diagnose since some of their symptoms may mimic those of GI stasis. The diagnosis will determine if the condition needs an urgent intervention or not.

Wool block treatments and home remedies

The treatment option your veterinarian will recommend will largely depend on how severe the problem is. For instance, a distended and bloated abdomen may require urgent intervention. Some of the conventional treatment options include the following:

  1. Fresh pineapple juice – It contains bromelain enzyme which can break down fur fibers. Use fresh pineapple juice as processing (such as canning) breaks down this critical You also get bromelain supplements in your local pet store.
  2. Fresh papaya Papain (papayazyme) contained in fresh papaya is also vital as it will break down not the hair but the mucous that holds it together. You can also opt for supplements that have papayazyme.
  3. Fluid therapies -They will help rehydrate abdominal content which will promote gut motility.
  4. Stomach massage – Massage can help relieve the impaction especially in the stomach. It can also work for intestines.
  5. Surgical procedure – It is only recommended in extreme cases where other treatment options have failed, and there is a total blockage, as a last resort. It will involve incision and removal of the wool block. This procedure has many risks. Rabbits that undergo this surgery have low survival rates and may suffer from peritonitis or other complications. [4]
  • Will laxatives? – Whereas laxatives such as Laxatone by Evsco Pharmaceuticals and mineral oils can help remove and prevent hairballs in cats and dogs, their safety and efficacy cannot be confirmed for rabbits. Follow the advice of your vet. Some sources warn against their use[5]. They state they may cause cramping, bloating, gas, chemical imbalance. Oil-based ones will coat intestinal walls affecting water absorption.

Decompression may also be helpful as well as the use of analgesics in case of pain. If they have diarrhea, include antibiotic therapy. However, avoid NSAIDs if your bunny has kidney problems.  

Prevention

There are various prevention strategies that revolve around eliminating some of the causes we have already discussed. Some of these ways include:

  1. Increasing roughage by providing the recommended rabbit diets which must be high in crude fibers. Give them over 80% fresh hay, and about 10-15% fresh foods especially leafy greens and the remainder can be treats of non-leafy vegetables and fruits. Leafy greens can include parsley, romaine lettuce, spinach, kales, among others.
  2. Always groom them including brushing their coat to remove any loose fur that would otherwise be ingested as they self-groom.
  3. Provide them with rabbit toys especially chew toys can help foster the natural chewing behavior of rabbits and reduce the chances of chewing fur as well as reduce instances of dental disease.
  4. Physical exercise also helps gut movement. Let your rabbit have a rabbit run enriched with toys to keep it active. You can also be part of their enrichment by participating in their playtime and encourage them to exercise.
  5. Provide a stress-free environment as those that say in dirty, crowded and noisy areas are prone to this condition. [6]
  6. Large water amounts preferably in a bowl as they tend to drink more when compared to the use of rabbit bottles. [7]

Conclusion

One of the ways to determine something is wrong with your pet rabbit is to watch its eating habits and appetite. It will help indicate various problems including wool blocks, GI stasis and so on. Finally, always follow the advice of your vet!

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