Do Not Forcefeed Rabbits Blindly

*Please be fully aware that this post is for informational purposes ONLY and is not meant to be a substitute for proper diagnosis and treatment by a professional rabbit-savvy veterinarian.*
 
Most people seem to know that if rabbits stop eating, they can die.
The logical next step seems to be: If the rabbits is not eating, force feed it.
 
NO! This is very dangerous if you are not sure what you are doing! You have to understand why the rabbit might not be eating.
 
Treat the problem, not just the symptoms. The symptoms will fix themselves with the correct treatment.
 
Priority 1: Diagnose the problem correctly – best to have x-rays and blood tests if you are fortunate enough.
Priority 2: Control Pain with medication – Meloxicam! (OR Carprofen (Canidryl) in a pinch.
Priority 3: Fix the problem first – if it is gut stasis, make sure to get gut medication like Metoclopramide, Ranitidine, Cisapride etc. This will help correct the slowed gut movement and protect the stomach.
Priority 4: Supportive care – keep rabbit hydrated, warm and force feed if needed and other issues are clear. IV drip may be best, but if not available, syringe feed warm water.

PAINKILLERS such as liquid MELOXICAM are very important.
 
Rabbits usually stop eating because they are in discomfort or pain. Rabbits hide their pain. They will not show obvious signs. You have to spot it yourself. Teeth grinding, squatting in corner etc.
If the illness is minor, painkillers will help ease the rabbit’s discomfort and get it to eat again.
If the illness is severe, painkillers will help control the major discomfort.
 
Why should you not forcefeed a rabbit?
  1. Critical Care by Oxbow and other suspension-type feeds are very good products. However, they should not be used wrongly.
  2. When rabbits are having gut obstructions, they can have a lump of fur stuck in their stomach or something like that.
  3. A real obstruction needs emergency surgery by a trained vet.
  4. If you force things into a rabbit with a gut obstruction, you are making the internal traffic jam worse. You may kill your rabbit more quickly.
 
When can you forcefeed a rabbit?
  1. When an x-ray has been taken and the stomach is shown to be clear of blockage.
  2. If you have no x-ray facilities or your vet is underequipped for it, at least check that the rabbit’s stomach is soft and ‘doughy’ to know that it is not likely to be too tight or obstructed.
  3. If the rabbit is still passing poop, you know that the gut is not blocked. You can feed a watery mix of Oxbow Critical Care in a syringe.
 
What do you do if you are not sure but your rabbit is unwell?
  1. Feed Baby Gas Drops (Simethicone) 1ml per hour for 3 hours. This is safe for rabbits as it is not absorbed. It helps to purge gas bubbles for the rabbit.

2. Feed warm water by syringe 1 – 3 ml per hour for 2 – 3 hours, repeat every few hours but be careful not to overly stress your rabbit.

 

Hydration is the most important for many problems and sometimes hydrating a rabbit will help resolve the gut stasis. You will not cause any problems by simply feeding water as long as you do not choke your rabbit. This is safe!
 
You should still go to see a qualified rabbit-savvy vet.
Ideally, they would do the following:
 
  1. Take blood and do a blood test to check hydration
  2. Take x-ray and check the gut for gas / obstruction
  3. Emergency Surgery if needed for obstruction or liver lobe torsion – your vets may not be trained for this…
  4. Common medications for gut stasis alone:
    – Painkillers (Meloxicam)
    – Medication to speed up gut movement (Metoclopramide or Cisapride) – NOT TO BE GIVEN IF THERE IS A BLOCKAGE
    – Gut protectant (Ranitidine)
    Simethicone liquid for gas
  5. Oxbow Critical Care to mix into slurry for syringe feeding. This is high fibre which is important. You can’t just use any mushy foods. If not available can blend oxbow pellets with water in a pinch.
  6. Probiotics – Benebac / Fiberplex – feed a few hours after antibiotics fed if any to avoid mixing.
  7. If gut bacteria disturbance suspected, it is possible to consider feeding a course of antibiotics: Enrofloxacin (Baytril) or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. NO OTHER ANTIBIOTICS BY MOUTH FOR RABBITS.
  8. Encourage timothy hay eating at home. No sugary treats or fruits. Wet basic vegetables like choy sum may be fed for hydration if the rabbit is not drinking much.

“A gut motility drug such as cisapride (Propulsid) or metoclopramide (Reglan) can be given to get your rabbit’s GI tract working again only if there is no blockage. The dosage is 0.1cc per pound of body weight.[5]You may also use ranitidine (Zantac), an over-the-counter drug, as a pro-kinetic in an emergency at a dosage of 2-5 mg/kg orally.[6] It also has anti-ulcerative qualities and useful in stressed rabbits.[7]”
 
Do not feed pineapples or pineapple juice / papaya in such cases!
This is because the protein digesting enzymes in pineapple juice + the acid can attack the stomach lining for an unwell rabbit with a slowed gut and cause ulcers. This is not a good idea.
To find out more about gut stasis and bloat / gastric obstruction, read here.

What if GI Stasis is not treated?
The rabbit will accumulate fat in the liver, (hepatic lipidosis), the liver and kidneys fail and the rabbit dies.
You can read up more on GI stasis here.

GI Stasis vs. Bloat in Rabbits | Save Your Bunny’s Life!
https://youtu.be/94XvUw0_8lI
How to Syringe Feed a Rabbit:
 
– Article by Hong Qixian for Ideas for Bunnies Edited 02/07/2021
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