Pet care with HANSEL.
Vet Hansel answers your questions about pet care in this weekly advice column, created in partnership with the Bahrain Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BSPCA). It will also be highlighting each week some of the animals in the BSPCA sanctuary, in the hope of finding each of them a loving home.
Question: I recently bought a bunny and he seems to be losing weight. My friend thinks he is showing symptoms of having a hair ball, can you please explain what that is?
Answer: Like cats, rabbits groom themselves almost constantly causing hair to pass through their digestive tract. This is normal behaviour and only becomes a problem if too much hair is consumed, or for some reason cannot pass through normally. The accumulated hair forms a ball that cannot pass through the intestinal tract, usually leading to an obstruction. This is referred to as hair ball, wool block, gastric stasis or hair block. The stomach is the most common part of the intestinal tract affected. Unlike cats, rabbits do not have the physical ability to vomit up hair balls.
Common symptoms include poor appetite, smaller fecal pellets, weakness and weight loss. For an exact diagnosis and treatment it is very important to consult your vet. Sometimes, X-rays are taken to evaluate the intestinal tract. Without treatment, it can become more serious, and even fatal in extreme cases.
Treatment of hair ball obstructions can be either medical or surgical. Medical treatment includes medication to stimulate the digestive system, administration of injectable fluids, or medication to increase contractions of the intestinal tract. Sometimes pain medication and anti-ulcer treatments will also be given. If this is not effective, surgical removal of the hair ball may be necessary. Re-establishing the natural balance of microorganisms in the digestive system can be assisted by certain medications.
Many rabbits afflicted with hair balls are found to be on a high carbohydrate, low fibre diet. These rabbits are often kept caged and have been under stress, causing changes in the motility and function of the stomach and intestines.
Hair chewing is usually caused by a low fibre diet or due to boredom. Providing adequate fiber in the diet is critical to maintaining good movement throughout the gastrointestinal tract and to prevent this condition. This means that your rabbit should have plenty of fresh grass hay available at all times and plenty of fresh greens available. Offer limited pellets or feed hay along with pellets. Adding magnesium oxide to the diet may be helpful to provide sufficient moisture and fibre to keep your rabbits internal organs functioning in top form.
Prevention usually consists of providing a high fibre diet, avoiding stress and obesity, adding toys and items for chewing to the cages to overcome boredom and regular grooming.
For further reading please visit www.petmd.com/rabbit/conditions/digestive/
* Dr Hansel Geo is a veterinary consult and surgeon for the BSPCA. Please send questions to email@example.com
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