Loss of Appetite in Pet Rabbits

Pet rabbit eating
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Pet rabbits usually chew on everything they can get their teeth on. But what happens when your hungry bunny all of a sudden has a loss of appetite?

Why Rabbits Lose Their Appetite

The most common reason for the loss of appetite in a rabbit is a gastrointestinal problem called ileus. Ileus occurs when the normal peristalsis, or movement of the stomach and intestines to push food through the gastrointestinal tract, decreases or stops. Ileus is extremely dangerous in rabbits and can cause death if left untreated. But ileus is also usually due to another underlying problem. Some possible causes of ileus include:

Symptoms of Appetite Loss in Rabbits

In some cases loss of appetite is obvious: your rabbit is leaving its food untasted. In other cases, however, the changes may be subtler. If you aren't sure if your rabbit is eating then you can look for these signs and symptoms:

  • Decrease or absence of fecal matter
  • Decrease in size of fecal matter
  • Change in the texture of fecal matter (sticky, watery, harder, etc.)
  • Refusal to eat a favorite treat
  • Decrease in weight (get a baby scale to monitor your rabbit's weight)
  • Increase in leftover food
  • Decrease in activity
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism)

Treating a Loss of Appetite in Rabbits

Depending on the underlying cause, you may need to consult a veterinarian to get your rabbit eating again. If you are unsure of the reason for the loss of appetite first look over your rabbit for any obvious reasons of ileus or symptoms.

Sometimes you can determine why your rabbit isn't eating just by reviewing the list of reasons why they may have stopped. For example:

  • Overgrown incisor teeth (front teeth) are easy to see by lifting up your rabbit's lips.
  • Some tumors and abscesses are easily identifiable by stroking your rabbit and feeling a lump.
  • Nasal or eye drainage is easy to spot if there is drainage that isn't normally there (or your rabbit spends a lot of time wiping their face with their front paws and then has dirty front legs from the nose drainage).
  • By holding a mirror up to your rabbit's nose you can check to see if both nostrils are clear and creating condensation. 

If you aren't sure why your rabbit suddenly stopped eating and no recent environmental changes were made, you can try some home remedies before heading to the vet. Start by getting some green mixed vegetable baby food and a syringe. Force feed your rabbit so that they do not go without food and to stimulate their gastrointestinal tract. If your rabbit goes too long without eating their intestines will fill with gas since the normal peristalsis has decreased or stopped. This gas is very painful and is the scariest part of ileus. After force feeding, encourage your rabbit to exercise and massage their belly to encourage their gut motility. Increase the amount of water your rabbit consumes to provide extra hydration by filling both a clean water bowl and a water bottle for your rabbit to drink from. Syringe water or an electrolyte solution (such as unflavored Pedialyte) to your rabbit until they are defecating normally. If your rabbit is still eating a little bit, make sure you are offering greens with higher water content such as lettuce and celery to increase water intake as well as lots of hay.

Avoid feeding rabbit pellets at this time. If your rabbit still refuses food, call the vet right away.

Taking Your Rabbit to the Vet for a Loss of Appetite

It may not seem like a big deal if your dog, cat, or other pet skips a meal but if a rabbit does it may be an indication of an emergency situation. Rabbits that stop eating for even just a day are in a life-threatening situation and require immediate veterinary attention. Your vet may recommend IV fluids or another form of hydration and medications for pain, gas production, gastric motility, and other concerns. Force feeding with veterinary grade products such as Oxbow Critical Care or Emerald Intensive Care Herbivore will provide the nutrition your rabbit needs while they aren't eating normally.

Diagnosing Why Your Rabbit Has a Loss of Appetite

If your rabbit has to pay a visit to the veterinarian for a loss of appetite, the doctor may try to figure out why your rabbit stopped eating to begin with. Sometimes this isn't easy to do and requires laboratory testing, radiology, ultrasonography, and a thorough physical examination. Since there are so many different reasons why a rabbit may lose their appetite there are also several different tests to diagnose the cause (or causes) of it. A dental examination, blood tests, urine tests, fecal tests, radiology (x-rays), and other diagnostics may be recommended by your vet to aid in the diagnosis of your rabbit's loss of appetite and subsequent ileus.

If testing is limited or not practical (either due to the poor health of your rabbit or financial constraints), then symptoms can be treated aggressively with fluids and medication but the fasting may return depending on what the root cause was.

Preventing a Loss of Appetite in Your Rabbit

While most diseases that cause your rabbit to stop eating are completely preventable, there are many things you can do to aid in your rabbit's continued appetite. Make sure you provide your rabbit with unlimited grass hays (not alfalfa) and leafy greens, fresh drinking water in a bowl, a clean and protected place to sleep, and a stable environment free of fluctuating temperatures and stressors.