From ~


  • Stomach becomes hard and grossly distended
  • Can cut off blood supply to stomach and intestines
  • Can quickly lead to shock and death
  • Do not massage the rabbit’s stomach, as this can make the situation worse
  • Seek immediate veterinary care


From ~  ~ “Harelines” ~ the newsletter of the Buckeye HRS ~ Spring/Summer 2009 ~ Volume 13 Number 2


 By Dr. Barbara Oglesbee, DVM ~ Capital Veterinary Referral & Emergency Center ~ Columbus, OH 43228

Gastrointestinal Dilation, also known as gastrointestinal obstruction or “bloat,” is one of the few immediately life-threatening conditions seen in house rabbits. Therefore, it is important that rabbit owners be aware of the signs and symptoms of this disorder. The earlier medical treatment is started, the greater the probability the rabbit will survive.

Gastrointestinal (GI) Dilation is not related in any way to gastrointestinal stasis (GI stasis), or hypomotility syndrome, although it can sometimes be difficult to tell the two apart.

Bloat is caused by a sudden and complete obstruction (or blockage) of the intestines.

NOTE from Meadow ~ our extremely rabbit-savvy vet does not believe that Bloat always occurs suddenly.  He is of the opinion that the rabbit has been experiencing a gut slowdown (GI Stasis) immediately prior.  This is why early intervention is critical whenever a rabbit refuses food and drink.

Most of the time the blockage occurs in the small intestine, just 2-3 inches past the stomach

Less often, it occurs where the small intestine meets the cecum (called the ileoceco-colonic junction)

If the intestine is blocked very close to the stomach, symptoms develop very quickly

If the blockage is further down, by the cecum, it may take longer for the blockage to become life threatening


Rabbits cannot vomit. They have a very tight sphincter at the entrance to the stomach to stop anything from moving from the stomach up into the esophagus and out the mouth.

Rabbits also make a lot of saliva to moisten and help digest food. The stomach also makes a lot of fluid for the same purpose.

If the intestines suddenly become completely blocked, the rabbit will continue to swallow saliva, the stomach continues to make fluid, but none of this fluid can leave the stomach. So, the stomach gradually starts to fill up with fluid.

The bacteria trapped in the stomach overgrow and most of these bacteria are gas forming.

With time, the stomach fills with gas and fluid and becomes very dilated, like an over-inflated balloon, hence the name “bloat.”

The enlarged stomach places pressure on the chest cavity and compromises lung and heart function.

The compression of the chest cavity makes it difficult for the rabbit to breathe, and often leads to heart failure (cardiovascular collapse).

An overstretched, dilated stomach causes many life-threatening problems.

First ~ it is very painful

Second ~ the stomach becomes so large that it blocks blood flow to essential organs such as the heart and kidneys

Third ~ the fluid trapped in the stomach causes dangerous electrolyte imbalances

Fourth ~ the stomach wall becomes so stretched that the stomach itself starts to die off

Fifth ~ eventually the stomach will rupture, virtually popping like a balloon. This is the most common cause of death in rabbits with bloat. When the stomach ruptures, the rabbit dies instantly. Many cases of bloat are probably not recognized because of this.

Things progress very quickly so that in many cases the owner reports that he went to work with his rabbit looking either normal, or “just a little off,” and came home to the horrible discovery that the bunny had died.

Bloat is probably the most common cause of sudden death in a previously healthy, thriving rabbit.

By L. Seeman, MSN  (January 2004) ~ at ~ ~


One of the most disturbing conditions any bunny parent will face is GI Stasis.  I contend there is an even greater threat, and one that is more difficult to recognize: Bloat.


 Unlike GI Stasis, bloat happens suddenly and without warning(See my NOTE above)

One minute your bun is eating, drinking, eliminating, and playing normally, the next minute he is depressed, moribund, and stops eating, drinking, and playing. Just like that.

A bunny rapidly decompensates (decompensation ~ inability of an organ, especially the heart, to maintain its function due to overload) with bloat, and immediate veterinary intervention is crucial to his survival.

A lower than normal body temperature (under 100F) usually occurs, causing the bun to go into shock.

I firmly believe Bloat can be a primary disorder which can occur suddenly and without warning, as well as a complication of GI Stasis.