Enteropathy refers to any condition affecting the intestines. There are several types of enteropathy, but the most common type that seems to affect rabbits is referred to as mucoid enteropathy.
What is mucoid enteropathy?
Mucoid enteropathy is a disease of the intestinal tract, causing inflammation, hypersecretion and accumulation of mucus in the small and large intestines. Signs of the disease include lethargy, diarrhoea, anorexia, weight loss and caecal impactions.
How is mucoid enteropathy contracted?
Mucoid enteropathy is often known as mucoid enteritis or just ME. It is still not known why some rabbits develop the condition and what role diet, stress, caecal microflora or pathogens play, although in all likelihood they all play some part.
What rabbits are commonly affected?
Young rabbits at weaning age are by far and away the most common group affected. The condition is much more common in large groups of rabbits and is not generally found in the wild rabbit population. Adult rabbits can be affected, especially after an extremely stressful incident, such as transportation, giving birth, loss of a companion, attach by a predator, etc.
What are the clinical signs?
The defining feature of mucoid enteropathy is the presence of a large amount of mucus in the colon, which also results in mucus diarrhoea. The stomach and small intestines often become distended with gas and fluid. Constipation is often also found (normally on post-mortem), since a plug of mucus may be found obstructing the colon.
Clinical signs in adult rabbits include abdominal distention, depression, a low body temperature, excessive and 'wet' gut sounds. The rabbit will stop producing normal hard droppings and diarrhoea may be present. The rabbit may produce some form of faecal material which will be mixed with large amounts of mucus. Many rabbits will have some or complete loss of appetite and painful tooth grinding is often seen.
How is the disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis is made often on clinical symptoms and radiographic findings, since gas shadows can often be seen in the caecum and small intestines. Sadly, many cases may also be diagnosed during a post-mortem examination, since the condition is often rapidly fatal.
Can mucoid enteropathy be treated?
The prognosis for these cases is often poor despite aggressive treatment consisting of prokinetic medication, pain relief, anti-ulcer medication, antibiotics, probiotics, aggressive fluid therapy and nutritional support.
Treatment may be successful in older rabbits who are seen by a vet in the very early stages, but as the disease often affects very young rabbits who have just undergone a home change, the prognosis is very poor.
How can I help prevent the problem?
Feeding a diet high in digestible fibre and reducing stress as much as possible seem to be the most sensible option. If acquiring baby rabbits, then getting them from good breeders who will have been feeding lots of hay, grass and weaned the babies at the correct age, is also a wise idea.