Pet Factsheets

Intussusception - an intestinal condition

A normal x-ray of a rabbit's gastrointestinal tract
©University of Cambridge

Intussusception is a life-threatening condition where part of the intestine slides into itself. This results in swelling and narrowing of the intestine which blocks passage of food and fluid as well as preventing blood flow to the affected area of the intestine which can result in destruction of the intestinal tissue. Without prompt diagnosis and surgery, this condition is usually lethal.

What rabbits are at risk and what are the causes of this condition?

This is a very uncommon condition in rabbits.

When it occurs, it is usually seen in younger rabbits as a consequence of a complications from intestinal stasis, or bacterial/protozoal infections.

What are the signs of intussusception?

Complete or partial blockage of the intestine from intussusception will result in reduction/cessation of faecal output.

In the early stages, you may see that the rabbit has a decreased appetite, a distended abdomen, lethargy, and signs of pain and discomfort such as tooth grinding, hunching over, or sitting up with eyes half closed. These clinical signs can be attributed to many other conditions in rabbits, so it is important to get your rabbit to an experienced vet immediately for an accurate diagnosis.

What will my vet do?

To diagnose the problem your vet will perform a thorough physical examination on the rabbit including palpation of the intestines to initially detect any thickening, obstruction or full bowels. They may also perform an ultrasound scan, blood work and radiography to confirm the diagnosis and help rule out any other causes for the signs.

What will happen if my rabbit is diagnosed with an intussusception?

Your vet will need to decide on the best course of treatment. This will be decided based upon the severity and cause of the problem, location of the intussusception, and the condition/physical health of the rabbit.

Both surgical and medical treatment may be needed for intussusception associated with coccidiosis or bacterial infection. The prognosis for a successful outcome is guarded, but your rabbit stands the best chance of recovery if treatment is started as soon as you notice something is wrong with your rabbit.

What can I do to prevent the condition?

The condition is rare, but preventative measures such as good husbandry, hygiene, and feeding a good high fibre diet will help prevent intestinal infections and keep the gut healthy.

Minimising stress is also important, including regular cleaning of the litter trays, not mixing rabbits (except for bonding of pairs/groups), and minimising harassment from other pets or children all can help keep a happy healthy rabbit.

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