Meteorism (tympanites, flatulency) in rabbits This article is verified by a vet

Vet examines rabbit with meteorism

Vets can diagnose meteorism in rabbits by listening to and tapping the abdomen.

Is your rabbit stretching all its legs and tapping with its paws? Then you should go to the vet, because these could be signs of meteorism. We will explain how the vet can help your rabbit and how you can protect rabbits from meteorism.

Just why is meteorism so dangerous?

If the intestine is so swollen that surrounding blood vessels are constricted, the blood can no longer escape. It accumulates and is then lacking in the rest of the body.

The infected parts of the intestine may die or rupture, leading to the threat of internal bleeding. This results in affected rabbits dying from a hypovolaemic shock caused by heavy blood loss.

Symptoms: What signs so rabbits with flatulence show?

In the case of meteorism, the gastrointestinal tract of rabbits will typically swell so severely that their stomach increases in size and hardens significantly. Rabbits suffer from severe pain and lie in the cage with a bent back.

They stretch their legs and gnash with their teeth. Since it is also painful for them to tread on their paws, this disease is also known as meteorism.

You shouldn't underestimate tympanites: If they aren't detected early on, rabbits can die from circulatory shock.

Symptoms for meteorism in rabbits include lying on their side and tapping with their paws.

Diagnosis: How do you recognise meteorism?

If your rabbit experiences severe pain or loses consciousness, you should go to a vet as soon as possible. The vet will ask you what your rabbit last ate and since when it has shown symptoms.

At the same time, they will examine the rabbit's general state of health by measuring its inner body temperature with a thermometer. This is very important in order to recognise an emergency early on.

The vet will next touch your rabbit's abdomen. If it is hard and severely swollen, the problem could be in the digestive tract. The vet can tell if the bowel is filled with gas by tapping. If your rabbit quickly withdraws its legs or twitches its head, this is a sign that it is in pain. If a hollow sound can be heard, the abdomen is distended with air.

In order to confirm their suspicion, the vet will perform an X-ray. This allows them to see exactly what is happening in the abdomen, since air is shown in black in the X-ray, whilst food pulp is light in colour. Hence, this rules out gastric overload, which triggers similar symptoms, as a differential diagnosis.

Treatment: How is this illness treated?

Important: Meteorism is an emergency, so a vet should be consulted immediately!

The vet will try to relieve flatulence by massaging the abdomen. If this doesn't help, degassing medication (e.g. Simeticon) or digestive remedies (e.g. Metoclopramide) can be used. If even this doesn't lead to any improvement, the vet can remove the gas from the digestive tract with the help of a stomach or intestinal probe.

If your rabbit is unconscious, the vet will stabilise its circulation during treatment with infusions and oxygen. In addition, your rabbit will receive painkillers. After treatment, it is necessary to force-feed it for several days with probes or syringes.

Causes: What is meteorism?

Meteorism (also tympanites or flatulence) is a life-threatening and painful disease affecting the gastrointestinal tract of rabbits. It emerges if too much air builds up in the digestive tract and constricts the surrounding blood vessels.

There are many causes that can lead to meteorism in rabbits. Too much gas forming in the gastrointestinal tract is often due to the following causes:

  • If your rabbit eats too little, digestion is not sufficiently stimulated. As a result, food pulp is not transported further and begins to ferment.
  • Dental diseases lead to your rabbit not being able to chew food sufficiently. Food particles that are too large or hairballs then get stuck in the digestive tract.
  • Certain toxins can also disrupt peristalsis. These usually enter the food through picked toxic plants or the bloodstream as medication.
  • Parasites (e.g. worms) and bacterial infections can also have a negative impact on digestion.

Prevention: How to protect your rabbit

In order to prevent the accumulation of air in your rabbit's gastrointestinal tract, you should give it no or very little rabbit food that ferments or is rich in carbohydrates (e.g. fresh grass or greens). Also make sure that there are no toxic plants in the food and remove old food remains from the cage.

In addition, your rabbit should be regularly examined by a vet, such as for malpositioned teeth or dental diseases.

Franziska G., Veterinarian
Profilbild von Tierärztin Franziska Gütgeman mit Hund

At the Justus-Liebig-University of Giessen I was extensively trained as a veterinarian and was able to gain experience in various fields such as small animal, large animal and exotic animal medicine as well as pharmacology, pathology and food hygiene. Since then, I have been working not only as a veterinary author, but also on my scientifically driven dissertation. My goal is to better protect animals from pathogenic bacterial organisms in the future. Besides my veterinary knowledge, I also share my own experiences as a happy dog owner and can thus understand and enlighten fears and problems as well as other important questions about animal health.

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