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How Can I Keep my Rabbit from Getting Hairballs

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Question: How Can I Keep my Rabbit from Getting Hairballs
Answer: Hair balls in rabbits are a potentially serious problem and prevention is definitely easier than treating them once they have developed. When rabbits groom, they can ingest a lot of hair which can accumulate in the stomach. Unlike cats, rabbits cannot vomit so if the hair doesn't move out of the stomach into the intestines, it can form a large mass (medically known as a trichobezoar) in the stomach. This condition is also sometimes called wool block. A similar mass of mostly undigested food can form if a rabbit is kept on an inappropriate diet, so sometimes large amounts of hair isn't the whole problem. In any case, the ability of the rabbit to digest food is affected and the rabbit can become very ill, and possibly even die.

Prevention

  • High fiber (and low carbohydrate) diet. A diet high in fiber (lots of fresh hay and vegetables) stimulates motility of the gastrointestinal tract and keeps food (and acidentally ingested hair) moving through the stomach. See "Feeding Rabbits" for more information on the proper diet for house rabbits.
  • Lots of exercise (also aids gastrointestinal motility and digestion). This means playtime outside of the cage along with toys to encourage activity. "Rabbits for Toys" discusses good toys and activities for pet rabbits.
  • Grooming. Regular brushing especially during a heavy shedding period will help reduce the amount of hair swallowed.
  • Low stress environment. Rabbits kept in stressful (crowded, unclean, noisy, presence of possible predators, etc.) are more susceptile to this condition.

Rabbits affected by hairballs (or or any other materials accumulating in the stomach) will often show a decrease in appetite and eventually weight loss. The amount of feces produced usually decreases too. The rabbit may act depressed or lethargic as well. If your rabbit is showing any of these signs you should see your vet immediately. Remember that if your rabbit stops eating, numerous other digestive problems often result and your rabbit's health can deteriorate very quickly. If hair balls are diagnosed a number of treatments can be attempted to treat the problem medically; if they progress to the point when surgery is required the chances of recovery are reduced. Providing the appropriate high fiber diet along with opportunity for exercise are critical to you rabbit's health.

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