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Understanding Hairballs

& Hair Chewing

in Pet Rabbits

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Rabbits, like many other animals, are constantly grooming,
and they often swallow quite a bit of hair in the process.
The digestive system of a rabbit is normally always
processing food quickly, so the hair they swallow should
pass through their digestive tract and pose no problem.

But if too much hair is swallowed or accumulates in the
stomach it can block the stomach opening and make the rabbit
unable to eat. If a rabbit stops eating for very long, GI
Stasis will occur, meaning that the digestive processes will
stop. If this happens the rabbit will lose weigh and die
without (and sometimes even with) emergency veterinary

Sometimes pineapple or papaya supplements are used to help
to break down the hair in the stomach. Some rabbit keepers
give their rabbits regular supplements of papaya to help
prevent this problem. In any event, the rabbit should have
plenty of dietary roughage during this treatment to help it
pass the hair out of its body.

Hairballs can also be simply a symptom of a different
gastrointestinal problem. The digestive system of a rabbit
is a delicate balance of processes and easily disturbed.
There may be a gas buildup cases that can actually rupture
the stomach or intestines or at least cause ulceration, or
if the diet isn't good, there may be an electrolyte or
microfloral imbalance that can cause the rabbit's digestion
to be weak or to fail, leading to the swallowed hair forming
a hairball rather than exiting with the dietary fiber.

Treatment should be overseen by an experienced rabbit
veterinarian and should include medications to stimulate
gastrointestinal action, fluid therapy, anti-ulcer
treatment, probiotics to restore GI microflora, and pain
medication. In extreme cases surgery may be tried, but it is
very risky.

If a rabbit actually chews its own or another rabbit's hair
off (often called "barbering"), it is usually a sign that
something is wrong in the rabbit's diet. Most often the
rabbit needs more fiber. Rabbits should be given all the
fresh, unmoldy grass hay, such as timothy, that they can
eat. A diet of commercial rabbit pellets is not adequate to
maintain proper gastrointestinal action in rabbits. Of
course in some cases hair chewing is simply a sign of
boredom, and the addition of environmental enrichment
suitable for rabbits may put a stop to the habit.

Of course, the best cure is always prevention. Provide a
high fiber diet, avoid loud noises, predators, or other
things that cause rabbits excessive stress, provide
environmental enrichment, and if needed comb the rabbit
daily to remove loose hair, and you may never have to deal
with this problem.

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