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Rabbits And Hairballs

Are hairballs a cause of gastrointestinal distress in rabbits?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, DABVP
Posted: March 27, 2009, 1:00 p.m. EDT

Q: We have a very cute Holland lop rabbit. The problem is hairballs. When she goes into heavy shedding, hairballs sometimes get stuck in her stomach. On three occasions, we ended up taking her to the animal hospital. Two of those times, she needed to stay overnight. At our most recent visit, the veterinarian suggested that we mix pineapple juice in her water to aid in digestion of the hair.
A friend who raised angora rabbits suggested a small amount of mineral oil on her pellets to help move the hair through. Do you have a suggestion on how much to use or any other suggestions on helping our rabbit avoid problems with its hair?

A: I constantly talk with people about the concept of hairballs in rabbits. I do not believe hairballs are the true problem in rabbits. Rabbits on a proper diet that get a proper amount of exercise should not have gastrointestinal problems. A Proper diet for adult rabbits that are not pregnant or lactating includes few to no pellets. The diet should be a high-fiber diet. Hay and grasses should constitute the majority of the diet. When the rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract has less than optimal amounts of fiber or too many carbohydrates are in the diet, digestion may become slow. Therefore, it seems like hair is blocking the stomach. I suggest improving diet and exercise rather than using pineapple juice or mineral oil.

Some people may suggest brushing your rabbit often during shedding season to remove hair before your rabbit does. I have heard others counter this suggestion by saying that brushing a rabbit causes some rabbits to groom to a greater extent to remove the effects of the brushing!

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Reader Comments
Great info!
Mike, Columbia, TN
Posted: 4/24/2009 12:07:36 PM
My rabbit Milo had his stomach messed up by a veterinarian who did not know what they were doing when they treated him for a hairball. So we found a better vet and I found a better (all natural) way to treat for hairballs, when I told our new vet he told me if it works more power to me. It's dandilions, yes this weed works great for all three of my boys especially Milo, who is prone to hair balls, despite his high fiber, top quality food. The leaves are a natural laxative, I give a handful every once in a while as a preventive and when they actually have a hairball, I give them a handful for five days in a row. They think its a treat, because I give along with their regular diet. I haven't had any adverse side effects, and my bunnies enjoy it more than petromalt or the cat lax our old vet gave Milo. They gobble them right up without a problem and are happier for it:)
Jennifer, Jacobs Creek, PA
Posted: 4/11/2009 12:28:21 PM
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