Like many animals, rabbits get bacterial infections. One of the more common ones is pasteurella; you can read more about it on our website.
But we also need to keep in mind the good bacteria inside their complicated gastrointestinal tracts. These are the bacteria that are important for proper nutrition and in some cases for life. One of these good bacteria is called Oxylobacter formigenes. Oxylobacter formigenes may be important in calcium metabolism in rabbits. Oxylobacter utilizes salts called oxalates in its own metabolism, removing them from the bloodstream. Excess oxalates in the diet can coalesce and form calcium oxalate stones in the kidneys and urinary bladder. These stones will cause irritation and can even cause a blockage.
Antibiotics to treat diseases like pasteurella might reduce the Oxylobacter populations in the intestine. This could increase the risk of kidney and bladder stones. The use of probiotics during and after antibiotic therapy may be helpful.
Food containing high levels of oxalates should be avoided to help minimize the formation of calcium oxalate stones. These include spinach, parsley, celery and strawberries. Rabbits on a diet that is too high in calcium might accumulate a calcium-rich “sludge” in the bladder. This occurs in rabbits fed alfalfa hay and spinach, both high in calcium. This sludge causes chronic discomfort and irritation.
The arrow points to excess amounts of sludge (calcium) in a rabbit’s urinary bladder.
Treating rabbits with this problem involves lots of fluids, potassium citrate to bind the calcium, and reducing dietary intake of calcium. Therapy may even include the handle end of an electric toothbrush to massage the abdomen and help break up the calcium oxalate sludge so it can be urinated out.
Rabbits should only be fed timothy hay, which has less calcium than alfalfa, spinach and other greens. Timothy-based diets that are lower in calcium and higher in fiber include Cavy Cuisine, Bunny Basics T and Oxbow Pet Products.
Feed your rabbit only timothy hay.
For more information on rabbit diseases, follow this link.
Photos courtesy of LBAH.