Bunny tummies are full of mysteries! Did you know that rabbits simply can’t throw up – no matter how sick they feel or what weird stuff they swallow? It’s true! Unlike cats, dogs, humans and most other animals, rabbits lack the special nerves and muscles to vomit. Find out why Mother Nature designed these adorable animals with such a funny flaw. This strange fact of biology makes bunnies really vulnerable to choking and tummy troubles. Join us on an epic voyage through the bizarre innards of rabbits to uncover what’s behind their complete inability to hurl! We’ll hop through what happens when their digestive system gets plugged or poisoned and how you can help your pet in a bind. Let’s dive into the drama!
Why Can’t Rabbits be Sick?
Rabbits are unable to vomit for several anatomical and physiological reasons. Their stomach is quite small relative to their size and food moves quickly through it into the intestines. Rabbits also have a powerful band of muscle separating the stomach from the esophagus called the gastroesophageal sphincter that tightly closes off the stomach, preventing contents from coming back up.
Additionally, rabbits lack the complex nerve wiring between the brain and stomach that triggers the vomiting reflex in other animals. Signals from the brain to initiate vomiting are blocked in rabbits. Even if rabbits wanted to vomit, their bodies are simply not built to do so.
The inability to vomit is likely an evolutionary adaptation in rabbits. In the wild, vomiting would make rabbits easy targets for predators due to the noise and scent produced. Rabbits may have evolved to have such tight sphincter control and lack of vomiting reflexes as a survival mechanism.
While inconvenient for pet owners, the rabbit's inability to vomit does serve an important purpose for the rabbit. Rabbits are prey animals that rely on stealth and secrecy to avoid falling victim to predators. Throwing up loudly could reveal a rabbit's location and put it at risk of attack. Over time, evolution selected for rabbits that could not physically vomit in order to improve the species' chances of survival.
So next time your pet rabbit eats something it should not have, remember it has no way to vomit or throw it back up. This is simply how rabbits evolved in order to thrive in the wild. Their bodies are designed for silent and swift digestion, even if it is frustrating when they eat something toxic!
Do Rabbits Regurgitate in Any Way?
While rabbits are incapable of vomiting, they are able to regurgitate small amounts occasionally. Regurgitation is different from vomiting in that it does not involve forceful abdominal contractions to expel stomach contents. Instead, rabbits may passively regurgitate small amounts of food or water if they have consumed too much too quickly.
This regurgitation occurs when excess portions of food or liquid back up from a rabbit's full stomach into the esophagus. The gastroesophageal sphincter muscle will relax slightly to allow some of the excess to come up. Usually only a small amount will regurgitate before the sphincter tightens again to block further reverse movement.
Regurgitation may also happen if food passes abnormally slowly through the first section of intestine directly attached to the stomach, called the duodenum. The duodenum may push small amounts of food back into the stomach in this case.
While vomiting and regurgitation appear similar, regurgitation is more passive and involves very little partially digested food. Rabbits may lick up any regurgitated material to prevent waste and hide signs from predators.
Another condition rabbits may experience is cecal dysbiosis, in which excess cecotropes are expelled from the anus undigested. Cecotropes normally get reingested directly from the anus for additional nutritional absorption. Excess cecotrope discharge is not vomiting, but rather a disruption of the unique dual rabbit digestion process involving the cecum.
So in summary, while rabbits cannot actively vomit, a small degree of passive regurgitation is normal, especially if they eat too fast or are stressed during feeding. Monitor any regurgitation to ensure your bunny's gastrointestinal system functions properly.
Health Problems Caused by Not Vomiting
The inability to vomit makes rabbits prone to certain health problems, especially related to gastrointestinal function and toxins. Some key conditions include:
Gastrointestinal stasis or ileus – Since rabbits can't vomit, ingested food or blockages may lead to dangerous slowing of the GI tract. This failure of normal motility and digestion can be fatal in just 24-48 hours if left untreated.
Toxin buildup – With no vomiting mechanism, toxins can't be expelled from the body. Ingested toxins remain trapped in the GI tract. This includes toxins from poisonous plants or chemicals.
Choking hazards – Rabbits may try to regurgitate an obstruction stuck in the throat, esophagus, or stomach. If this fails, they have no other way to remove blockages.
Bloating – Buildup of gas and swallowed air can cause uncomfortable or even dangerous stomach distension since there is no vomiting relief valve.
Dietary indiscretion – Overeating, engorging on rich food, or chewing non-food items cannot be corrected by vomiting. This can disrupt digestion.
Motion sickness – Rabbits cannot throw up from motion sickness, leading to increased nausea and discomfort.
Dental disease – Reduced chewing and tooth root problems may develop since vomiting doesn't allow clearance of excess swallowed food debris.
Knowing that rabbits can't vomit, close observation of appetite and stool output is key to identifying GI issues before they become critical. Seek prompt veterinary care if your rabbit shows signs of gastrointestinal distress. Support good gut motility and dental health through proper diet and hydration.
Not Vomiting Blocks a Rabbit's Digestive System
The rabbit digestive tract relies on constant forward motion of food to function properly. The lack of a vomiting mechanism can therefore quickly lead to dangerous gastrointestinal stasis when an obstruction blocks this system.
Rabbits have a very high basal metabolic rate and require frequent eating to keep food moving through. Even a few hours without eating induces GI slowdown. The stomach and intestines will shut down and stop contractions to move content if a rabbit goes off feed.
This can occur from stress, pain, fever, dehydration, dental problems, or other underlying issues. It may also result if a foreign object, ingested hairball, or too much indigestible matter blocks forward motion through the stomach or intestines. With no vomiting capacity, the dehydrated mass sits immobile inside the tract.
Signs of GI stasis include reduced eating and fecal output, weight loss, lethargy, distended belly, and lack of normal gut sounds. Without quick treatment, toxins released by trapped food can cause serious illness and even death from blood poisoning.
Ileus or complete GI shutdown is a medical emergency in rabbits. Supportive therapy includes pain medicine, gut stimulants, hydration, and sometimes surgical removal of blockages. Prevention via proper diet and annual exams is key.
Since rabbits cannot vomit around or dislodge obstructions, it is critical to get veterinary help immediately if gastrointestinal stasis is suspected. Catching the issue early maximizes chances of full recovery.
Not Vomiting Can Lead to Blocked Airways in Rabbits
Without vomiting reflexes, rabbits are also at higher risk of blocked airways and choking. Rabbits may attempt to push an obstruction back up the esophagus by regurgitating, but cannot actively vomit to expel it if this fails.
Choking hazards include:
- Pieces of food that are too large
- Long stringy greens
- Small balls or toys
- Wood shavings or cardboard pieces from chewing
- Hard chunks of compressed hair from self-grooming
Signs of an obstructed airway include exaggerated swallowing motions, stretching the neck, pawing at the mouth, making muted choking noises, and turning bluish on the lips and tongue.
Blocked airways quickly become life-threatening emergencies in rabbits if the object is not removed. Even a few minutes without oxygen leads to brain damage. Attempts to clear the airway at home like upside down shaking or back slaps are NOT recommended in rabbits. This can cause further lodging of the obstruction.
Seek emergency veterinary care immediately if your rabbit shows signs of choking. The vet will employ special instruments and procedures to clear the airway without harming delicate rabbit facial structures. With rapid intervention, airway obstructions can usually be resolved.
Prevent choking hazards by following proper rabbit diet guidelines, supervising play with small items, and providing chewing alternatives to household objects. Knowing that rabbits cannot vomit up something swallowed or inhaled the wrong way underscores how important proactive protection is.
How to Help a Choking Rabbit
Discovering a choking rabbit is a frightening event for any pet owner. However, there are a few things you can try while racing to the vet or waiting for emergency assistance:
Keep the rabbit calm. Do not attempt home remedies that may worsen blockages like turning upside down or back slaps. Hold the rabbit gently but firmly in place if struggling.
Open the mouth very carefully and look for a visible foreign object. Remove it gently using fingers or tweezers ONLY if clearly visible and graspable. Do not perform blind finger sweeps.
In severe cases, hold the rabbit with head down at a 20 degree angle to allow gravity to pull object into throat where it may be removed under sedation.
Keep airway open. Extend the neck gently and wipe away any discharge blocking the nostrils or mouth. Absolutely do not cover the nose or mouth.
Give rescue breaths if breathing stops. Place your mouth over the nose and breathe gently every few seconds if possible.
Massage throat to relax muscles while waiting for veterinary care. This may aid in dislodging objects.
Transport rabbit to vet rapidly while monitoring breathing. Call ahead so staff is ready for choke emergency.
Bring any packaging or material from object swallowed to help identify it if unsure.
Staying calm and taking care not to worsen the blockage is key. Seek professional veterinary attention immediately for the best chance of saving a choking rabbit’s life.
Rabbits Cannot Vomit After Consuming Toxins
A major downside of rabbits being unable to vomit is their inability to expel toxins from the body once consumed. Whereas many mammals instinctively vomit after ingesting poisons, rabbits have no such protection.
Toxic substances easily pass through the rabbit digestive system where they are readily absorbed, since there is no vomiting reflex to halt transit and expel them. This makes rabbits extremely vulnerable to illnesses from inadvertent toxin exposure.
Some common toxins that cause severe reactions in rabbits include:
Pesticides or insecticides on lawns and gardens
Moldy or spoiled foods
Tannins in oak or maple leaves
Oxalates in rhubarb or spinach
Nicotine or caffeine
Carbon monoxide or smoke inhalation
Lead paint chips
Onion or garlic powders
The effects of toxins range from mild diarrhea or drooling to seizures, liver failure, coma, and death. Providing emergency care to stabilize a rabbit poisoned by an unknown substance is very difficult.
Prevention is therefore key. Rabbit-proof your home by keeping all human foods and chemicals out of reach. Identify and remove any toxic plants from outdoor spaces where rabbits play. Keep air spaces well ventilated and use non-toxic building materials.
If poisoning is suspected, rush the rabbit to the vet immediately. They can attempt to identify the toxin and administer IV fluids, binders, or medications to slow absorption. However, without the ability to vomit, the prognosis for a severely poisoned rabbit is often poor. Take great care to protect your pet from toxins given their ultra-sensitive digestive system.
Rabbits truly are unique creatures when it comes to digestion. Understanding the evolutionary adaptations that make vomiting impossible for bunnies provides insight into their care. Be vigilant in maintaining proper gut motility and preventing blockages or toxins. With attentive husbandry, rabbits can live full, healthy lives despite their anatomical challenges. Their precious vulnerability makes them all the more endearing. Here's to many happy, hoppy years with your floofy friends!