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Rabbit Megacolon Syndrome is something that is still relatively "new" in the rabbit community that rescuers and educators alike are striving to bring more awareness to. Here at Magic Happens Rabbit Rescue in the last 7 years alone we have had 4 different rabbits in our program with this condition. We are working on better recognizing it and have been educating ourselves so we can better educate potential adopters of any rabbits we suspect have it in our program. This is a brief overview with some basic information, the goal of this page is to put together a list of resources we found helpful and some of our experience with it.
As defined by Rabbit Welfare UK: "Rabbit megacolon syndrome refers to a rare disease process observed in rabbits which exhibit chronic, unresponsive, intermittent diarrhoea
accompanied by weight loss. The term ‘megacolon’ refers to the clinical observation that these rabbits often have a very dilated (expanded) colon on investigation. Megacolon is a common problem in cats and although their gastrointestinal anatomy is very different to rabbits the term has been borrowed from them."
There unfortunately isn't a straightforward way to officially diagnose it. It is generally seen in rabbits with very little coloring, typically they have a little spotting along their back, color around their eyes, and usually a little mustache. It is not specific to any one breed and has been seen in many, from English spots, to Rexes, and even "spotty" Californians. We've heard of the occasional Red-Eyed-White having it as well.
The biggest tell-tale signs that your rabbit may have megacolon syndrome are their poops. Even from a young age, rabbits that have genetic megacolon will typically show some sort of sign, and that is typically large, oval shaped poops, usually covered in mucus. Sometimes the poops are just misshapen, or different shapes and sizes, and sometimes have a shiny mucus coating (see picture for example, 2 of the 3 megacolon poops have a "shine"). There are also varying degrees of severity. The cecotropes will also be larger, and smellier than a normal rabbits. Susceptibility to G.I stasis may not start until they are over 3 years old, but again, is dependent on the rabbit.
Please look into the resources below and get with a rabbit savvy vet to rule out any obvious suspects (i.e parasites) and then put together a treatment plan for your rabbit. Some resources include things you can send to your vet if they do not know much on the subject. For Louisiana residents, check our recommended vets.
Rabbits with megacolon can still lead quality lives!! Keeping them on a healthy diet and keeping a close eye on eating/pooping habits will help in the long run. Watch this webinar for what types of diet changes this looks like: Triangle Rabbits: Megacolon in Rabbits Webinar Recording (8/1/2020). Other tips include documenting stasis episodes, especially what happened the 24 hours ahead of the episode (when they do have a G.I stasis episode) and what they've eaten/any changes to habitat to try to help establish a pattern, also note any changes in the household, especially potential stressful events or anything that might put them out of their routine like: visitors, new pets, etc.
Adding a supplement can help, some owners see dramatic improvement in poop quality. We have found Sherwood Forest's Digestive Support to be helpful with some of our megacolon prone bunnies. One of the biggest things is do NOT give your megacolon syndrome bunny sugar, as it can cause issues with their gut-balance. Giving (healthy) treats/supplements 1-2 times a day helps catch potential episodes early, we like to break supplement amounts into two portions, morning and evening, as this helps you notice when they're not eating a little faster (hopefully). If your megacolon prone bunny ever refuses to eat bring to the vet. (For Louisiana residents, check our recommended vets. LSU and Avian and Exotics are definitely up-to-date on megacolon care/issues.)
Our experiences involve Sir Stella, and Doodle, as well as one of our alumni rabbits, GusGus. All of which have the classic minimal spotting along their back, and 2 of the 3 have a small or partial mustache. 2 of the 3 came to us as adults with already acute symptoms and the other came to us when he was weeks old, but still had some signs.
GusGus was part of a spotty litter that was arrived at MHRR a few weeks after they were born in January 2018. Ever since he was young, he has frequently had larger, oval shaped poops, larger cecotropes. His diet is 99% hay, Sherwood Forest Digestive Support, and Science Selective Fortified Rabbit food. He has had 2 fecals sent off, both came back negative for parasites. He has been treated for coccidia once as a precautionary measure. GusGus is 4 years old old now, and has had 4 stasis episodes since he turned 3, 2 in 2021, 2 in 2022, with him they were caught early enough he was only in G.I distress about 3-4 hours each time. Misshapen poops are pretty 'normal' for him but it is not like the cow-pies we have seen from senior cases of megacolon.
The litter GusGus was a part of arrived not long after Sir Stella, who was the first bun we had tentatively diagnosed with it, so we were still very much in the learning phase. GusGus had the most obvious signs of the whole litter, and coincidentally was the only one with a partial mustache. (GusGus was adopted by one of our board members, who purposely adopted him since he was showing some signs of megacolon while we were still learning more about it).
Sir Stella was an owner surrender that came to us in January 2018, he was a mini rex. We know he was born in 2012, and that he had had a sensitivity to fruits. While with us he did not have any major stasis episodes (but did in the past with his former owner), but his poops became increasingly more "cow pie" like despite testing negative for parasites. For a few months his poops improved with supplements (Sherwood food, and digestive support) but he continued to have a hard time keeping weight on despite free feeding and adding critical care to his daily diet. Besides cow pie poops, he also had the classic signs of a large gut and a protruding spine despite a ravenous appetite. He ate everything in front of him until he passed away on his own in August 2018 while in foster care. He was 6 years old.
Doodle came to us from an animal control facility in April 2020 with no other background information. He had squishy poops but at first it was attributed to diet and parasites. He did test positive for coccidia and was treated for it twice, but his poops never really improved. He too had a hard time keeping on weight and had a large gut, and protruding spine. Despite supportive care and treatment he passed away in July 2020.
So what have we learned? With younger bunnies (under 2-3 years old) catching and adjusting diet while they are young does seem to help. Is GusGus 100% stasis episode free? No, but at this point in his life we know what works for him when he does have an episode.
Seniors with megacolon symptoms: Their life can certainly be extended with diet adjustments, medications, and supplements, but it depends on how 'early' you are able to catch it, once a bunny is frequently having what we call 'cowpies' and poops no longer have a shape it is much more difficult to try to help but there are still things you can do. With rescue bunnies obviously we are not able to catch it early, but we can still adjust diet, add supplements and give them supportive care the remainder of their life.
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