Most animals will only absorb the amount of calcium that they need from their diet and will get rid of the excess calcium through their urinary tract. However, rabbits absorb calcium in a different way; they absorb all of the calcium in their diet and secrete the excess through the passing of urine. Its not known why rabbits absorb calcium in this manner, however, experts believe that it may be due to the constant growth of their teeth which requires calcium to help them grow strong and healthy. Excess calcium then builds up and cause Urolithiases, more commonly known as stones or calcium sludge.
- Loss or lessening of appetite
- Fewer or no passing of droppings
- Blood in the urine
- Grinding of teeth (often loud)
- Pressing their abdomen to the ground
- Urine scalds
- Straining when urinating or being unable to urinate
- Passing thick white urine
The rabbit’s pain can come intermittently and with it the symptoms, depending on the movement of the stones/ sludge.
Rabbits that are fed a diet high in calcium rich foods seem to be more likely to develop Urolithiases. Vegetables high in calcium include: curly kale, carrots, spinach, parsley and spring greens. Alfalfa hay is also high in calcium. As long as your rabbit is fed a balanced diet they should be getting all the calcium they require.
When rabbits drink less water the calcium build up mixed with low levels of urine can exacerbate the problem. This can be more prevalent in the winter as water bottles and bowls can freeze limiting their access to water. If your rabbit uses a water bowl add a small plastic ball to the water. When the rabbit drinks from the bowl the ball will be pushed around which should help stop the water from freezing.
If you rabbit uses a water bottle you can purchase an insulating Water Bottle Cover to help stop the water freezing.
Overweight rabbits will not be able to get in to the right position to urinate or their muscle tone around the bladder may be weaker. The calcium in the bladder can then build up as their balder is never fully emptied.
If your rabbit is experiencing any symptoms of Urolithiases it’s important that you take them to a rabbit savvy vet without delay for further investigation.
Stabilising treatment will include:
- Fluid therapy
- Pain medication
- Gut motility medication such as Metaclopromide to prevent the GI system from shutting down
- Syringe feeding
Once your rabbit is stabilised, surgery is the most likely option.