Like cats, rabbits are heavy groomers. When licking their coats to clean themselves, rabbits risk ingesting large amounts of loose fur. These furs subsequently ball up in their stomachs and form hairballs, which are medically known as trichobezoars. This condition is also known as “wool block”. However, unlike cats, rabbits do not possess the ability to regurgitate hairballs. Because of this, hairballs in rabbits can become potentially fatal, especially when it begins to affect their digestive systems and cause constipation and other digestive problems.
Symptoms of hairballs include a decrease in appetite, smaller and fewer droppings, and fur in the droppings. Behaviour changes such as lethargy and refusal to eat for more than four hours should be considered serious and immediate medical attention must be sought.
Prevention is always better than cure, and here are some ways we can prevent rabbits from developing hairballs.
High fibre diet
A high fibre diet consisting of hay and fresh vegetables will stimulate the motility of the gastrointestinal tract. This means that food and other ingested materials such as hair will be excreted quickly with less chance of hairball formation.
Plenty of exercise will also help to stimulate digestion in rabbits. Exercise for rabbits means playtime outside of their cages or pens. The provision of toys and activities will make exercise a very enjoyable experience that rabbits will want to repeat.
The best remedy to prevent wool block is to groom your rabbit frequently. This is especially important for rabbits with long fur. Regular brushing will help to eliminate loose furs and reduce the amount of fur swallowed.
A safe and secure rabbit is a happy and healthy rabbit. Rabbits that live in crowded, unclean and noisy conditions tend to be more prone to wool block. Endeavour to keep your rabbit’s living quarters as clean and sanitary as possible.