Urolithiasis, commonly referred to as bladder stones, is a condition that can affect rabbits of all ages. However, obese sedentary rabbits aged 3 to 5 years old are more susceptible to developing urinary stones. The exact cause of this condition is still unknown, but it is believed that diet plays a significant role. Rabbits typically have varying quantities of calcium salts in their urine, and if the urine is not dilute or urination is infrequent, calcium can precipitate out and form a thick sludge that is not voided.
Other factors that can contribute to the development of urinary stones include inadequate water intake, urine retention, obesity, lack of exercise, feeding exclusively alfalfa-based diets, renal disease, and calcium supplements.
It can be difficult to detect urolithiasis in rabbits because they often do not show obvious signs of pain or discomfort. Some of the clinical signs that may indicate the presence of bladder stones include bloody urine, thick pasty urine, straining to urinate, lack of appetite, hunched posture, lethargy, and decreased activity. If you notice any of these signs, you should take your rabbit to the veterinarian for an examination.
The diagnosis of urolithiasis is typically made by physical exam and radiographs, which often show the presence of stones in the urinary tract. An ultrasound can also be used to visualize the stones and evaluate the kidneys.
The mainstay of therapy for urolithiasis is surgical removal of the stones. Medical treatment is not effective because no dissolution diets are known. Large or painful stones require surgical removal through a procedure called cystotomy.
To prevent the recurrence of bladder stones, several environmental and dietary changes must be made. The best method to prevent recurrence is to reduce calcium in the diet and consequently reduce it in the urine. This can be achieved by limiting the amount of alfalfa offered and providing grassy hay, green vegetables, and a Timothy-based pellet diet. Administration of potassium citrate can also be considered to prevent calcium oxalate stones.
Encouraging exercise and providing multiple sources of fresh water can also help prevent recurrence. Obese rabbits should be placed on a low-calorie diet and provided with a large exercise area which your rabbit vet will help with.
In conclusion, urolithiasis is a condition that can affect rabbits and cause them significant discomfort. It is important to monitor your rabbit closely for signs of this condition and seek veterinary care promptly if any signs are present. Surgery is the mainstay of therapy for this condition, and several environmental and dietary changes must be made to prevent recurrence.