MYTH BUSTING: FUR BALLS (I)

At last, my dear readers, summer holidays are over and school time came back with its blessed routine. At last I can come back to my blog and to the section which has received more comments so far: Myth busting. And I amb going to start with the biggest of all myths, the fur ball, so I will need two parts to deal with it: the first one to question its existence as a disease, and the second one to analyze its prevention.

MYTH

Rabbits eat their fur when they groom. This hair sometimes si excessive and it makes a compact fur ball (trichobezoar) inside the rabbit’s stomach which causes pain and eventually death.

FACTS

  1. Rabbits eat their fur when they groom, and actually all wild rabbits have some fur in their stomachs, according to Dr Frances Harcourt-Brown’s  findings. Thus, it makes sense that having fur in the stomach is normal in rabbits.
  2. A diet which is high in fiber (as it is in the wild) and appropriate hydration this fur can transit the whole digestive tube and be expelled with the feces.
  3. There are some breeds, such as angoras, with a particularly long fur that can have more difficulties to move along the gastrointestinal tract; the unnatural light cycle and temperature that in-house rabbits are exposed to also stimulate excessive molting, so that the amount of fur a pet rabbit eats in any spanish city is probably larger than a wild rabbit’s.
  4. Gastrointestinal stasis or hypomotility, or, more recently, rabbit gastrointestinal syndrome (RGIS), refers to the signs and symptoms that, often without a clear cause, lead to an altered gastrointestinal motility in the rabbit. One of the first features of this syndrome is a tendency to dehidration of the gastrointestinal contents (and the whole rabbit as well), that can be palpated as a dough-like mass inside the stomach.
  5. The fur inside the stomach can block the intestines, more often during molting, but with a pellet of fur, not a ball. This is an emergency that sometimes ends up with a surgery. On the other hand, the (physiologic) fur buildup in the stomach, which after suffering from (pathologic) RGIS is more compact and doesn’t respond to medical treatment should be addressed surgically. According to Pignon et al ‘s retrospective study, presented in the 2017 AEMV conference, the prognosis of this procedure is quite bad.

CONCLUSIONS

Is is true that there is a certain amount of fur in rabbit’s stomachs, and also that this fur can be a problem, either because it blocks the intestine or because, after an episode of gastrointestinal hypomotility it is too compact to be treated medically.
It is not true that there is a primary disease of rabbits called “the fur ball”, as in “mixomatosis”, so no one can diagnose a “fur ball”.
Can you prevent something that is not a disease? I will try to find out in the following part … and….

Will everyone switch to SGIC or we will still read “fur ball” in the diagnosis section of veterinary reports?

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