Wool block is a rather new term for us. Although we had heard of it, we really didn't spend too much time worrying about it. That was before we had jersey woolies. Wool block is something we must constantly watch for in the rabbitry.
All rabbits groom themselves. This practice is similar to what cats do. While grooming themselves, the rabbit ingests small amounts of hair. Normally, the hair passes through the digestive system and is excreted with the rabbit's droppings. On occasion, it is possible for a hairball to develop inside the digestive system as the hair is trapped. Cats can induce vomiting to eliminate the hairball, while rabbits have no ability to vomit.
Wool block can be a problem during a molt. The rabbits are grooming and ingesting a large amount of hair during that time. Wool block can always be a problem for the wool breeds. If you've ever compared the fur pulled by a non wool breed from a nesting doe with that of a wool breed you can certainly understand why wool block is an issue for the wool breeds. The problem got its name because of its frequency in wool breeds although its possible to develop in other breeds as well.
Should wool block go untreated it will eventually block the digestive track completely. The rabbit will not eat and eventually it will die.
It is important to know your rabbits on an individual basis. Simple changes in behavior can indicate a possible problem. One of the first signs of a problem with wool block, is the rabbit will decrease their dietary intact. If the block is bad enough they will quit eating altogether. Droppings should also be monitored for signs of wool block. Droppings my become less frequent, or may be smaller than normal size. Often the several droppings will be strung together by the ingested wool. Occasionally hairballs will grow large enough that they can be palpitated. Rabbit that are generally active may become lethargic as a result of the blockage.
Wool block can bring about death very quickly. We recommend that you consult with a veterinarian any time a rabbit shows signs of wool block. Below are somethings that others have tried and found successful in eliminating an existing block.
First remove pellets from their diet immediately. Change the rabbit's feed to completely hay. Most wool breed breeders will then supplement the diet with one of two things, fresh papaya or pineapple juice. The goal of the papaya and pineapple is to increase the stomachs ability to break down the hairball. Bananas can also be fed with meat tenderizer on it. It is important that the rabbit eat and drink during this time. If this does not bring about immediate resolution, cat hair ball remedies such as Petro-malt have been successfully used, as has canola or olive oil. In severe cases a veterinarian may prescribe Reglan.
The key to treating wool block is to prevent it. Diets that are high in fiber are critical in wool breeds. They should have plenty of hay in their diet. Many breeders supplement with papaya tablets or pineapple chunks once a week. Proper grooming of your rabbit by you, especially during a molt will reduce the risk of wool block. Be sure that your rabbit gets plenty of exercise.
Hopefully, you can prevent your rabbit from getting wool block, but if they do these methods may eliminate the blockage.
Three Little Ladies Rabbitry