can a rabbit have a seizure?
Health and Wellness

What Can Cause a Rabbit To Have a Seizure?

It can be scary to see your rabbit having a seizure. After all, it’s a jarring display that can seem life-threatening and painful. However, you don’t have to be completely helpless if your bun starts to have a seizure.

Rabbits can have seizures due to illnesses, genetic predispositions, injuries to the brain and nervous system, or exposure to toxins. Many rabbits fully recover from a seizure, and there are also treatments that can help alleviate any of the lasting effects.

If a bunny seizes, it’s crucial for you to get involved. You can’t stop seizures once they’ve begun, but your rabbit needs your help. This includes making a safe zone that’s free of sharp or hard objects. You should also place a gentle hand on your bunny, but avoid moving it. Count how long the seizure lasts, and if it’s more than a minute, seek attention from a vet.

Can A Rabbit Have A Seizure?

Rabbits can have seizures, but these episodes will closely resemble the seizures found in other pets, like dogs and cats, as well as humans. However, seizures in bunnies are a rare occurrence.

Rabbits with an underlying medical issue are at a higher risk. When they do occur, they often appear quickly and will not last for very long.

Idiopathic Epilepsy

Seizures in rabbits can also be due to epilepsy. While far more common in humans, rabbits may be genetically predisposed to this condition. Epileptic seizures have been recorded in white-furred and blue-eyed rabbits. Specifically, these are the Beveren White and Vienna White Breeds.

What Is A Seizure?

A seizure is a neurological disorder that can be caused by many different factors. The condition often displays itself as a period of involuntary physical movement. The body twists, contracts, and stretches. Occasionally, seizures result in a loss of consciousness.

A seizure is defined as the changes in an animal, both physical and behavioral, after abnormal electrical activity in the brain. This means that seizures do not have to involve physical twitching and convulsions. They do not have to be physical at all. However, this is often the most common and obvious way to spot them.

Can A Rabbit Die from A Seizure?

Many rabbits fully recover from seizures. Some attacks do not even have a lasting effect on the bunny. On the other hand, it is possible for seizures to have lasting, damaging effects. In the worse cases, that can mean death.

can a rabbit die from a seizure?

What Do Rabbit Seizures Look Like?

Rabbit seizures look like those found in other animals. The most obvious symptom is the involuntary and repetitive movement of the muscles. There are three types of seizures that rabbits can suffer from:

  • Partial Seizure
  • Generalized Seizure
  • Epileptic Seizure

The severity of the episode and its symptoms will depend on the type of seizure. However, all of them can share these symptoms:

  • Muscle contractions, which can range from small muscle twitches to contractions of the full body
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of control over the bladder and bowels

Partial Seizures

The first type is partial seizures, or petit mal seizures. This seizure will often display ‘smaller’ symptoms compared to generalized seizures, like muscle twitching and eye twitching.

These seizures are described as ‘partial,’ because rabbits still retain an awareness of their environment. During an episode, the rabbit will remain conscious. Because these seizures are harder to spot, it’s essential to understand the warning signs.

Generalized Seizures

These are when a rabbit loses all awareness of the environment. The rabbit may lose consciousness and the convulsions will appear more violent than with petit mal seizures.

Epilepsy

Epileptic seizures often share symptoms with non-epileptic seizures. However, they also have symptoms exclusive to them, such as:

  • Signs of distress
  • Mental confusion
  • Blindness
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • White and creamy fluid or pus in the ear
  • Fainting, albeit rare

Why Would A Rabbit Have A Seizure?

Like most neurological conditions, seizures can be a tricky condition to diagnose. There isn’t much data that explains how rabbit seizures work.

Seizures can have many different causes, ranging from infections to underlying medical conditions. Some are minor and have harmless lasting effects, if any. Others can eventually lead to death.

Internal Causes of Seizures

Seizures can be caused by issues from within the body. These are often illnesses and diseases. Compared to external causes, seizures resulting from internal problems are often chronic. They may continue to occur until the source issue is treated.

Viral And Parasitic Infections

Viruses and parasites can sometimes infect your rabbit and cause damage to the nervous system. If this happens, the resulting symptoms may include seizures. If the cause for your rabbit’s seizure is viral or parasitic, it will often manifest unique side-effects that are specific to the virus or parasite responsible.

Common sources of infection include the Encephalitozoon cuniculi. This is a widespread infection in rabbits. It can also cause brain lesions that lead to seizures. That’s supported by Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine.

Physical Injury To The Brain And Nervous System

Physical injury to parts of the nervous system itself can also cause seizures in rabbits. The most common form of physical injury is head trauma. This can happen after your rabbit takes a fall or is otherwise struck in the head.

Other trauma includes tumors and lesions. These will affect a sensitive part of the brain, or other parts of the nervous system.

Congenital Malformation

Your rabbit may also experience seizures because of defects. Specifically, these are malformations affecting the brain and heart.

With heart defects, the supply of oxygen to the brain is affected, causing a seizure. Your rabbit may also have physical defects in its cranium. That can put your rabbit at risk for traumatic head injuries, contributing to seizures. Other congenital malformations can also increase the chance of your rabbit having seizures.

Congenital malformation is something that your rabbit is born with. It is a genetic condition. Commonly, it cannot be treated, save for invasive procedures like surgery. Treatments for congenital malformation will be focused on alleviating symptoms instead.

Agonal Phenomenon

Agonal phenomenon refers to any phenomenon that happens just before death. These symptoms can be hard to determine, but they nonetheless happen just before death.

Seizures may occur immediately before your rabbit dies. If your rabbit is still kicking immediately after an attack, however, there is still a good chance that treatment is possible.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Seizures are often a symptom of an underlying medical condition. To prevent seizures from happening again, vets have to treat these underlying medical conditions first. However, because seizures can be caused by many different conditions, determining the cause is difficult. Here are medical conditions in rabbits that have been known to cause seizures.

Arteriosclerosis

Arteriosclerosis is a term used to refer to the thickening and hardening of the walls of the artery. This is a rare condition in rabbits. However, bunnies can be at risk for developing arteriosclerosis. They have a unique metabolism and are sensitive to cholesterol.

If your rabbit is suffering from arteriosclerosis, there is a small chance that it will recover.

Renal Failure

Renal failure can also cause seizures in animals, including rabbits. Renal failure refers to the inability of the kidneys to filter toxins out of the body. When there are too many toxins in the body, complications can involve seizures. Renal failure can also be a common and expected disease in old and aging rabbits.

Cancer

Certain cancers can also contribute to seizures. These are cancers that affect the nervous system and digestive system. Certain cancers can also form tumors, which affect the brain and nerves, leading to seizures.

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism refers to the condition wherein the thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroxine hormone. Thyroxine has been linked to the heart, brain, and muscle control.

Hyperthyroidism has been linked to seizures in dogs. There is good reason to believe that it is true for rabbits as well.

External Causes of Seizures

Seizures can also be caused by exposure to things in the environment. It’s often easier to treat these seizures, as external causes can be cleanly removed. However, if your rabbit has been severely exposed to these sources, it may also suffer from other illnesses.

Medication

Some medicines cause seizures in rabbits as a side effect. This will depend mostly on the rabbit, as well as the dosage.

A common medicine with this side effect is lidocaine. Lidocaine is an anesthetic used topically to numb a specific area. It is also used to treat ventricular tachycardia, and interrupt nerve signals to numb pain. However, according to Anesthesia & Analgesia, lidocaine may induce seizures in rabbits.

Other than lidocaine, high dosages of antibiotics have been known to cause seizures in rabbits. Specifically, quinolones and penicillin.

Toxicity

Seizures can be caused by exposure to compounds that are toxic to rabbits. With a high enough dosage, toxins can affect the nervous system. This, in turn, can cause seizures in your bunny. Common sources of toxicity include:

Insecticides

Insecticides contain toxic compounds that are effective at killing insects. However, it can also harm other animals that it comes into contact with.

Fertilizers

Synthetic fertilizers can act much in the same way as insecticides. By using synthetic formulas or compounds designed to promote plant growth, they can be toxic to rabbits.

Lead

Lead is a toxin present in many household items. In older homes, lead can be found in paint, and even lead-contaminated dust. In modern hoes, lead can also be found in batteries, materials used in home repair and renovations, or car repairs. Lead can contaminate the air, water, and soil.

You can prevent your rabbit from being poisoned by toxins. Be sure to provide a rabbit-safe area where your bunny is free to explore without hazardous foods or items. If your rabbit ever ventures out into other areas, make sure it’s under constant supervision.

Causes of Epileptic Seizures

Epileptic seizures, like the name implies, are caused by epilepsy. Compare this to non-epileptic seizures, which are often caused by lesions and physical trauma to the brain. Some causes of epilepsy include:

  • Genetics
  • Toxicity
  • Metabolic issues, especially low blood sugar
  • Brain lesions, infections

What To Do If Your Rabbit Has A Seizure

A seizure can be frightening to witness, especially in a beloved pet. However, you don’t have to be completely helpless if your rabbit begins to seize. These steps will help before, during, and after a seizure.

What To Do Before A Seizure

Usually, rabbits display symptoms before the onset of a seizure. Shortly after, the seizure may happen quickly and escalate rapidly. Even still, if you notice symptoms in your rabbit, you have a few moments to prepare. Before a seizure, bunnies will often exhibit:

  • Disorientation
  • Weakness
  • Confusion

With that said, your rabbit may not manifest these signs. Some rabbits will present symptoms differently than others. Rabbits may not present at all. It depends on your unique pet, so you keep an eye out.

If you notice any of these symptoms, do not attempt to move your rabbit. Instead, clear the immediate area of hard objects. Your main priority is creating a safe zone, where your rabbit can seize without accidentally harming itself.

What To Do During A Seizure

If you are present when your rabbit has a seizure, it’s crucial to get involved. You will not be able to do anything to stop the seizure. However, you can ensure the rabbit does not get injured in the process. Most long-term harm from seizures is caused by accidentally striking nearby objects.

  • Stay calm and do not panic. Your rabbit may still be conscious and aware. This will be a frightening time for your bunny. That fear can only be made worse if the owner also appears distressed.
  • Remove any hard objects that may injure your rabbit. These include toys, shoes, or even tables.  
  • If you can’t move certain items, like large furniture, try to pad their edges with a pillow or blanket. It’s important to create a soft barrier that won’t harm your bunny.  
  • As tempting as it is, do not attempt to move your rabbit. Its skeleton is very fragile. Picking it up, lifting one part of its body, or rolling it may cause it to twist in a bad direction, breaking bones.
  • Place a firm but gentle hand on your rabbit. This will stop it from flailing, thrashing, and hurting itself. If the seizure is small, like those only involving small muscle twitches, you may not need to hold your rabbit.
  • Keep an eye on your rabbit. Stay with it until the seizure passes.
  • Record how long the seizure lasts. This will be helpful information for your veterinarian when it comes to diagnosis and treatment.

Most seizures last for under a minute. If your rabbit’s seizure lasts for more than a couple of minutes, it is time to rush it to emergency care. Wrap your rabbit in a damp towel and take it to the nearest vet.

What To Do After A Seizure

Immediately after a seizure, your rabbit will need comforting. Remain calm and talk quietly to it. If your rabbit allows it, give the bun gentle pats to calm it down.

Then, record the date of the seizure. Like the duration of the seizure, this will be helpful information for your veterinarian.

If this is the first time your rabbit has seized, contact your vet. Repeat seizures can be handled at home without intervention, so long as you have your vet’s approval. However, first-time episodes require diagnosis and possible treatments.

If your rabbit has another seizure within 24 hours, visit your vet as soon as possible. Also do this if episodes increase in frequency. That is often a symptom of a condition that is rapidly increasing in severity. It will require medical intervention.

Treating Rabbit Seizures

Treatment of your rabbit’s seizures will depend on the cause of the seizure. No matter the cause or severity, it’s always necessary to have your rabbit be checked out by a vet.

Some seizures do not have a permanent cause and are overall temporary. However, it’s wise to seek professional help, as seizures can be life-threatening.

Diagnosis

To diagnose a seizure, your veterinarian will ask questions about the seizures themselves. These include:

  • The duration of the seizure, as well as the frequency and severity
  • Your rabbit’s medical history
  • Current medical conditions
  • Any medical conditions that could be passed down from its parents
  • Recent physical injuries
  • Possible exposure to toxins

To determine the cause of the seizures, your vet may also have your rabbit undergo different laboratory tests. These tests will look for lesions into the brain, which can help determine any physical damage. They may include:

  • Blood chemistry screening on your rabbit to determine diseases or infections.
  • Ear cytology or cultures, also to determine infections.
  • Imaging, like MRI and CAT scans, to rule out tumors and inflammation of the nervous system.
  • Radiographs, or x-rays to determine physical injury.

Treatments

Treatment will depend on the severity of your rabbit’s seizures. It will also depend on the severity of future seizures. For example, rabbits that have violent convulsions on a weekly basis will require a more robust treatment.

Emergency Care

If your rabbit seizes for more than a minute, rush it to the vet. Emergency medical care for convulsing rabbits includes medication. Once the attack stops, your vet will provide supportive care while the cause is being determined.

what to do if your rabbit has a seizure
Medication

If your rabbit has a seizure while at the vet, your vet may recommend diazepam. This will be given intranasally, or through the nose. That will greatly hasten the time it takes for the medication to take effect.

If diazepam does not stop the attack, your vet may provide phenobarbital through an injection. Your rabbit may need repeat dosages, with 30 minutes between each one.

If this still doesn’t stop your rabbit’s seizures, your vet may sedate your bunny. This is done by putting your rabbit under general anesthetic. Vets commonly use Propofol, which will only sedate the rabbit for a short period of time. It also has no-lasting effects.

However, it does put your rabbit at risk for respiratory and cardiac issues while under sedation. Your rabbit will need to be closely monitored.

Supportive Care

While your vet determines the cause of the symptoms, your rabbit will be placed in a dark, quiet room. This will remove it from any possible stressors that could make its symptoms worse.

Your rabbit may also have problems with temperature regulation. If this is the case, it may be given a cold compress. If that does not relieve any negative symptoms, your rabbit may also be given IV fluid. This will help prevent dehydration, as well as even out its body temperature.

If your rabbit has cerebral swelling, it will be given mannitol. Apart from cerebral swelling and temperature regulation, your rabbit may also be having trouble breathing. When airway troubles are present, your vet may intubate your rabbit. Doing this will provide the bunny a reliable supply of air to prevent further complications.

Post-Seizure Treatments

After your rabbit’s first seizure, you will need to schedule a vet appointment as soon as possible. Future appointments will depend on the recommendation of your vet. How often they’re necessary will be determined by the frequency, severity, and cause of the seizure.

Treatments for seizures will largely depend on the severity of the attacks. Your vet may recommend medications, hospitalization, and supervision.

Medications

Your vet will likely prescribe medications that can alleviate the severity of seizure, as well as slow down its onset. These medications include benzodiazepine. If your rabbit’s seizures are caused or affected by infections and bacteria, your vet may prescribe antibiotics.

If seizures continue to happen, your vet may recommend phenobarbital twice daily, given orally. This is the base dosage. It may be changed depending on the severity of your rabbit’s symptoms, age, and other medical conditions.

Hospitalization

For severe cases, your bunny may require hospitalization. This will help relieve symptoms and lessen the effects of the attacks. Hospitalization can also be helpful in preventing permanent brain damage in your rabbit.

Nonetheless, some cases will require your rabbit to be under constant supervision. This will be to ensure that no further harm comes to it, should another attack happen.

Supervision

Additionally, supervision will allow you to record the frequency and duration of the attacks. This can determine whether or not the severity of the attacks is increasing. That can be used to prevent future attacks.

Recovering from Seizures

Many rabbits recover from a seizure completely. Sometimes, it’s possible for them to experience no lasting effects. A rabbit can undergo a seizure and return to live its life as normal, symptom-free.

However, there are still cases wherein complete recovery is slim. The chances for recovery, whether complete or partial, will depend on the underlying cause of the seizures. For seizures caused by terminal illnesses, advanced sepsis, or severe physical trauma, there is a slim chance that your rabbit may recover.

How To Prevent Seizures

Seizures have a quick onset; they can happen very swiftly and without warning. Additionally, the cause of seizures can sometimes be hard to determine.

Preventing seizures is far better than treating the after-effects. So where do you start?

Regular Medical Check Ups

Seizures can be prevented through regular medical check-ups by your veterinarian. Episodes are sometimes caused by underlying medical conditions. With regular medical check-ups, your vet can catch these conditions early. You won’t find out about them only after the seizure has occurred.

Monitoring And Recording

If your rabbit has already seized, you can prevent more episodes from happening. This is done through monitoring and recording the attacks.

You can note symptoms and irregular behaviors that serve as early warning signs. These allow you to take action immediately, providing medication or removing outside causes for the seizures. Likewise, the information helps your vet apply or recommend more effective treatments.

Medication

Giving your rabbit proper care during and after seizures is part of prevention. This can involve administering medication during the onset of a seizure, which can reduce its severity. You can also provide prescribed medication after an episode to lessen the chances of a second seizure happening.

Seizures can be scary for both you and your rabbit, but there are ways to help alleviate the situation. Just be sure to stay calm, speak with your vet, and keep your eyes peeled for the warning signs.