Rabbits, like dogs and cats, can, unfortunately, have seizures. Seizure episodes can be scary, especially if you've never seen a rabbit or any other pet have one. But what causes seizures in pet rabbits and is there anything you can do if you think your rabbit is having one?
What Should You Do If Your Rabbit Has a Seizure?
First, stay calm and hold your rabbit firmly but gently so that they do not flail or fall and hurt themselves while having a seizure. Next, look at the clock to see what time it is. Most seizures last less than a minute but it will feel like several minutes. If your rabbit continues to have a convulsion for more than a couple of minutes you should rush him to the closest vet for emergency treatment - and cool them down using a wet towel and the A/C in your car.
Most of the time your rabbit will come out of the seizure after less than a minute of convulsing. It is important to remain calm and talk quietly to comfort your rabbit when they are coming out of the seizure. After your rabbit is calm and sitting up normally, mark the event on the calendar so that you can track the seizures. If the frequency of seizures increases over time (they start having more and more seizures), or if your rabbit has another seizure within a 24 hour period you should take them to your exotics vet.
If your rabbit has a seizure for the first time you should contact your exotics vet to see what they would recommend you do or schedule an appointment to have your rabbit examined.
What is a Rabbit Seizure?
According to MedlinePlus, a seizure in humans is defined as "the physical findings or changes in behavior that occur after an episode of abnormal electrical activity in the brain." This means that something in a human's brain causes the body to malfunction at unknown times - and the same is true for rabbits. A seizure does not have to involve convulsions, or the shaking and twitching that many people associate with seizures, but those are often the most easily recognized types of seizures (known as grand mal or generalized seizures).
Focal seizures, or partial seizures which do not involve convulsions are not as easy to identify as seizure activity. They can present as a simple ear twitch, loss of the function of a leg, or even something referred to as "bubble gum chewing" when the rabbit licks the air and chomps as though he has peanut butter stuck on the roof of his mouth or is chewing bubble gum rudely.
What Causes Rabbit Seizures?
There has not been a great deal of research done with rabbit seizures but it is thought that one reason rabbits have seizures is because of a tumor in the brain. Other reasons for rabbit seizures include inner ear infections, E. cuniculi infections (a protozoan), exposure to toxins, a traumatic injury, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), or epilepsy (unknown causes). Some of these seizure causing diseases can be treated while others, such as epilepsy, can only be controlled.
How Can Rabbit Seizures Be Controlled?
If your rabbit starts having seizures your exotics vet may try a variety of medications to treat some of the most common causes for seizures. Antibiotics, steroids, anti-parasitics, anti-inflammatories, and even seizure control medications may be used if the definitive reason for the seizures is not found. Phenobarbital is one commonly used seizure control medication that your exotics vet may prescribe.
Can You Find Out What Caused the Seizures in a Rabbit?
Your vet may recommend specific tests to rule out some common causes of seizures including ear cytologies or cultures, MRI or CT scans, radiographs (x-rays), E. cuniculi testing, or blood chemistry screening but there is no "seizure test" that will tell you for sure why your rabbit had a seizure.
If the tests come back inconclusive, or diagnostics are not financially affordable for you a "cocktail" of the aforementioned medications may be tried before starting your rabbit on long-term seizure control medications.
Is a Seizure Harmful to Your Rabbit?
Focal seizures are not as concerning as grand mal seizures and the length of the seizure is important to note. A seizure lasting several minutes will increase your rabbit's body temperature and can cause permanent brain damage while a small, short seizure only lasting 20 seconds will most likely not leave any lasting effects.