Idiopathic Epileptic Seizures in Rabbits
Rabbits, much like humans, can suffer from epileptic seizures. Occurring when specific neurons in the brain reach a point of “hyper excitability.” This, in turn, can lead to bouts of involuntary body movement or function in the rabbit. You must be very careful with the rabbit during these periods of excited cerebral activity, as the seizures can cause brain damage.
Symptoms and Types
The signs and symptoms of seizures may depend on the cause for the seizure. Seizures can be due to an epileptic episode or may be non-epileptic, caused by genetic malformations or lesions in the brain. Regardless of the type, some signs of epilepsy that are relatively common include:
- Rolling of the body and signs of distress
- Paddling of the hands or limbs
- Mental confusion
- Head tilt
- Loss of muscle tone
- Thick, white and creamy fluid or pus found in the ear
- Fainting (although this is rare in rabbits)
Certain breeds of rabbit may be more likely to experience seizures than others. For example, dwarf breeds are more likely to have suppressed immune systems, and thus are more likely to become exposed to an infection with Encephalitozoon cuniculi, which can cause seizures. White, blue-eyed rabbits and lop-eared rabbits are also more likely to to develop forms of epilepsy or seizures.
Other causes for seizures include:
- Metabolic causes, including low blood sugar
- Toxicities, including exposure to heavy metals and other chemicals
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Genetic or externally caused epilepsy
- A head injury leading to brain damage
- Structural causes like brain lesions, bacterial infections or parasitic infection (e.g., toxoplasmosis)
Laboratory tests will look for structural brain lesions and take into consideration exposure to seizure-causing toxins. The veterinarian will also run blood tests to help identify multi-system diseases or infections which can cause the seizures, as well as imaging, such as an MRI or CAT scan, to rule out any lesions, tumors or inflammation of the central nervous system.
Some rabbits with seizures require constant supervision. During these severe cases, hospitalization is suggested to help relieve attacks and prevent permanent brain damage in the animal.
A veterinarian will often prescribe benzodiazepine medications, which can slow down the seizure activity. Antibiotics may also be necessary for patients with encephalitis or abscesses contributing to the seizures. In life-threatening cases steroid medications may be warranted, but only under veterinarian supervision.
Living and Management
The veterinarian may suggest you keep a diary of the rabbit's seizure activities. It will assist them in making a proper treatment protocol and routine.