Seizures in Rabbits

Lauren Jones, VMD
By Lauren Jones, VMD on Oct. 10, 2023
Black rabbit peeking out of hutch

In This Article

Summary

What Are Seizures in Rabbits?

Seizures are a neurologic condition in rabbits involving uncontrolled muscle contractions, ranging in severity, and often accompanied by changes in mental status.

The most recognizable seizure is called grand mal, in which the rabbit loses consciousness, has full body tremors, and may urinate or defecate involuntarily. However, seizures can also be small muscle twitches or tremors and no loss of mental state. These seizures are more subtle and may be difficult to notice.

Seizures in pet rabbits are uncommon but certainly occur depending on the underlying cause. It can take hours to days for a rabbit to return to normal behaviors after a seizure episode. Rabbits may be quiet and not as playful initially, but they should return to eating within a few hours after a seizure.

Pet parents should use caution if their rabbit is experiencing a seizure. Never attempt to put anything in the pet’s mouth to avoid injury, and only move the rabbit if they are in danger of hurting themselves by flailing or falling. Especially for new seizure activity, recording the event can help veterinarians with the diagnosis.

Uncontrolled seizures are a medical emergency and can be fatal. It is important to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible after a seizure. 

Symptoms of Seizures in Rabbits

  • Muscle twitches or tremors

  • Convulsions

  • Loss of balance

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Involuntary urination or bowel movements

  • Leg rigidity

  • Leg paddling

  • Unusual behavior

  • Rolling

  • Circling

  • Head tilt

  • Vocalization

  • Chewing at the air

Causes of Seizures in Rabbits

Seizures result from a problem within the brain, causing inappropriate, uncontrolled bursts of electrical, or nerve, activity. There are two types of seizures: generalized and focal.

Generalized seizures involve both sides of the brain and include most of the body in the abnormal nerve activity. In comparison, focal seizures only involve parts of the brain and manifest as smaller muscular abnormalities. A grand mal seizure is an example of a general seizure, while a focal seizure may only involve eye, ear, or leg twitching, for example. Focal seizures can progress to generalized seizures, as well.  Both types of seizures last seconds to minutes long—although it feels much longer when watching our pets experience one.

In general, causes of seizures are broken down into the following categories:

  • Developmental: congenital (present at birth) abnormalities within the brain

  • Metabolic

    • End stages of liver disease

    • Lack of oxygen (pneumonia and other lung diseases)

    • Pregnancy complications (toxemia)

    • Kidney disease

    • Low blood sugar

    • Stroke

  • Neoplasia (cancer)

  • Nutritional

    • Vitamin A deficiency

    • Vitamin A toxicosis

    • Magnesium deficiency

  • Infectious

  • Idiopathic: epilepsy

  • Toxin

    • Tylenol

    • Frontline®

    • Lead

  • Trauma

    • Heat stroke

    • Head injury

How Veterinarians Diagnose Seizures in Rabbits

Generalized seizures are easy to diagnose based on observation alone. Focal seizures can be more difficult to diagnose and often go unnoticed. If possible, record the events to share with your veterinarian, as seizures can last only seconds to minutes. Veterinarians must rule out other causes for seizure-like activity, such as fainting from heart disease.

Once a seizure is diagnosed, veterinarians and pet parents must work together to determine the cause of the seizures to provide the appropriate treatment. In general, diagnostic tests for rabbits may include:

  • Physical exam to find any obvious abnormalities, including a complete history to determine if there are any contributing environmental factors

  • Routine blood work, including complete blood count and chemistry to rule out organ failure, electrolyte abnormalities, or metabolic issues

  • Radiographs to rule out cancer, lung disease, or other abnormalities

  • Pathogen-specific blood work to identify infectious causes

  • Specialized testing such as MRI, CT, and bacterial cultures

In some cases, the cause of seizures won’t be identified and will be diagnosed as idiopathic epilepsy, which means that there is no known underlying cause.

Treatment of Seizures in Rabbits

Veterinarians manage seizures on an outpatient basis unless the seizures are uncontrolled. If hospitalization is required, rabbits will typically require IV fluids, IV anti-seizure medications, and nutritional support.

The underlying condition may require any combination of antibiotics, steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, or anti-parasitic medications.

If the rabbit is still experiencing seizures after treating the underlying condition, veterinarians typically use the drug phenobarbital for seizure control. Other anti-seizure medications include levetiracetam and potassium bromide.

Recovery and Management of Seizures in Rabbits

If uncontrolled, seizures can fatally damage the brain leading to death. Always seek veterinary care for any seizure or possible seizure activity.

Immediately after a seizure, rabbits may exhibit abnormal behavior during the “post-ictal” phase. This is a recovery period after a major seizure event when the rabbit may be disoriented, clumsy, and tired. Take care to keep them quiet and safe during this period and minimize handling to prevent injury.

Prevention of seizures is difficult since there are so many causes, and it is often not preventable. However, pet parents can ensure their rabbits are examined at least annually by their veterinarian, including routine blood work to monitor for abnormalities and test organ function. Pet parents can also provide the best care for their rabbits to keep them as happy and healthy as possible.

Seizures in Rabbits FAQs

What to do if your bunny is having a seizure?

Stay calm, and only move the rabbit if they could potentially harm themselves during the seizure. Keep them away from anything they could fall or injure themselves on. Keep your hands away from their mouth. Take a video of the event, if possible, to show your veterinarian.

Can bunnies be epileptic?

Epilepsy is a form of seizures in rabbits but is uncommon.

What can cause a rabbit to have a seizure?

Many things can cause rabbits to have seizures, such as toxins, trauma, cancer, and metabolic or infectious causes.

How do you know if your rabbit has brain damage?

Consult with your veterinarian if your rabbit is behaving differently. Seizures can cause brain damage, but you and your vet can work together to determine the best course of treatment for your pet.

Featured Image: Getty/ViktorCap

References


Lauren Jones, VMD

WRITTEN BY

Lauren Jones, VMD

Veterinarian

Dr. Lauren Jones graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 2010, after receiving her bachelor's degree...


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