Can a Rabbit Have a Stroke? Possible Causes and Symptoms!

I know rabbits can have a heart attack as a human can, so I wondered what other diseases and illnesses a rabbit can get that’s similar to humans.

So what about a stroke? Can a rabbit have a stroke?

If it can, how common is this? And what are the symptoms?

Can a Rabbit Have a Stroke?

Rabbits can have a stroke; however, it isn’t common for a rabbit to have a stroke.

Symptoms that may point to your rabbit having a stroke include head tilt, drooling, constant and involuntary eye movements or flickering, disorientation, the inability to eat and drink, paralysis, droopy face or side of their face, circling behavior, and seizures or tremors.

Most commonly, if your rabbit suffers from these symptoms, the cause is an ear infection or a parasite infection.

Sometimes, the stroke is not due to infection but due to other causes.

Strokes and Rabbits

A rabbit doesn’t commonly suffer a stroke; however, that isn’t to say your rabbit can’t have a stroke or show the warning signs of a stroke.

Why Take Stroke in Rabbots Seriously?

A stroke, or cerebrovascular accident, occurs when a part of a rabbit’s brain doesn’t get enough nutrients and oxygen via its blood supply.

The oxygen and nutrient supply can be cut off, reduced, or interrupted because a blood vessel is blocked by a clot or it raptures (or bursts).

A rabbit that has suffered a stroke can still recover if appropriate action is taken, but to do that, you need to identify whether your rabbit had a stroke or not.

Knowing your rabbit has suffered a stroke can help you decide on treatment.

Stroke Symptoms in Rabbits

While these symptoms can be indicative that your rabbit had a stroke, they can also point to other illnesses or infections (I look at these below).

The main symptom that your rabbit had a stroke is what’s known as head tilt.

It is officially known as torticollis (a literal translation is “twisted neck”), and head tilt also goes by another name: wry neck.

When your rabbit has a wry neck, its head will be tilted to the side.

The rabbit’s head tilts sideways because its balance center has been affected. This can be due to a loss of vital nutrients or a build-up of pressure on the rabbit’s cranium as a result of the stroke.

This is quite scary to see and may set off your internal panic alarm.

Other symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Nystagmus where the eyeballs of your rabbit keeps moving or jerking involuntarily
  • Disorientation with an inability to eat or drink such as by dropping food or struggling to hold food
  • Circling, where your rabbit walks in circles, either to the left or right and only a corner of the cage or hutch may disrupt the circling before your bunny circles again
  • Muscle spasms or twitches
  • Seizures or tremors
  • Falling over
  • Hind leg paralysis
  • Facial weakness or one side of your rabbit’s face that droops
  • Inability to stand
  • Rolls over uncontrollably
  • Drooling

What to Do If You Suspect Your Rabbit Had a Stroke?

If you suspect your rabbit had a stroke or see any of the symptoms listed above, then you need to call your vet and take your rabbit for an emergency appointment.

Your vet will be able to diagnose what is wrong with your rabbit.

They will ask for a complete history of your rabbit and whether it has been exposed to other rabbits, (wild) animals, or pets.

You’ll need to provide information on your rabbit’s diet and recent trauma (if applicable).

Examples of trauma could be if your rabbit fell on its head, suffered from heatstroke, may have been kicked by another rabbit, and so forth.

How to Diagnose If Your Rabbit Had a Stroke

To diagnose if your rabbit had a stroke, your vet will need to run blood tests and take X-rays.

However, the only definitive way to diagnose that your rabbit suffered a stroke is via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized axial technology (CAT scan).

The bad news is that not every vet will have these diagnostic tools at their disposal.

Treatment for a Rabbit Stroke

In general, there is no treatment for a stroke.

However, your vet may prescribe blood thinners and corticosteroid injection. The blood thinner will help resolve a blood clot and the injection will help if your rabbit is in pain or has inflammation.

Strokes aren’t common in rabbits, and the symptoms related to a stroke are also symptoms of other diseases. Your vet may treat your rabbit for these as a precautionary measure.

Your vet may also recommend acupuncture or physical therapy for your rabbit to help the damaged nerve tissues to heal.

With time, patience, and the right medication, your rabbit may heal.

If your rabbit needs supportive care, ask your vet for more information about this so you can help your rabbit in the best way possible.

How to Care for Your Rabbit That Had a Stroke

If your rabbit had a stroke, how you’d care for it will depend on the presence of any permanent symptoms.

For example, if your rabbit had a mild stroke, you’d care for it differently compared to your rabbit having had a severe stroke and now being paralyzed.

In general, if your rabbit is severely paralyzed, you might need to express your rabbit’s bladder manually a few times a day so your rabbit can relieve itself.

You’ll need to make sure your rabbit is kept clean and dry as it may not be able to groom itself.

You may also need to hand-feed your rabbit or ensure your rabbit gets the intravenous fluid therapy it needs.

In short, you’d need to help your rabbit with any eating, drinking, and moving around activities. Thus, supportive care is required.

Your rabbit may fully or partially recover.

It takes anything from a few weeks to months or longer for nerve tissues to heal. It is also likely that there will be some degree of brain damage that’s irreversible.

To decide the way forward, it is recommended to chat with your vet.

From there, decide on what will be the best humane course of action for your rabbit.

Other Rabbit Illnesses That Share the Symptoms of a Stroke

There are other illnesses, diseases, and infections that share the symptoms of a stroke in a rabbit.

Since a rabbit having a stroke is rare, your vet will most likely check for one of these health issues and then make a diagnosis. Treatment is dispensed according to the symptoms the vet can see.

Ear Infection

One of the most common causes for a head tilt and some related symptoms (similar to a stroke) is an ear infection.

An ear infection may be caused by bacteria that spread from the rabbit’s nasal cavity to the Eustachian tube and finally to the middle or inner ear.

An ear infection can also be caused by an upper respiratory tract infection.

The infection causes the auditory bulla in the rabbit’s skull, which is responsible for the rabbit’s sense of balance, to swell and become inflamed.

If the ear infection is severe, the bulla can fill with pus, which can be visible inside the ear.

For the ear infection, your vet may do a visual exam of your rabbit’s ear canal, order X-rays of the ear canal, and even do a dental exam with X-rays.

A dental infection can be related to an ear infection and loss of balance, so that needs to be ruled out or treated.

Treatment for an ear infection would include a course of antibiotics (once the pathogen has been identified), irrigation of your rabbit’s ear canal, anti-vertigo medication, supplemental feeding, and medication for pain.

Also read: Should My Rabbit’s Ears be Warm?

E. Cuniculi

Another common cause for head tilt in a rabbit is a parasitic infection known as Encephalitozoon cuniculi (commonly referred to as E. cuniculi or EC). EC, a microsporidian parasite, is usually a cause for head tilt in immunocompromised rabbits.

For the EC, your vet may do a blood titer to check for antibodies, a urine test, or histopathology of affected tissues.

Treatment for EC would include anti-vertigo and anti-helminthic medication, and even hospitalization so your rabbit can benefit from supportive care.

Rabbit Stroke FAQs

What are the signs of a rabbit having a seizure?

If your rabbit is having a seizure, symptoms may include:

  • Fainting, though this is not common
  • Paddling legs
  • Confusion
  • Loss of vision, though this may be temporary
  • Inability to use muscles and loss of mobility
  • Distress
  • Head tilting

Why is my bunny paralyzed?

Your rabbit could be paralyzed for various reasons that include:

  • A tumor in the spine
  • A tumor in the brain
  • A stroke
  • Organ failure
  • Chronic infections
  • Long-term illnesses that cause muscle loss

How do you know if your rabbit is paralyzed?

Your rabbit may be suffering from paralysis if it is dragging its legs, unable to sit up or hop around, in pain, and engaging in uncoordinated circling behavior.

Final Thoughts

If you believe your rabbit suffered a stroke, then it is best to take your rabbit to see a vet.

The vet will be able to confirm whether it was a stroke or whether your rabbit’s symptoms point to another disease.

The vet will also be able to guide you with the way forward and how best to take care of your rabbit.

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