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Dr. B.
Dr. B., Veterinarian
Category: Pet
Satisfied Customers: 21419
Experience:  I am a small animal veterinarian and am happy to discuss any concerns & questions you have on any species.
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We lost our beloved bunny tonight. She was 8 years old and

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We lost our beloved bunny tonight. She was 8 years old and the sweetest girl ever. She just started having seizures recently and I was holding her in my arms as she was fighting so very hard for her life. All of a sudden she acted like she couldn't breathe. She was trying to catch a breath and couldn't. It was awful! It was almost like her air passage had closed. She struggled to breathe for about 30 seconds and died in my arms. Is this a common symptom with seizures in rabbits? I can't get this picture out of my mind and I can't help but wonder if there's something I could have done differently. I understand there's nothing I could have done about the seizure but I don't understand why she basically suffocated. Do you have any suggestions?

Hello, I am afraid that the expert you have requested is not currently available. Still I am Dr. B, a licensed veterinarian and I would like to help you during this distressing time.


Now asphyxiation during grand mal seizures is not an uncommon complication for the any seizing creature (any species, even people). It can arise for a range of reasons and the complication can arise from the level of the brain down to the airway.


The most common reason to see this type of presentation during a seizure, where they show elevated, shallow breathing with potentially low oxygenation, would be in cases of airway obstruction. This could have been a full or partial obstruction. Typical obstruction agents would be airway secretions blocking the trachea or mainstem bronchi, inflamed airway tissue swelling and collapsing the airway, or even the unconscious misposition of the tongue (ie swallowing) such that it blocked the opening to the airway. Furthermore, we could see this secondary to any mechanical obstruction (ie if she had been eating prior to onset of the fit and the food lodged in the throat). And just to note, while very uncommon for rabbits due to the nature of their stomach's valve (cardia), we can see reflux of gut contents cause obstruction in some cases.


Furthermore, seizures themselves can quickly reduce the oxygen saturation levels in the blood. When this happens, the body will reflexively breathe faster. So, even if the airway is clinically normal, abnormally elevated rates breathing could be triggered by the brain and blood vessel baroreceptors in response to the body's oxygen being used up in the seizure. Furthermore, if the seizure had been due to a severe brain based disease (ie tumor, hematoma, swelling, viral or parasitic disease), then we could also see the intracranial disease put pressure on the brain such that central apnea (where the portion of the brain responsible for telling the body to take a breath shuts-down) resulted. If this happens, then we can actually see those blood vessel receptors try to keep the body breathing (potentially erratically) for a short period. And if the brain doesn't respond to their efforts (being practically comatose), then she would stop breathing and go into respiratory arrest.


Again, I am very sorry for your loss and that Honey's passing was so stressful for you. I do feel that there wasn't anything you could have done here and I think even an ER vet with any piece of equipment at his fingertips would have struggled to address these issues and get her through this grand mal seizure.


I do hope this information is helpful.

If you need any additional information, do not hesitate to ask!

Please take care,

Dr. B.


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