A seizure is a sudden occurrence of involuntary muscle contractions or stiffness accompanied by changes in consciousness, behaviour, and involuntary bodily functions. There are 3 stages of a seizure. The first stage, usually referred to as an aura, lasts only a few seconds. The rat may seem restless, have a change in posture, and sniff at the air more. After the aura, the actual seizure occurs and you may see any of the following: muscle contractions or stiffening, clenched teeth, swollen or protruding tongue, cloudy eyes, or loss of consciousness. Then in the third stage the rat may seem dazed, confused, limp, thirsty, and tired. Usually seizures last only a few seconds or minutes and no bodily harm is done, but there is a danger of the air passages closing up. If the cause of the seizures is not corrected, then there is a high chance of seizures becoming more frequent and prolonged.
Seizures are a sign of either a hereditary or an acquired imbalance in the central nervous system. Head trauma, a stroke, a tumour or brain abscess, toxic substances, rapid changes in blood sugar or oxygen in the brain, or infection can all bring about a seizure.
Once your rat has a seizure, there is a very high chance they will occur again (usually becoming more frequent). If your rat has a seizure write down what your rat was doing before it had a seizure, how long it lasted and the severity, and if he/she lost consciousness. Take your rat to the vet and supply him/her with as much information as you can. Your vet can prescribe an anticonvulsant such as Phenobarbitol or Diazempan but it will take a few weeks to take effect. If an infection is thought to be the cause of seizures then antibiotics should be prescribed and a corticosteroid if there is possible inflammation. Make sure to keep the rat well hydrated and provide a healthy diet low in sugars. It’s best to move the rat into a one-level cage with soft bedding to prevent injury during seizures. It’s also very important to provide a stress-free environment. Ensure that they’re not startled by loud noises or sudden movements, that temperature remains at a constant comfortable level, and leave them with cagemates unless they’re causing stress. Avoid touching your rat during a seizure unless there is a possibility that they’ll fall and injure themselves. If treatments do not reduce seizure activity and your rat’s quality of life is poor, consult your vet about euthanasia.