Epilepsy in rats

Epilepsy is an illness that can afflict more mammals than just humans. Until recently I had never seen an epileptic fit, though I’ve known a couple of people who were afflicted with the disorder and also a dog of a friend who also suffered. For me, my experience came in the form of a rat called Juniper.

I almost lost Juniper on two separate occasions to an unknown illness, luckily she responded to antibiotics. It was after she recovered from the mystery illness the second time that I first noticed something just wasn’t right. I honestly thought she was in the middle of a sleep paralysis episode. It was only after she had another couple of episodes that I realised that it was not sleep paralysis. I asked on some rat groups that I am a member of on Facebook, the unanimous reply pointed towards seizures. So I did a little Googling and found a few sites about epilepsy. As I was reading the symptoms associated with some of the types of epileptic seizures, I recognised those symptoms as the ones that Juniper was experiencing. The two main types of seizure were absence seizures and myoclonic seizures, though she possibly may have experienced focal seizures as well. Her body would stiffen first then she would rise up onto her haunches and stare blankly at nothing in particular in a daydreamy state and bat the air with her little hands. The seizures would only last a few seconds. Sometimes she would seem a bit dazed and confused afterwards and sometimes she’d act as if nothing had happened.

She began to recognise when she was about to have a seizure and I learned to recognise the signs before she started fitting, I would then pick her up if I was close enough to do so and hold her until the seizure had stopped. This seemed to comfort her and bring her out of the seizure quicker stopping her from getting to the batting the air stage. If she was in an inaccessible place like the sputnik, I would just stroke her until she came out of the seizure. Sometimes she would be in the middle of a seizure before I realised what was happening and I would pick her up and hold her close.

At first the seizures were happening at most once or twice a week and could go a couple of weeks without having a seizure. It then stated to progress to 3 times a week then 3 days a week where she would perhaps only have one seizure one day then two the next and three the following day. Of course she may have been having more seizures when I wasn’t there to see.

It all came to a head one day when she was going in and out of seizures every few minutes for a full hour. I just sat and held her the whole time. It was then that I got back in touch with the vet to request some Phenobarbital. She was prescribed Epiphen, 0.02ml twice a day. I wasn’t convinced that such a small dose would do much for her. I decided to follow the instructions and I’m delighted to say that the medication was like a miracle cure. Since starting to take it she has never suffered another seizure. I am very proud of my little miracle rat, Juniper. She is currently 2 years 9 months old (as of 30 May 2018) and has outlived both of her sisters.

I was told by the vet that the medication may not work and that it would make her very sleepy and subdued. It had the opposite effect on Juniper; she became hyper and started acting like a 6 month old again. She has stared death in the face twice and bounced back both times, a silly little thing like epilepsy is not going to stop this little rat from living and loving life.