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Rabbit Head Tilt: Diagnosing, Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Rabbit Head Tilt

For most owners taking care of rabbits gives them a lot of fun and benefits since they are known as sociable animals. They like playing, eating, and sleeping. But at some point in their life, problems can occur in their body, and there will be noticeable changes in behavior and body formation. One of these is the sudden head tilt of rabbits. 

For pet owners of dogs, a head tilt might suggest cuteness because it can mean that they are confused. But for rabbit owners, head tilt in their pet is a condition caused by several factors and sometimes serious health illness. 

According to the Vet Charity For Pets In Need, this type of body formation in your pet is commonly caused by an infection inside their ear or head trauma. However, it may still depend on what kind of activity and food your rabbit has consumed for the past days before the occurrence of the head tilt.

Head tilt in rabbits can happen suddenly without warning and clinical symptoms. That is why it is important to have information about this, the causes, and the things you should do as an owner if your rabbit starts tilting their head. 

Rabbit Head Tilt 

When a rabbit has a head tilt, you will notice them swinging its head to the right or the left, and it will look like they have a broken neck. This condition is also known as torticollis or wryneck because of the odd formation of the rabbit’s head. 

Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – Angell (MSPCA–Angell) stated that the rabbit might suffer from other conditions like ataxia, circling, and eye-rolling when your pet is diagnosed with a severe head tilt and not treated early. 

Diagnosing

Although head tilt does not sound as serious as the other health issues of rabbits, it is still recommended to schedule a visit with your trusted veterinarian because they will properly diagnose what causes the head tilt of your pet. The doctor might conduct diagnostic testing immediately, including a head CT scan to check for internal otitis, while blood tests are taken for possible Encephalitozoon cuniculi infestation

Self-diagnosing and the assumption of the condition to your rabbit is a big no because it will further risk your pet’s life. And also, sometimes rabbit tilt needs life-long medicine because it can be caused by a head accident that affects their nervous system, and the doctor might suggest a surgical operation.

Causes

Ear Infection

The infection of your rabbit ear can be the root cause of head tilting. This is due to the untreated infection that started in the outer part of your pet’s ear and entered inside, causing trauma and further infection. Or the infection may have worked to the inner ear, leading to an upper respiratory infection. That is why simple infected wounds or parasites should be treated as early as possible because they can go deeper into the rabbit’s body and cause more risk to their health, including the head tilt. 

To determine whether ear infection caused the head tilt, CT scans are conducted in the rabbit. Examining the discharge from the middle ear is also done so that the doctor can rule out what kind of parasite or bacteria led to the infection of your rabbit’s ear.  These microorganisms, like Bordetella, Proteus, Pasteurella, Streptococcus and Pasteurella, and more, are the possible causes of infection.

Occasionally your rabbit will be given a dose of an antibacterial or antibiotics agent to treat head tilt caused by middle and inner ear infections this also eliminates the parasite that lives inside their ear. If your pet is not eating or drinking, IV fluids will also be administered, or you will force-feed your rabbits through a tube or a syringe.

Ensure that you note changes after administering antibiotics to determine their effectiveness. Suppose head tilting persists even after antibiotic treatments are over; the vet might suggest ear surgery to remove exudate, drain the area, and get a sample of the discharge in the middle ear.

Head Trauma

Rabbits love playing and jumping in different areas in their shelter, which sometimes causes accidents that lead to head trauma. Severe blows in your rabbit’s head, face, or neck can lead to injury to the brain, causing a head tilt because the nerve of the brain and head is damaged. 

In some situations, rabbits can have head traumas in response to a stressful environment or a panic reaction. If this is the case, your vet may give anti-inflammatory medications to ease inflammation and speed up recovery. A rabbit with a head tilt due to trauma may survive when the inflammation has been treated and when he receives treatment right away.

To prove that the head injury causes the head tilting, a CT Scan and other physical examination will also be conducted. This will also help the vet doctor provide the proper treatment because sometimes head tilting is not the only result of head trauma there is a possibility of a broken bone or ruptured nervous part inside your pet’s body. 

Stroke or Heart Attack

Another reason that head tilt occurs in your rabbit is because of a stroke or heart attack. According to the study of Sage, animals that suffer from a stroke can lead to temporary facial paralysis that causes head tilt. That is because the nerve-muscle that supports their head is also affected. A careful examination of the rabbit must be done to diagnose head tilting due to stroke.

If your rabbit suffers from a stroke or paralysis, one part of its body may show signs similar to humans, like drooping of one side of its face, poor eye function on the affected area, and drool. If you notice these signs and symptoms in your pet, take it to the vet at once. 

Usually, a rabbit with a head tilt due to a stroke is easier to treat if diagnosed early. With the proper treatment from the vet, some rabbits may gradually return to their regular head position and only have a slight head tilt after a few months, which is hardly noticeable. 

Caring for a rabbit with a stroke involves assisting it with daily needs, including eating, moving, and defecating. There are no medicines to treat patients; only physical therapy and acupuncture can help.

Parasitic Infestation

Infestation can cause several health risks for your rabbit. One of them is the tilting of your pet’s head on the right or left side of its face. One of the parasites that can cause this illness in your rabbit is a  protozoan called Encephalitozoon cuniculi, or E. Cuniculi. 

The Rabbit Welfare Association reported that this parasite often attacks the kidney and brain function of your rabbit’s body. That is why it can lead to related brain diseases such as meningoencephalitis and microscopic cysts, resulting in paralysis on any part of your rabbit’s body. As we all know, the brain controls specific body parts, and the parasite residing in specific brain areas can lead to different signs and symptoms.

The head tilt caused by parasites can include other health problems like your pet dragging their feet, continuously tripping over, and seizures. Symptoms may have been present and then vanished for weeks or months before the presence of the head tilt. That is why once you notice changes in your rabbit’s behavior from eating their food up to behavioral issues, visit your vet immediately. This will help the rabbit avoid having severe symptoms caused by the parasite. 

Lump Cancer

Any abnormal growth or tumor in your rabbit’s brain, face, ear, or head can cause its neck to tilt. Although there are studies that some lumps are non-cancerous or benign, it’s always ideal to check with your vet if the unwanted lump is cancerous because not only head tilt is gonna be your concern. Cancer can be life-threatening for your rabbit.

The lump can sometimes cause head tilt because it is formed by bacteria that infect the inside of your pet’s body. When you visit the vet, they will prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine or antibiotics to ease the swollen lump and avoid further infection. However, treatment may still depend on the severity of the condition. Surgery may be done to remove a tumor or growth, and cancer treatment may also be started.

If you want to know more about Rabbit Health, Read This Article: Definitive Guide to Your Rabbit’s Health.

Treatment and Prevention

Although head tilt can be a serious illness for your rabbit, treating it with the right medication will help your pet adjust and return to its head’s original state. There is also a list of things that you can do so that your rabbit will avoid being diagnosed with this illness. With the proper care and providing a safe space for your pet, they will surely live a healthy and normal life for the rest of their life. 

Taking care of a rabbit with a head tilt must be done according to the condition’s cause. There are also similarities across head tilt symptoms, so be sure to remember the following as you care for your sick pet:

Avoid placing their cage in a high area.

One thing you should secure when taking care of rabbits is their shelter cage. Place the rabbit cage in a flat and safe area and never in a noisy environment. Your pet needs a safe and quiet place while they are living. Rabbits are also known to love jumping. It is reported that the average rabbit can jump from 2-4 feet high. If the fence in your rabbit cage is not high enough, they are more vulnerable to accidents and falling from high places.

To avoid this, you can buy a customized rabbit cage or a height fence for their shelter. Ensure that you also clean the shelter regularly to avoid bacterial growth. You may use a spare cage and line it with newspapers or paper towels for easy removal when soiled. You may use other beddings, but the simpler your tank is, the better your pet will get over his stress.

Sanitize the Rabbit Shelter

Now that you know that one of the causes of Rabbit Tilt is a parasitic and bacterial infection. You should have a schedule for cleaning your pet’s cage inside and outside. Commonly bacteria grow on dirty surfaces, especially in their litter and sleeping area. There are different ways to sanitize their cage. 

One is to spray the shelter with pet cleaner spray. This product is specifically made to kill known bacteria that can harm your rabbit. But when choosing pet spray, ensure that it does not contain any toxic chemical that can affect your rabbit’s health since you will be sanitizing the cage where they live.

The second option is the natural method. This is always recommended because it is safe and does not put your rabbit at risk. Vinegar and baking soda have been proven as good natural cleaning ingredients. Pour a generous amount surrounding that cage and rinse after ten minutes with clean water. 

If you practice sanitizing your rabbit’s shelter regularly, you will eliminate the head tilt risk and other known health problems in your rabbit. 

Apply pet ointment to the rabbit’s eye

When the starting head tilts to the side of your pet’s face, all the parts, including the eyes, will also be affected.  Rabbit eyes will remain still and open, but their only vision is downward.  As this happens, the eye becomes too dry because your rabbit constantly tries to look upward. Therefore it may become very irritating and painful for your pet.

Applying ointment on the eye at least twice or thrice daily will prevent dryness and discomfort. 

Providing a healthy diet to rabbits that refuse to eat

It’s common for pet rabbits to decline food and drink when they’re sick or stressed. That is why feeding your pet affected by head tilt can be challenging because of their head position. Rabbits may decline their favorite pellets or other foods, so the best way is to serve fresh food like vegetables, fruits, or green leafy vegetables. But note that since your rabbit is sick, the food they should intake will suit their digestion

Here is the list of healthy food that can help your rabbit increase their appetite:

If you force-feed your pet with a syringe. There are many recipes for syringe feeding for rabbits, and usually, natural food is chopped, pureed, and served to pet rabbits.

But if your pet clenches its teeth and refuses to eat, discontinue the syringe feeding and just offer this later. 

Hold the food so he can grab a bite with his head tilted. Continue to offer hay since hay improves the health and function of the digestive tract. Hay also helps keep the rabbit’s teeth short and even prevents boredom in rabbits. Switch from timothy hay to alfalfa hay to improve digestive tract function.

Key Takeaways for Rabbit Head Tilt

  • Rabbit head tilt, or torticollis, is a serious health illness in your pets that is often noticeable because of the odd formation of their head swinging on the right or left side of their face.
  • Head tilt can happen without clinical symptoms or warning showing up. But it is caused by several reasons that affect your rabbit’s body. 
  • In diagnosing head tilt, doctors conduct CT scans or discharge examinations to see the root cause of the rabbit. There are several reasons why rabbits begin to tilt their head, such as ear infections, head trauma, stroke, parasitic infestation, and lump cancer. 
  • Ear infection causing head tilt results from untreated infection outside the ear of the rabbit. The infection enters the inside of the ear, which leads to irritation, and since the ear is near the brain, the nervous system connecting both parts causes trauma. 
  • Accidents and falls can also lead to head trauma because of the impact on your rabbit’s head, resulting in nerve damage and tilting of the head. 
  • A stroke in your rabbit causes sudden facial paralyzation, which is why it also affects the function of the muscle supporting your pet’s head. 
  • A common parasitic infestation in rabbits is E. Cuniculi which can also be the reason for head tilting because they attack the kidney and brain of your pet’s body. 
  • The lump can sometimes cause head tilt because it is formed by bacteria that infect the inside of your pet’s body. Once they start attacking your rabbit, some functions of their body will be deprived, making them unable to live normally because of the infection. 
  • Most rabbits with mild head tilt survive after regular and correct treatment. The only memory of the condition is a very slight tilt of the head that may be hard to notice. However, some severe forms of illness have high fatality rates. Therefore, it is very important to take your pet to the vet for early signs of neck tilting so it can receive the correct treatment as soon as possible.  
  • Here is the list of treatments and prevention that you can do to your rabbit to avoid having a head tilt;
    • Avoid placing their cage in high places so they are not vulnerable to fall accidents. 
    • Second, regularly sanitize your pet’s shelter to eliminate unwanted germs and parasites that can cause head tilt. 
    • Third, in case of head tilt, you can put safe ointment in your rabbit eyes because they tend to become dry due to the position of their head. 
    • And last is ensuring that your rabbit eats healthy foods to boost their immunity.

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