Rabbits are naturally active, lively, and playful, especially when they’re in a happy mood. However, some rabbits develop a very weird condition known as head tilt, and this can cause worry in pet owners. A head tilt is exactly what it’s like. The rabbit’s head is tilted to the right or to the left. An affected bunny suddenly develops this condition without any pre-existing sign or symptom.
What is a head tilt in rabbits?
Head tilt is a dramatic presentation in rabbits, and aside from this unusual head position, the rabbit may also suffer from other conditions like ataxia, circling, and rolling of the eyes. It is very frightening to see your pet with head tilt, especially when it was okay a few hours ago.
Head tilt may be classified as severe when there are other abnormalities like cross-eyes and ataxia. The rabbit may have mild tilt when it has no other symptoms than the actual unusual head position.
The bacteria Encephalitozoon cuniculi or otitis interna is the most common cause of mild and severe head tilt. A vet may conduct diagnostic testing right away, and this includes a CT scan of the head to check for otitis internal while blood tests are taken for the presence of E. cuniculi.
What are the possible causes?
Head tilt may be caused by any of the following:
Middle or inner ear infections (otitis interna or otitis media)
An infection in the middle ear may have begun as an outer ear infection, which may have been overlooked and untreated. The infection may have worked its way to the inner ear or to the middle ear, which has led to an upper respiratory infection.
Imaging of the head, such as a CT scan will determine if the middle ears are affected. The culture of discharge from the middle ear is also done. Watch out for microorganisms like Bordetella, Proteus, Pasteurella, Streptococcus and Pasteurella, and more.
To treat head tilt caused by middle and inner ear infections, an aggressive dose of antibacterial agents is administered. Culture should also be done after administering antibiotics to determine their effectiveness. If head tilting persists even after antibiotic treatments are over, then a vet may opt to perform ear surgery to remove exudate, to drain the area and to get a sample of the discharge in the middle ear.
If head tilt is extreme, steroids may be prescribed to reduce the inflammation. If your pet is not eating or drinking anything, IV fluids may be stared and food given through a tube or a syringe.
Head tilting due to stroke
To diagnose head tilting due to stroke, a careful examination of the rabbit must be done. A rabbit who has suffered a stroke or paralysis of one part of the body may show signs similar to humans like drooping of one side of his face, poor eye function on the affected area, and drool. Usually, a rabbit with a head tilt due to a stroke may regain normal positioning of its head after a few months. Some rabbits may gradually return to their regular head position and may only have a slight head tilt after a few months, hardly noticeable.
If you notice any of these signs and symptoms in your pet, take it to the vet at once. Caring for a rabbit with stroke involves assisting it with its daily needs, including eating, moving, and defecating. There are no medicines to treat patients; only physical therapy and acupuncture can help.
Trauma resulting in a head tilt
Severe blows to the head, face, or neck can cause extreme effects and even injury to the brain, causing a head tilt. Most common in rabbits are traumas as a response to a situation or a panic reaction. If this is the case, anti-inflammatory medications may be given by your vet to ease inflammation and speed up recovery.
Rabbits that suffer from a fall or have been hit by a vehicle may suffer from terrible complications and injuries, including head tilts. A rabbit with a head tilt due to trauma may survive when the inflammation has been treated, and when he receives treatment right away.
Head tilt due to growths and cancers
Any abnormal growth or tumor in the brain, face, ear, or neck can cause the neck to tilt. Treatment may depend on the severity of the condition. Surgery may be done to remove a tumor or growth, and cancer treatment may be started as well.
The contractions along the neck can lead to a head tilt. The affected muscle is relaxed to resolve head tilting, and this may be done using therapy or drugs.
Parasites can cause head tilt
A protozoan called Encephalitozoon cuniculi can lead to brain diseases such as meningoencephalitis and microscopic cysts, which can result in paralysis on any part of the body. Take note that the brain controls specific parts of the body, and the parasite residing in specific areas of the brain can lead to different signs and symptoms.
The head tilt, including dragging of the feet, tripping, and tipping over are possible symptoms that you may experience after being affected by the E. cuniculi parasite. Symptoms may have been present and then vanished for weeks or months before the presence of the head tilt. A vet may order a blood test to check for the E. cuniculi parasite before treatment is done.
Worm causing a head tilt
Rabbits may eat the eggs of roundworms of the Baylisascaris spp as it eats grasses, bedding, or food contaminated by these parasites. The larvae that hatch from eggs move to the brain, and these live and grow here and, at the same time, destroy the tissue of the brain. Head tilt is one of the most common symptoms of this parasite, and there is no known cure for it.
Rabbits may also suffer from head tilt due to the ingestion of toxins found in its surroundings like paint, pottery, toxic plants, and many more.
How to take care of rabbits with head tilt?
Taking care of a rabbit with a head tilt must be done according to the cause of the condition. There are also similarities across head tilt symptoms, so be sure to remember the following as you care for your sick pet:
- Apply ointment to the “down” eye
Despite the cause of the head tilt, the eye that’s looking down remains still and open. As this happens, the eye becomes too dry and thus may become very irritated and painful. Applying ointment on the eye at least twice or thrice a day will prevent dryness and discomfort. Meanwhile, the other eye functions well but is usually larger and may even be protruded, so signal increased pressure inside the brain.
- Secure a rabbit to protect it during falls
Place the rabbit cage in a flat and safe area and never in a noisy environment. Your pet needs a safe and quiet place this time as it recuperates. 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.
- Change in your pet’s diet
Feeding your pet affected with head tilt can be challenging. He may decline pellets or commercially-prepared food, so the best way to go is to serve fresh food like vegetables, fruits, or green leafy vegetables.
Hold the food for him 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 will even prevent boredom in rabbits. Switch from timothy hay to alfalfa hay to improve the digestive tract function.
- Feeding a rabbit that refuses to eat
It’s common for pet rabbits to decline food and drink when it’s sick or stressed. If this is so, 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 still refuses to eat, discontinue the syringe feeding and just offer this later. You may consult your vet regarding the ideal pet rabbit formula for rabbits with a head tilt.
Most rabbits with a mild form of 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. It’s therefore very important to take your pet to the vet for early signs of neck tilting so it can receive correct treatment as soon as possible.