If your beloved bunny has started showing signs of head tilt, or torticollis, it is incredibly distressing and worrying. It is important to know the causes of this ailment, as well as your various treatment options should preventative measures fail. Above all else, if your rabbit is exhibiting any signs of head tilt, take him to the vet immediately.
One of the primary causes of head tilt in lop-eared rabbits is an inner ear infection. It is important to frequently check your rabbit’s ears for any signs of an outer ear infection, as this can easily spread to the middle and inner ears with devastating consequence. Treatment for an inner ear infection needs to be prolonged and aggressive, and can feature various forms of antibiotics. Your vet will be able to advise you as to which is most likely to be effective in your rabbit’s case. If there has been no improvement after four weeks, you will need to try another form of antibiotics. If antibiotics continue to fail you may need to opt for more drastic measures. Surgery or a drain on the inner ear may be an option, or an extended course of steroids. It is important to monitor your rabbit during these stressful processes, as it is not uncommon for the rabbit to cease eating and drinking. If this is the case, you will need to hand feed your rabbit with a syringe, and fluids will need to be administered subcutaneously. Though these may seem grim options, if the infection is not completely cured, the rabbit can live on in a supportive environment and continued antibiotics.
Encephalitozoonosis is another cause of head tilt. This is when a parasite called encephalitozoon cuniculi infects your rabbit’s brain and can result in paralysis anywhere on your rabbit’s body. If your rabbit has been infected, there will be several signs sometimes weeks preceding the head tilt, such as dragging of the feet and disorientation. Your vet can confirm diagnosis of this infection with a blood test. You vet may attempt to cure this with varying antibiotics, but it is likely your rabbit will never fully recover. That is not to say, however, that he cannot live for several years to come with monitored care and medication.
Stroke is another possible cause of head tilt. As with humans, signs of stroke are largely physical, and can be seen in the slight drooping or tilting of one side of the head or body. Your bunny will show signs of recovery from these symptoms in a few months, but will need hand feeding and subcutaneous water intake.
Antibiotics will be the primary treatment selection for most causes of head tilt. You may need to attempt several forms of antibiotics, or your vet may opt for a steroidal treatment. Aside from veterinary treatments, there are several at-home procedures that you can expect to have to undertake with a rabbit with head tilt. The eye that is facing the ground will not be able to be closed, so will require eye drops administered by you to keep it moist.
Sometimes a severe head tilt will cause the rabbit to lose his balance and uncontrollably roll. This is very distressing to watch, and unfortunately not able to be prevented. You can assist your bunny as best as possible by righting him when he falls over, and providing rolled up towels or blankets to form a barrier against the side of his cage. It is also recommended that towels or blankets be placed at the bottom of the cage to absorb any urine, as otherwise your rabbit may roll in it and become chilled.
If your rabbit has started to decline food, you need to act quickly, as more than eight to ten hours without food can be seriously dangerous for a rabbit. If you are prepared to syringe feed your rabbit, there are many options available. You can either mash up your rabbit’s pellets to mix them with water, or you may find several recipes online with fresh greens and veggies, not dissimilar to baby food. Syringe feeding a rabbit is no easy task, and will require a great deal of trust and patience on both yours and your rabbit’s part. Feed him as frequently as you can throughout the day and as much as you can at each feeding. It is imperative that your rabbit remains as nourished as is possible.
With all treatments, it is important that you exhibit signs of care and patience with your rabbit. It is an incredibly trying and stressful ailment for a rabbit to have, and he will be extremely anxious and disoriented. Try and spend as much time as you can with your rabbit, and lessen the stress of the situation with cuddles.
Sometimes, though the head tilt is not completely eradicated, your rabbit can live on and manage the condition. Even after the infection is cured, the head tilt may linger, leaving you with a perfectly healthy rabbit that just looks slightly quizzical! Whilst you will still need to be vigilant and regularly check your rabbit to make sure the infection has not returned, it is not unusual for these rabbits to live long and happy lives regardless of the tilt.
Unfortunately, sometimes there is no cure for head tilt in lop-eared rabbits. If the cause is an infection that does not clear up, it can lead to further complications such as paralysis or stroke. Rabbits are strong fighters, but sometimes it can become too much for them, and it may be kinder to put your animal to sleep. This is a very upsetting and difficult decision, but it can get to the stage where that is the must humane option for your rabbit. Be sure you have tried as many forms of treatment available to you before you decide on this, and seek multiple veterinary opinions. Whilst it is a sad and distressing time, it is the right decision to make if your rabbit is in pain or suffering.
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