Bouffe is doing well, headtilt or no headtilt. If you have been Googling rabbit + headtilt because you are going through the same with your rabbit, maybe what we have learned is of help.
Concerned? Go see the vet. Now
First off, let me emphasise that I am not a vet. I want to share my learning with you, but you should know that reading about my experiences can never replace professional advice from a qualified veterinarian.
Now that that is out of the way: if you’re concerned your rabbit has a head tilt, you must take it to the vet immediately. Really, I mean it. Don’t think you might give it a couple of hours to see how bunny does tonight or tomorrow morning. It won’t sort itself out; it will only be worse.
Headtilts do come in grades of severity. The sooner you know what is causing it, the sooner rabbit gets treated, and progress can be slowed or halted.
Headtilts are also very distressing for rabbits, so please, look after yours and read the rest of this post when you’re back from the vet’s.
What causes headtilt?
e.Cuniculi, Pasteurella… what?!
There can be different causes for headtilt, another reason to take it to the vet and not self-diagnose on the internet.
e.Cuniculi is a nasty parasite which wreaks havoc in rabbit brains once it gets there, and this damage is causing the headtilt. Most rabbits carry the parasite but never suffer any ill effects. It can attack the central nervous system in various places, if it does so in the brain, headtilts are the result.
Bink suffered from this ‘form’ of headtilt.
e.Cuniculi is difficult to treat, but at least there is a chance something can be done to improve your rabbit’s health. Common treatments are based on fenbendazole and are sold under the names Lapizole and Panacur in the UK.
Bouffe is thought to suffer from a Pasteurella infection in the middle ear, another known cause of headtilt. His is being treated with penicillin – Norocillin, to be precise – and this has helped him a great deal.
A great place to learn more about causes of headtilt is the House Rabbit Society.
This story is about Bouffe, whose headtilt was not caused by e.Cuniculi.
Spot the signs of head tilt
Headtilt can creep up on a bun – looking at some pictures of Bouffe taken shortly before it really struck him, he already had a very slight tilt. There were no other symptoms to suggest anything was wrong, apart from having two lots of surgery on his ear within just a few weeks.
The below picture shows Bouffe shortly before his headtilt took hold, and you can see the difference between left and right cheeks: this is thought to be caused by paralysis of the facial nerve linked to his middle ear infection and/or the abscess on his ear canal which started it all.
Then, one night, Bouffe very suddenly began to fall on his side, thrash non-stop for hours on end, kicking, knocking himself on his cage and bowl, and violently flipping for no apparent reason when we did manage to get him back on all fours. Very upsetting to watch, because he was very distressed throughout.
Holding him close and stroking him was the only way to calm him down. We sat with him on the floor for hours throughout the night.
He was the first in the queue at the vet’s the next morning. He was diagnosed and prescribed a suite of medication which included pain relief.
Caring for a headtilt rabbit
Apart from requiring medical treatment, a headtilt rabbit has special needs. Meeting these to the best of your ability will make a huge difference to their chances to recover at least partially.
The first thing we did after seeing the vet was build him a small, comfortable bed surrounded by cushions. We put it in a dark-ish corner in our home office so we could watch over him and help him.
Bouffe was falling over a lot and he was soiling his bed, so we cleaned him at least once a day, usually more often. Rabbits hate living in dirty quarters.
We learned how to make the bed comfortable and safe for him to tumble around in from the incredible Special Bunny website.
Rabbits need to eat virtually non-stop. Their digestive system is like a conveyor belt: it needs constant filling up and emptying. If their digestive tract stops moving, huge problems invariably follow. More on gut stasis, as this is called, can be found on the House Rabbit Society website.
In Bouffe’s case, eating has never been a problem. His appetite did not abandon him now, either.
We did notice one thing, which is very likely connected to his ear infection: he was unable to chew off chunks of vegetable. We grated his vegetables which had the added benefit that we could mix in a powdered dose of fenbendazole, which he was on for good measure, even though we are quite sure the headtilt was not caused by e.Cuniculi in his case.
We know Bouffe is ‘EC positive’, and we didn’t want the parasite to get a chance to get a hold too while he was weakened by an ear infection. Ask your vet about preventative treatment, if you are concerned.
Providing drinking water posed a bit of a problem. Bouffe couldn’t use a water bottle, and putting a bowl in his bed was risky as well as messy.
We partially solved the problem by offering him a lot of ‘wet’ greens like celery. We also offered him his water bottle several times a day to see if he fancied a drink.
Fortunately, after about two weeks Bouffe’s recovery was such that he was able to have a water bowl to safely drink from. We kept a close eye on his hydration levels and replaced dried out celery several times a day so tempt him to take more.
He needed a lot of help with eating.
Bouffe’s partial recovery from headtilt
Bouffe responded well to Norocillin, a penicillin, which we injected every other day in the early days and weeks. He seemed sensitive to light in this first period, so we kept him out of bright light but within earshot of us. We frequently went over to prop him up a bit, offer him some favourite morsel, or just cuddle him for a while.
After the first few days, when we spent almost 24 hours a day with him – you can do this when you run a business from home! – he calmed down and the rolling and falling started to lessen. He seemed less stricken and gradually became more confident to try and sit up.
After about two weeks we noticed he spent muchless time sleeping. He started to develop strategies to get up after rolling over, and as he gained strength, this became a bit of a ninja-flip he appeared to be a little bit proud of. He also learned how to prop himself up by parking his bottae in a corner, so he could groom himself and have his morning cecals. The first few days we would find them for him in his bed and offer them to him to eat.
Which leads me to my next topic…
And now for the messy side
Fortunately for us, Bouffe has always been partial to food. Feeding him has always been a joy – everything is devoured with grunty pleasure. A side-effect of feeding is of course that bunny also needs to go. We had tried a litter tray, but he couldn’t get in it himself, and if we put him in ourselves, he would become very distressed and start thrashing about all over again.
The way we made his bed ensured that Bouffe could just wee in it, and the fleece would wick it away, minimising scalds. All it took was to have a few clean sets to hand and within minutes he’d be comfortably installed in a clean bed.
The only problem is that Bouffe turned out to be an exceedingly proper bunny: he held up his wee for two whole days at first, before he weed in his bed. After he gave in, he only went once a day, even when he probably knew he would be cleaned immediately.
Two weeks later
Bouffe started to make big jumps in his recovery after about a week. He was clearly not dizzy all the time anymore; he started to gain strength; he had learned to balance and get up better, and we like to think he felt confident to venture out. We moved him back into his own corner in the conservatory and gave him a bigger bed with more room to move about.
He thought about throwing a poo-party for intimate friends when he went on his tray for the first time after his episode, but thought most people wouldn’t fully appreciate the occasion…
He also started to venture out and explore his beloved outside:
We went back into the house together straight after I put the camera down and had a lovely cuddle.
We also noticed that he started walking on hard flooring again, as he always has. However, because of his tilt, he cannot see particularly well, and he had more trouble balancing on slippery floors.
In this clip you can see quite well how he likes to stick to the walls on his right, and that discovering something in his path that wasn’t there before (me in this case) confuses him.
Bouffe is, in effect, a partially sighted rabbit.
From falling about and being quite helpless at first, Bouffe moved to being much more mobile in just a few weeks.
Five months on
As I write this, we are more than five months on from that dreadful night, when we really thought we were saying goodbye to him.
He still has Norocillin injections, but only when he needs them. Currently that is less than once every two weeks. He needs eye drops (Fucithalmic Vet) because his ‘bottom’ eye weeps a bit – it is closed but absolutely fine otherwise – and the eye on top is prone to conjunctivitis. I wash both eyes gently with lukewarm water on cotton wool, dry them, and put a drop in each eye every day. He sits still while I do this, and licks my hand afterwards. Then he demands a treat for being good.
Because he has been fussed over and handled so much in the last six months, Bouffe has become an extremely easygoing rabbit, who loves being around people. He’s very affectionate, confidently goes about his business, plays with his toys, and tells you what he wants.
Bouffe is living proof that life with a head tilt can be just as fabulous as before.