Head Tilt

It is very distressing to find your bunny with a head tilt. Don't panic but do get them to a good rabbit vet as soon as you can for treatment. The quicker you respond to the tilt, the best possible chance your bunny will have to recover.


Possible causes of head tilt (also known as torticollis or wry neck) are:

* Middle/inner ear infection
* E. Cuniculi
* Stroke
* Trauma
* Cancer
* Cervical muscle contraction
* Intoxication

Inner Ear Infection
Inner ear infections can be quite common in rabbits.  Please consult an experienced rabbit vet for the best medications to treat infection.  Treating an inner ear infection needs long term care and can take some time for your bunny to recover.  Head tilts can remain after the infection has been treated but rabbits can cope very well with their disability.

Our Dingleberry (pictured above) suffered an inner ear infection when she was four years of age in 2005.  She was unfortunately misdiagnosed by a vet that wasn't familiar with rabbits and treated with the wrong medication.  She took months to recover and suffered major balance issues.  At the start, she was falling over regularly and her eyes flickered until the infection healed.  Luckily she did recover but was left with a permanent head tilt for the rest of her life.  We have since lost our Dingy who passed away in late 2010 at the age of nine from natural causes. 

Dingy needed care with her toileting.  As she had a permanent head tilt for five years, she saw the world at a different angle.  She could no longer jump up on furniture, was scared by unexpected noises or items in her way so we kept her bedroom clear.  She could no longer use a normal litter tray with sides.  We discovered that she was quite happy to use a large plastic lid off an underbed storage container, lined with newspaper and topped with hay.  Dingleberry was a very happy head tilt indoor bunny that remained very well litter trained. 

E. Cuniculi
Encephalitozoon cuniculi, a protozoan parasite, can result in paralysis anywhere in the body. Frequently there are signs preceding a head tilt caused by E.cuniculi such as tripping, dragging of feet, tipping over. These symptoms may have appeared and then vanished weeks or months prior to the head tilt. A blood test for antibodies to E. cuniculi can tell whether your rabbit has been exposed.  E. Cuniculi is suggested to be passed by an infected mother to her babies through urine in the nest or before they are born.

Please see an experienced rabbit vet for treatment.

Strokes in rabbits is not very common.  Whenever you discover your bunny with a head tilt or losing balance, please see your vet.

A blow to the face, neck or head can result in an injury to the brain which can cause the rabbit to have a head tilt. Trauma even could result from a panic reaction. Depending upon the severity of the trauma, an anti-inflammatory might be helpful to speed recovery.

Tumors occurring in the brain, neck or ear could produce a symptom of head tilt.

Cervical muscle contraction
A "muscle spasm" could cause a temporary head tilt. This situation will resolve itself once the muscle is relaxed.

This could be caused by ingestion of lead, found in paints or imported pottery, or ingestion of a toxic plant.

Caring for a rabbit with head tilt
Regardless of the cause, most cases of head tilt have similarities.

The "down" eye (the one facing the floor) needs special attention , may not close and may require eye ointment to keep the eye moist.

Lack of balance is what causes rabbits to "roll" and be unable to stand, so pick them up as little as possible. When you must pick your rabbit up, hold him securely against your own body, to help him feel as stable as possible. Depending upon the size of your rabbit you can usually figure out how to confine him to a smaller space. Place one of the synthetic sheepskin rugs (that allows urine to pass through but will keep the bun dry) on the floor of the cage or box, and then place rolled towels or small blankets to help prop him up, so that he will be less likely to roll when he loses his balance. A stuffed toy bunny friend also helps.

Most rabbits will keep eating but may need to be hand fed with lots of sympathy with every bite of food. Offer hay to encourage him to eat lots of roughage and offer a bowl of water to the mouth for ease of drinking.

If your rabbit decides to decline food, you will have to be ready to syringe feed. Critical Care is an excellent product you can purchase from good vet clinics.  It is a dry high fibre food that is mixed with water & syringe fed to your bunny.

The primary point is to get food into the stomach so that the gut doesn't stop moving, which would add further complications for your bunny.

An alternative therapy for rabbit head tilts is acupuncture. Of course, this treatment is to be administered only from experienced vets but it helps treat muscle pain & balance.

You may need to syringe feed your bunny with Critical Care.  The best one for rabbits is the apple/banana.

The Melbourne Rabbit Clinic sells Critical Care or you can buy it online from Oxbow Australia.