Grey, a two year old female rabbit who developed a head tilt

ASH Animal Rescue is in Co. Wicklow. Most of their work involves dogs and cats, but ASH is committed to any animals in need of help. Sometimes they have one or two rabbits in their care.

Grey had been with ASH for six months. Her original owners had to rehome her because they had a large dog that didn’t get along with her. It was decided that the safest option was to send her to ASH to live her life in peace and safety.

Her health crisis developed overnight. One morning, Helena noticed that Grey had developed a severe head tilt to the left, and she could no longer walk properly. She had become stuck in a corner of her run, and when Helena took her out, she kept trying to walk in circles to her left. Grey normally loves her food, but she’d lost her appetite, even when food was lifted up to her mouth. Helena brought her in to see me.

Head tilt is a common problem in rabbits. There are several different causes, and it can be difficult to identify precisely what is happening. It’s sometimes associated with sore ears, but when I examined Grey’s ears with a scope, they were normal. This meant that the problem had to be due to disease in one of two areas: the middle/inner ear, or the brain itself.

It’s quite tricky making an exact diagnosis. The best answer is to carry out a series of investigations, including blood tests and analysis of a sample of fluid from around the brain. X-rays can be helpful too, and the ultimate diagnostic tool is to carry out CAT or MRI scans. This type of work-up is very expensive, and often it’s more practical to give a general treatment for the most likely causes.

When I examined Grey, I could see that she had more than just a head tilt. Her pupils were dilated, and when I moved my hand in front of her face, she did not react at all: she was completely blind. This told me that she was suffering from a problem in her brain, rather than her middle ear. There are three main causes of brain damage of this type: a stroke (as in humans), a bacterial infection (similar to meningitis) and a rare rabbit disease caused by a tiny parasite called E. cuniculi.  I prescribed treatment for her that covered all of these three options: nursing care to help her to rehabilitate if she’d had a stroke, antibiotics to cure any bacterial infection, and an anti-parasite drug to deal with the third possibility.

The home care is very important. Helena was making up a soup using Grey’s normal pelleted food mixed with warm water, fed with a syringe several times a day, and she was also giving small amounts of carrot, apple and hay. Grey was checked often in her hutch to make sure that she didn’t get stuck in corners. It took a couple of months before Grey made a full recovery.

Tips

  • Head tilt is a common problem in rabbits
  • A check by a vet is essential to try to identify the cause
  • Many rabbits make a full recovery with general treatment and nursing

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