What is this blog and/or any mention of The Ever-Growing List? Explanation.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Treating Tilt-Head In Rabbits: Birdy

Hi! You've stumbled upon this post, probably after Googling queries about tilt-head, wry neck, or Ecuniculi in rabbits. You're scared; I was scared! My hope is that you'll find the story of my Lionhead Rabbit, Birdy, inspiring. I want it to give you extra hope if you're despaired and at the end of your rope. I want you to not feel helpless or give up. It's easy to want to, but you're here, now, which means you're engaged and haven't given up. I know it's hard, but here's hoping you get to the solution months faster than I did so you don't have to watch your beloved rabbit flounder.

  • Walking in circles
  • Nystygmus (darting eye)
  • Rolling (in later stages)
  • Paralysis of the hind quarter
Early symptoms frequently overlooked are:
  • Lack of movement around the cage - huddling in corner
  • Loss of appetite
  • Darting eye (nystygmus)
  • Weepy eye
  • Lying close to the floor with head down
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Weaving from side to side
  • Staggering gait
  • Stargazing (staring up at nothing)
What finally helped was this treatment from BarbiBrownsBunnies.

WARNING: There are some grizzly and possibly uncomfortable pictures. Why did I post some of them? Because I spent weeks and many sleepless nights, on and off, over that 4 months, Googling and searching for pictures that portrayed anything similar to how Birdy had become. I wanted to find hope that she could get better, to find before-and-after comparisons, but found few and far between. That was so disheartening. So here, have some heart and some hope!

Here are the before and afters:

And now (October 2012) She even posed for you!

But first, here is the story from then until now!

The Beginning - August 2011
My 7-year-old nephew was after a hamster. He'd been talking about it for months. I'd even taken him to pet stores just to peer through the cages at them and marvel over them. I was even beginning to humor the idea of getting one myself. Instead of going to a pet store, though, I opted to check out my local animal shelter, first, via PetFinder. There I was, taking a casual glance of the various animals as I did occasionally, when I came upon a picture of this glorious creature:
My heart latched to the screen. That face! Those ears! That little lump of fur! I'd never seen anything like her, though. Giant hamster? Guinea pig? Trendy exotic animal? No, not quite! Rather, she was a young Lionhead Rabbit! My family had had a rabbit when my siblings and I were little (RIP Bun-Bun), so I was intrigued.

It wasn't long (a couple of days worth of staring at her picture and seriously contemplating about getting another pet) before I was at the animal shelter with my nephew and mom in-toe to check her out, to see if such a creature could be real.

Upon first seeing her, I noticed she had a strange little head tick. She would go a few seconds normally, but then she'd sort of tilt her head and shake, as though lulling to sleep and then hopping (HA!) out of it. We asked the shelter if that was normal, if something was wrong with her. They said no, but they only did full examinations on the cats and dogs. Someone had found her in a yard, and the shelter seemed to not be too concerned with her. They tried to show me other rabbits, but I felt like I was in an alternate universe. I didn't want another--any other kind--I wanted her. I'd come for her. She had already become part of my presumed future. We were already in it together.

"I'm pretty sure she's meant to come home with me. She just is. Even if she's sick and just needs somewhere to go and die, I'll make sure she's taken care of." I was already on to something, here.

After thinking about it further, researching more about taking care of indoor rabbits and the right temporary enclosures, we went back a day or two later and picked her up. She was moving around okay, alert to her environment, but I noticed her head moved oddly, almost always at a right angle against her own will, and her eye would move from side of side just a bit. I pretended not to notice.

August 13th, 2011

In her new cage the day she came home. Already you can see that her head is slightly tilted right, but I didn't notice at the time except for figuring it was part of her special circumstance. I thought maybe an injury sustained from being outside before being found? Ear infection? I'd only had her for a day and I was full of questions.

That night I set her down to play, to explore, and while I could tell she wanted to, often she just stopped abruptly. She couldn't get around like I could tell she wanted to. She'd move in vague circles, never straight, and she often wobbled. Here's an example of an abrupt stop and the circles (near the end) she was moving in:

Still, though, she seemed to be adjusting okay to the environment. I made sure she was drinking plenty of water and that her ears were cool so she wasn't overheated. All of that stuff was going well. She was going to the bathroom fine. She was even litter-box trained. But it didn't all go well from there. Those subtle symptoms I--and the shelter--had been overlooking turned more obvious.

It spiraled downward. Quickly. This was her six days later, on August 19th.

Her head had tilted so far down, abruptly, one evening, that she couldn't stand. If she tried, she would just spin and spin violently on the floor as she tried to find equilibrium and her feet unsuccessfully. Her pupils would move from side to side, and she'd lost her appetite. It was a heartbreaking sight to behold. The only thing that could be done was to stabilize and secure her, so I rolled up old clean towels and tucked her between them in a plastic storage box to secure her and let her head rest comfortably, thus eliminating the spinning so she could make it through the night.

I put her little box next to mine in my bed, and my face near hers, and kept watch over her. Little did I know, it would be this every night for the next four months.

By the time we were off to the vet, she'd gotten worse. Her head had titled more, and to make it worse, she seemed to be in pain except for when she could rest in certain positions if I held her against me. Her eye-darting had gotten worse. Over the next couple of months, we spent a lot of time like:

August 21st

I Googled local vets to see if there were any that might have known anything about rabbits, and I got lucky. One of the vets did have some experience with rabbits. Off to the vet we went. Yup, the vet said, what I had already since figured out with a quick trip to Google: tilt head/wry neck/ecuniculi. No charge for the visit considering the circumstances (I'd had her for about a week). The staff was super nice and supportive, but we all knew not too much could be done. All we could do was hope the medicine helped.

Medicines: Enrofloxen, Meclizine HCI, Metacam, Trimeth Sulfa.

A diagnoses was half the cure, right? Half the battle.

She had an appetite, even though it was small, and I was feeding her by hand--timothy hay, fresh veggies, and some pellets from time-to-time--and feeding her as much water as she would take.

August 23rd

Oh hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!

Have you ever heard a bunny cry? No? You don't want to. Kills you slowly. Or quickly. It just kills you. Ever seen a bunny shed a tear? You don't want to.

Even with the pain medication and the antibiotics, her condition had worsened. I'd been back to the vet, again, but to no avail. I didn't go anywhere without her at this point. I skipped the first week of my family vacation to stay and take care of her. I finally took her with me, though, for a couple of days despite how grizzly things were becoming. My family was pretty awesome about the whole thing and took turns looking after her while I took a short break. Thanks, mom! :)

The amazing thing was that, despite how bad it had become, she was the opposite of a zombie-rabbit. She gave lots of kisses and affection (just as I gave her) and her ears perked up and she often tried to lift her head. She liked to interact and watch everyone and sniff little flowers and things. She was inquisitive and engaged. She had moments of total zombie-dom, though. We had both accepted her situation (okay, so I tell myself) and we knew we had to make it work. I knew she was going to be okay, somehow, in the end, and didn't think twice about that.

These next pictures were when things were pretty bad. But if you're out there and your rabbit looks like this right now or worse (not showing those pictures, honestly), HANG IN THERE.

End of August, family vacation

Her head, pretty much upside down, skin and bones. What you see is her chin/bottom of her mouth.

Aye. Her neck was so tightly wound that I had to juxtapose her body often and keep constant watch. I'm still amazed that she didn't break her neck at any point in the whole process.

My family was pretty great about the whole thing, and I think it taught all of us a lot in the end, or at least about the power of life. Or maybe it just taught me more about the power of life.

Summer wound down with no improvements. I'd made the decision to go back to school earlier in the summer which took 20 hours a week, so my mom would watch Birdy during those hours once school started. She was amazing to have helped me as she did. She often babysat my nephew, as well, when I was at school, so my mom and I would take this big Tupperware storage container with her to my sister's house to keep watch on Birdy before I'd head to school. Teamwork, folks! Family, A+!

September 5th

The antibiotics and pain meds seemed to be helping a little bit at this point, enough that she stayed comfortable and, at times, I could fluff up the comforters and she could briefly sit without spinning so long as she was propped properly. I was full of hope! But mostly she stayed supported and secure like in the bottom picture because she couldn't move without falling over.

September 12th
Oh hi mom!
She was a lot more alert and full of character and affection but still in this position. Still unable to walk. Head completely tilted.

September 24th
She built up enough strength to occasionally venture upward, usually because her BFF, furry monster Hoppy, was around. And yes, I have a dog named Hoppy and a bunny named Birdy. All I need now is a bird named Dog.

With said BFF.

October 6th
Well, hello! A good day, good enough to take a picture.

October 18th
Still not able to walk, but happy and alert, always ready for snuggles. This was about the time that I was able to put pellets in a little bowl, or anything else, and she got back to snacking for herself a little more comfortably

She was like this for the next 2 months, well into December. This amazing creature endured so much, including the human factor (aka me). There were a couple of times early on which were unpleasant. I put her box down while I made my bed, and she spun right out and over her box and onto the hardwood floor and all of the way across the room. And then there was that time in October when I was was taking her small box downstairs, and all of the sudden, at the top of the stairs, she lurched to life from snuggling in her cove of towels, over my hand, and FELL DOWN THIRTEEN STEPS. Literally, from the top of the stairs to the bottom, hitting each of the bottom six. I saw life flash before my eyes.I still see her little limbs in slow-mo squirming in mid-air.

I get queasy thinking about it.

Somehow she survived everything that came at her. I'm telling you this so you don't panic. Bunnies are amazing, resilient creatures. Just remember that! You're trying your best. I know it's hard to when your bunny seems crippled beyond belief or saving, but there is hope!

By the time December came around, I was fully into school, staying up nights to take care of Birdy and studying all of the time, generally not getting a lot of sleep, and despite having been back to the vet and having gotten more prescriptions for antibiotics and medicine, they told me there was pretty much nothing I could do. My only option after that was to let time step in.

Nothing else was acceptable, you know? You know.

But time itself wasn't helping. I exercised her, but it didn't matter. No matter what it was I tried, it simply didn't help. She couldn't find her center. She couldn't stand without falling and turning over. Her muscle tone was gone. Her head was still down as much as it had been back in September. She couldn't walk, and it hurt my heart for her. I knew I had to try something else, and when I saw signs of her progress starting to slip, I knew I had to try my last option.

I had read something early in my research, but I'd been too timid to see if it would help, opting to wait as long as possible to see if the combination of antibiotics, time, and physical therapy would help her.

Basically, this entire babbling story can really just be summed up with this: http://www.barbibrownsbunnies.com/ecuniculi.htm

This site and this treatment saved my bunny. Within a week, I was able to put her down on her feet and she was able to keep standing and even take steps without spinning over with my hands to guide her. We built her strength back up and her head eventually returned to its normal position. The rest is history.

The solution suggested there? Ivomec. Yes, THAT Ivomec: the Cattle de-wormer!

Read the entire page. It is imperative that you read it correctly--that you read everything there and as much as you can elsewhere--so you know what you're doing. If you are afraid, if you don't think you can figure out the right dosage (a tiny amount, just... so, so tiny) then go to your vet and have him/her do it and make sure they understand and read the provided information, as well.

I bought my Ivomec on Amazon. I had ordered it in October after reading about the treatment but had held off on using it until I was sure there was no other option. I wish I hadn't waited so long in retrospect.

A week after giving her her second treatment of Ivomec, she was coming back to bunny-dom.

December 19th
Still slightly tilted right but VASTLY improved. Standing on her own!

December 24th

December 26th
Best Christmas present ever. Ever.

 Currently, her hobbies consist of:
A penchant for snuggling. Your hands are not your own. Oh no!

Fine cuisine.

Snuggling and sleeping between two secure surfaces, probably habit from her good old days in the box.

Stealing covers and being generally adorable.

Being a better lion than actual lions.

Occasionally moonlighting (or daylight-ing?) as the Easter Bunny.

Enjoying playtime outside (and being well-supervised, probably much to her chagrin)

October 2012

Basking in the glory of the reminder of the power of hands, touch, time, and care.
And awesome people on the Internet!

I'm forever grateful to BarbiBrownsBunnies.

Thanks for reading! It's been an adventure!


  1. Thank you SO much for the photos. Your story is very heart-warming. I am about to start this treatment with a bun who has been slightly tilting for a week now. Crossing our fingers.

  2. Absolutely! I hope the treatment helps! Good luck! My fingers are crossed for you and your bun! :)

  3. Ugh I am so frustrated. But so glad I found your site. My momma rabbit was living in her outdoor cage when I noticed she hadn't been eating very much, so I shedded her and brought her inside. The symptoms started yesterday, just falling over occasionally. Now her head is tilted and she is spinning in circles if she tries to get up. I know from a previous case with her son that dramamine can help with the dizzyness, but I knew with him that he had fallen and hurt his head, he completely healed. But I don't know what is causing Mama's, which is scary. Going to my local feed store today!

    1. How is your mama rabbit doing? I hope well!

  4. Hi Krist! Great story. We are just going to begin the treatment for our bunny. I do have a question, as far as the dosage of the Ivomec. On Barbi Brown's website, the dosage is 1/10 cc per pound. Elsewhere on the internet, they are suggesting a dosage of about 20% of this (1/10th cc for 5 lbs). What dosage amount did you use? If you used the larger amount (1/10 cc per pound), did you see any 'negative issues' that made you wish you had used a lesser amount? I just want to make sure I get the dosage correct. Thanks a bunch!


  5. Hi Bart! I used the 1/10 cc recommendation. I did not see any negative issues at the time. I will say that when my bun was getting her strength back and able to just sit on her own, I would put my hands on either side of her and sort of lift her and move her or help support her while she found her feet. Nothing to do with the dosage, but I think that helped a lot too during the process of her finding her bearings again with the help of the Ivomec.

    Good luck with your bunny! Fingers crossed for her/him!



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