Wry Neck/Head Tilt in Rabbits

Rabbits

Rabbits sometimes develop a head tilt that gets progressively worse until they roll uncontrollably when they try to move.  This condition is commonly known as "wry neck".  There are many different diseases that can cause wry neck such as an ear infection, a parasite known as Encephalitozoon cunniculi (often just called E. cunniculi or encephalitozoonosis), and others.  Depending on the cause, treatment is often quite successful if initiated early.  Sometimes the treatment arrests the underlying disease but the rabbit continues to have a head tilt.  Most of these learn how to live with their new view of the world and many gradually return to almost a normal posture.

Head tilts in rabbits are caused by a disruption in their sense of balance caused most commonly by either a bacterial infection or a parasite called E. cuniculi. We will start your rabbit on medications for both of these potential causes today. 
 
Bacterial infection of the inner ear can be caused by a number of bacteria, most commonly by Pasteurella. Pasteurella is treated with antibiotics but can result in chronic infections that can recur in the future. Testing is available to determine if this bacteria may be causing your rabbit's symptoms. 
 
E. cuniculi is a fairly common one celled parasite of rabbits and many rabbits will carry the parasite in their bodies for years without any symptoms. This parasite normally cannot be cured, but it can be controlled with long term medical treatment with a medication called Fenbendazole. We recommend testing all rabbits showing signs that may suggest infection with this parasite to determine if long term therapy is going to be needed. 
 
Along with treating the underlying cause of the head tilt, supportive care is important. Medications can be prescribed to help with the dizziness associated with rolling. Fluid support may be necessary if a rabbit is not able to drink enough. Many rabbits will also require assist feeding.
 
Most rabbits will improve with therapy, though some may have a mild residual head tilt. 
 
In addition to medication, rabbits with head tilts can become very disoriented, lay sideways or roll. Use rolled up blankets and towels as supports for your rabbit if your rabbit starts having trouble. If their condition worsens, give us a call.