Nursing A Head-tilt Rabbit

You need treatment from a good rabbit veterinarian if your rabbit develops head-tilt, but the long-term nursing care is in your hands. Once tumbling begins, it is likely to continue for at least 3 months before the rabbit begins to regain balance. During this time, he may not be able to eat, sleep, or drink without your help.

If the rabbit is tumbling, don’t use towels in an attempt to protect him! He will tangle in them and break his legs; use pillows or bolsters instead. You can fold a “cat cup” (thickly padded cup-shaped cat bed) and stuff it into a carrier, then insert the rabbit into the middle. He may spin, but will eventually relax and fall asleep. Other possibilities are to put one of these “cups” into a tall waste basket, and lay the rabbit in it.

It is usually impossible to dribble enough water into a rabbit’s mouth to meet their hydration needs. Ask your veterinarian to teach you to give fluids subcutaneously. It isn’t difficult to do and you will know the rabbit is getting sufficient fluids. A rabbit needs 10cc’s of fluid three times a day for each pound of weight.

You will need to hand-feed your rabbit by holding pieces of hay, pellets, and vegetables where s/he can get them and eat them. Or use a 35cc, catheter-tip syringe to feed him “Angel’s Mush” (see formula below). “Angel’s Mush” provides a nutritionally complete diet, is easier for the rabbit to eat, and gets more into the rabbit faster than trying to feed hay, pellets, and vegetables. However, long-term, it may not keep the rabbit’s teeth sufficiently ground down to avoid dental problems.

Remember, rabbits graze more or less all day long, so s/he needs many small meals throughout the day. If you use “Angel’s Mush”, feeding all s/he will eat four times a day and leaving hay where s/he may be able to get it, should be sufficient.

If you do the following therapy daily after the infection causing head-tilt has cleared, you will see an improvement in how a head-tilt rabbit is able to hold her head. The change will be very slow, however, so be patient and persistent.

For 15 minutes:

  • With the rabbit on your lap, grasp the head with one hand and tilt it to a normal, upright position. Hold it there for 15 minutes.

For 5 minutes:

  • Cut a slice of banana into many tiny pieces. Hold each piece under the rabbit’s nose, but require her to lift her head into an upright position before she gets the piece. Any favorite treat can be used—just be sure to cut it into tiny pieces so she doesn’t get so much that it makes her sick. She’s been through enough without having a digestive upset on top of it!

You are actually retraining the brain, so it may take a full year before the improvement becomes permanent. In some cases, the rabbit’s head has returned to a completely normal, upright position.

Note:  A quicker method for getting the tilted head upright is to get acupuncture treatments from a good veterinary acupuncturist. (To learn more about this exciting treatment method, visit our new Acupuncture for Rabbits Page.)

Angel’s Mush

1 cup of either oat or barley flour
4 cups timothy pellets (i.e. high-fiber)
5 cups water

Mix together the flour and pellets. Add the water and let the mixture stand an hour or so until the pellets have dissolved.

Then add:
1 –   8oz. can vanilla Ensure or Deliver 2.0 (or it’s equivalent)
1 – 28oz. or 32oz. can pumpkin (NOT pie mix)
1 – 12oz. can V-8 juice

Mix together, adding additional water if needed. We keep it fairly dry for bunns eating it on their own and fairly soft for syringe feeding. Store small amounts in baggies and freeze. Thaw as needed.