Headtilt / Wryneck and your rabbit
Head Tilt / Wryneck: a symptom of neurological damage
*Head held at an awkward angle
*Turning instead of hopping in a straight line
*Rapid movement of the eyes from side to side
*Loss of balance
*middle or inner ear infection
*a parasitic infection (Encephalitozoon cuniculi or Baylisascaris procyoni)
*abscess or tumor
The most noticeable symptom of torticollis, commonly known as wryneck, is an uncharacteristic tilting of the head. Other symptoms could be loss of balance, trouble hopping, turning in circles, and even weakness in or loss of the use of hind legs. Torticollis is a parasitic infection that attacks the nervous system of a rabbit. Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E Cuniculi) is the clinical name for this parasite. However, these symptoms can be caused by problems other than E Coniculi. They can also be caused by a stroke, abscess or tumor, ear infection, or even a blow to the head.
Symptoms can develop slowly over a period of time or become apparent quite suddenly, but you need the services of a veterinarian to truly determine the cause of these symptoms.
It is the opinion of several veterinarians that most rabbits have the E Coniculi parasite in their system but it lays dormant until a stress or trauma situation causes the parasite to become active. At the rabbit rescue, we had one example of the parasite becoming active in an adult female, and one example of an alternate cause of the same symptoms.
Bear had a stomach blockage causing early stage GI Stasis. This was the stress situation that awakened the parasite. Once the blockage passed, I noticed that she started holding her head with a slight tilt, and had trouble jumping into and out of her litter box. Each day, the tilt became more pronounced. I brought her to my veterinarian where tests revealed the presence of active E Cuniculi. Since we detected this problem in its early stages, a treatment of steroids and Panacur successfully prevented the infection from becoming devastating. I have seen late stage infections resulting in uncontrolled rolling and complete loss of mobility.
Though Bear regained her balance, her head remained tilted for another 30 days before it began to return to its normal position. To this day, she still retains a slight tilt, but she is happy and healthy.
Black Bunny developed a slight head tilt, lay with his body curved to the right, and turned right every time he started to hop towards a destination. He had an ear infection which we treated and cured, but the head tilt continued and became worse. He did not test positive for E Cuniculi. When a lump started to protrude from his eye, he was diagnosed with lymphoma that had developed in his head behind his eye.
Any time you notice symptoms in your rabbit that indicate balance or nervous system problems, have your furry friend examined immediately. Torticollis is not the only medical problem that manifests itself in tilting of the head, balance problems, and loss of the use of legs, but this is definitely one problem that if not diagnosed and treated quickly, could prove fatal to your friend.