Dandelion developed head tilt in January 2002. In front of my very eyes, she went from hopping around without a care in the world, to not being able to hold herself steady. Her symptoms included nystagmus (rapid movement of the eyeball), head tilt at a 45 degree angle and rolling leading to nausea and subsequently a loss of appetite. All indications as to the cause of her head tilt pointed towards Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi). The barrage of emotions I felt included helplessness, shock, disbelief, reality and finally acceptance. But that was just me. What about Dandelion? What was she feeling? I wished she could have told me.
Initially, she was confined to a padded cage so as not to get injured while she became accustomed to moving around with the head tilt. But, after the first few weeks, Dandelion’s condition stabilized and our lives, hers and mine, called for making some adjustments. Shortly thereafter, she returned to the puppy pen she was accustomed to (without padding). However, she had to use shallow food and water bowls as well as a litterbox with an extra low side to enable her to get in and out with ease. Our lives too fell into an altered routine. Mine included making time to administer a variety of medicines twice daily. Hers included attempting to make a dash for it when she saw me coming with the medicines.
She learned to adapt to her new circumstances. She could still do so much. Dande continued to use her litterbox, hop around without falling over, (still!) chew on paper, flop out with her legs stretched out behind her and eat on her own.
Her perseverance and tolerance shined through above all. After all, look what she had to put up with: a mom who was still learning to hold her in the right position to medicate, syringe feedings occasionally, many visits to the vet and even a course of acupuncture treatments.
This is life with Dandelion. It seems perfectly normal after a while. When visitors sometimes make comments such as, “Poor thing,” I look around and wonder, “Who? Where?” Dandelion is leading a functional existence, doing what most rabbits do, but with a slightly different perspective on the world. As devastated as I was back in January with the onset of the head tilt, I realized that she could still have a good quality of life. Head tilt does not have to mean the death sentence for a rabbit. Depending on the cause, severity of the symptoms and effectiveness of treatments, a rabbit can adapt to this condition. It is crucial to have good veterinary care and a positive attitude to help you decide what is best for your rabbit.
House Rabbit Journal Fall 2003: Volume IV, Number 9