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Some rabbits can recover in a few days, others take months.
There are various factors that influence the timeline here, but I want to really hammer that fact that it doesn’t really matter. If your rabbit hasn’t recovered within the two weeks that is the norm for recovery times, it doesn’t mean they won’t get better.
Why do rabbits get head tilt?
Head tilt is a symptom of another issue, rather than a cause.
It’s most commonly caused by ear infections, which are fairly common in rabbits, but it can also be cased by a parasite called E. cuniculi, or even a stroke or brain tumour.
How can we treat head tilt?
We can’t. Well, not really, though there are people out there coming out with cool physiotherapy-type treatments to help head tilt hoppers regain their sense of balance.
When Daisy went the vet she had full torticollis, so her neck was completely twisted to one side and she could stand up without falling over. It was horrible to watch.
Daisy’s head til was caused by the EC parasite, so she had a course of Panacur, but that can’t help the head tilt. In fact, all you can really do is protect your rabbit from hurting themselves.
A vet can prescribe steroids, and in the US there are travel sickness drugs that can help with dizziness.
When Daisy was at her worst, she was put in a padded box. Food and water were brought to her every hour or so, but she couldn’t really move with falling over.
If this happens to your rabbit, resist the urge to pick them up, or move them too much, since this really doesn’t help with the dizziness.
After that, it’s a waiting game. If your rabbit has head tilt and you need to know how to make a safe, roll-proof pen that’s easy to keep clean and dry (litter training goes out of the window) I have a post on that here.
How long does recovery take?
When Daisy first went into the veterinary hospital, we naturally did a bit of research. We didn’t find a lot of information about treating head tilt bunnies, other than that two weeks seemed to be the standard recovery time.
We’d had a rabbit in the past that had had a very severe case of EC but she’d recovered almost overnight, with no residual tilt.
Daisy’s recovery has been far slower.
Luckily, my boyfriend found a Facebook group (I believe it’s called Head Tilt Hoppers) that a) told us that vets usually recommend euthanasia but that rabbits often recover from even severe head tilt and b) that recovery can take months, and that some rabbits will always have a tilt.
So yeah. It could take weeks, it may never fully resolve.
How can we improve head tilt recovery time?
Whilst I don’t believe we can make recovery any faster, it’s important that we don’t add any stress to our bunny’s life, since a compromised immune system can be fatal to head tilt rabbits.
Make sure your rabbit is eating and drinking plenty, but keep treats to a minimum. Daisy LOVES to eat hay, but if your rabbit isn’t so keen, try mixing in some grass or herbs to tempt them.
Stroke your bunny, and talk to them a lot. They won’t want to be picked up if they feel vulnerable, but giving them pets will make them feel better.
I can also trigger Daisy into washing herself by scratching her ear, so try that if your rabbit is struggling to clean themselves.
You can also help to hold them upright so they can wash without falling over.
Will my rabbit be completely cured of head tilt?
Maybe, maybe not.
Like I mentioned earlier, head tilt is a symptom, not a disease in itself. The EC or infection or whatever caused the head tilt may be resolved, but the tilt may remain. Over time your rabbit’s neck muscles can adjust and your rabbit should be able to lead a perfectly healthy life.
Other considerations during recovery
- You’ll need to bunny-proof the cage. We used pipe insulation zip-tied to the xpen.
- I have a whole post dedicated to keeping the pen safe and clean. Read that here.
- You’ll need a water bottle.
We tried with a bowl, we really did, but we just ended up with a damp bun. We were super impressed by how quickly Daisy managed to find the bottle and work out how to use it.
In the beginning, we’d offer her it every couple of hours, but it wasn’t long before she could water herself.
- Your rabbits may unbond
Yup, ours have. It sucks, but it isn’t the end of the world. Since Daisy is in no position to defend herself and Holly is CLEARLY loving life as a single girl, we have no plans to rebond at the moment.
In fact, when Daisy was at the vets Holly changed immediately. She used to be incredibly timid and shy (though she loved zoomies) but now she’s much more confident.
When it’s time, we’ll try to rebond, but won’t push it. Two girls are notoriously difficult to bond, and since they’re only small we have the space to keep them separate. Perhaps we’ll get Daisy a laid-back husbun that doesn’t mind being the submissive one.
Final thoughts on the timescale of head tilt recovery in rabbit
At first, I was worried that Daisy wasn’t progressing as quickly as I thought she would, but now I realise that…it doesn’t really matter.
- She’s eating and drinking
- She’s happy
- She’s improving. Slowly.
In those first few weeks, it felt we were taking one step forward and three back. She’d do a tentative crawl, and then go back to rolling everywhere.
You need to consider how tiring it is for them. They’re having to retrain their muscles and their brains.
In the end we stopped expecting progress, and just made sure that Daisy was eating, drinking, and happy (or at least not in any pain). We’d talk to her a lot since she really likes that (more so than being petted), and we’d get more in tune with what would set her off rolling.
Don’t expect your rabbit to follow a certain timeline. Take each day as it comes.